The Things I Carry

“They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.” -Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

The toddler covered in coffee burns, screaming, waiting for the helicopter…

The woman, lost, who drove off the side of the mountain in pitch darkness…

The jet-skier unconcious in the water, supported only by the lifejacket…

The woman hiding in a closet from her abusive spouse, speaking only in whispers…

My partner and I begging a woman to exit her burning house…

The child who couldn’t wake up their Daddy and didn’t know their address…

The man begging his wife to start breathing again, calling her name over and over…

Coaching a newbie through his first call, a suicide…

The woman who discovered her neighbor’s ten year old, dead from a gunshot wound…

Coaching a pregnant mother through CPR on her toddler; the nurse telling me later that “the child expired.” The mother proceeded to go into labor that evening.

These, along with the 10,000+ other calls I answered during my time as a 911 dispatcher are what I carry. Truth is, I could have sat behind that headset and mic for the rest of my working life. I could have continued to train and lead future members of public safety. It wasn’t until after I stepped away, that the weight of the voices in my head came to an apex.

My long-standing depression and anxiety were never a factor while working dispatch. I know that probably seems odd, odd but true. Being the calm center of somebody’s hurricane was a powerful grounding mechanism.

Three months after leaving dispatch (my home and the state of Alabama), I returned to my other love, nutrition. One of my many duties is answering the store phone. I’m not sure which call happened first…the call where nobody would talk to me and I instinctively demanded “911, do you have an emergency?” Or the call that when I answered all I could hear was a baby screaming and a chill went up my spine. I just remember trying to catch my breath and return to reality.

Two tornadoes have ripped through my former county in the seven months since I’ve been gone. How many wrecks, house fires, missing limb and GSW calls have I missed? This new virus and the threat to our daily lives has effected my partners. I tango daily with a strange mix of relief and guilt. My head and heart will always be behind that console. I’ve got your six.

“But the thing about remembering is that you don’t forget.” -Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

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Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

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