Saturday, November 1, 2014


The asshole snaps his fingers and holds up a glass, but I walk right on by him. He whistles trying
to get my attention. Neck and shoulders tight, I face him.

"This is not a kennel and I'm not a dog"

Mean customers tonight. Glowering, he wags his finger at me then points to his empty
glass. His prize family all look up, nobody is squirming, they grin. The over-lipsticked missus
smiles disdainfully. Haughty bitch. Her brood of mongrel kids paw their food, whining

The tension at the pit of my stomach grows as the night drags, it gnaws. Eyes everywhere
I can't sneak a drink. Hurrying through the last of my tables, I trip and break a tray of bar glasses.
The manager looks over at me. He stares to make sure I know it's my third breakage this week.
As I leave, the bartender unobtrusively hands over two bottles of wine. A good friend...she doesn't
look at me when I pay and place the bottles in my backpack. Avoiding the camaraderie and useless
prattle, I head for the elevators. Once in, I hammer the button for the basement garage. It's a long
ride down so I punch two more times, hard. The gnaw, implacable.

In the stifling car, sweating, I fumble to open a bottle. Furious, I check myself from
hurling the wine key against the windshield. Cork pops. Taking long gulps, my body melts into
the car seat. I drink every drop. The settling is sweet; flowing into my blood, pliant and kind.
Waited for this all day.

Straightening, I know what needs to be done. Reversing the car, I leave quickly. It take
20-25 minutes to get home. The buzz comes in 15. The back road is my route, it hides me.
Losing myself, no one watches. The ride home is my time, my space. Rain and wind in my hair,
a full bottle on my lap, I take on the sharp curves. The thrill, the howl of speed is sensuous.
Accelerating, I thrust and joust. Mighty, I am untouchable. I have this down.

The squat, drab house I despise sleeps. Trapped and restless, I'll soothe this nameless
beast, drink to deaden the hurtling impending doom. Pushing away the now empty bottle, in a
stupor, I snarl and hate. Cheek against the cool tile, the floor feels good. Teeth clenched, I swear.

Tomorrow, no drink.

A Calling

Tomorrow is here.

Shafts of sun rays awaken me. On a vast rock I lie. Sitting up, a valley sprawls before
me with a mysterious sun-kissed maze. It swims in front of me, I know that I dream. From a
distance, I see a maze of arches, doorways and chambers lilt and ripple in the hot hazy day.
How peculiar...some rooms are enclosed, others open up to the sky. Humming, bustling and
alive, it calls me to walk paths and rooms. Cantankerous, I refuse; I want no part of this fable,
this reverie. I sit and contemplate a while. Thirsty, there is nothing to drink. Lying down, I
will myself to sleep in this musing so I may waken when there is drink. Day wanes. Night sky
shades with the luster of stars. A wolfish moon sails bloated clouds and a freeze creeps over my
rock. Still awake, no rim against my lips, I am livid to be parched. And cold. There is no slumber
in this tarnished dream. Sullen, I sigh and stumble for the moonlit maze down in the valley.

A Wanting

Entering an archway strung with lanterns, I lust for a heady drink. Crude with rough-
hewn walls, I enter a warm lair crowded with faceless men and women. They, a joyless huddle,
jostle to line up. No one speaks but there is a fervid wanting. Alluring drumbeats sound in the
background and a fire blazes. Peering around, am curious about this dream. Wanting, I join
the shuffling line. The wait is long and there is a taut, rousing wrath in the air. Still, no one
talks. The sounds of shuffling, drumming and the sizzle of fire fill the lair. The haunt in my belly
grows to a niggling potent hunger. Soon I must be fed. Slake me or I will pound and scatter
them all. A sparkle catches my eye, the end of the line is near. A space opens up by the fire, my
turn. Spellbound, a sleek, gleaming bottle is handed to me. Seductive, it teases, it moans in my
palm. The bottle swells and throbs, it sings. Licking my lips, I inhale the promising pungent, lush
aroma. The rabble behind me grow savage with want, they shove, but I stand rooted. As I tilt
the bottle to swill, a piercing cry rings. Startled, I drop the bottle. Shattering glass burst at my
feet, nicking my skin. Plum juice of wine and blood trickle down my legs and soaks into the arid,
earth. No, no. The spill wounds.

Frantic Wanters, oblivious to the cry, push me aside to take their turn. Choking down my
loss, I lay down my ragged thirst and step over jagged glass. Leaving, I search for who cries.

Someone needs me.

A Farewell

Finding myself in a long corridor, I shield my eyes from garish fluorescent lights that
pulse and flicker. Smell of fever and forgotten bodies pervades the air. Wheelchairs of wizened
men and women litter the corridor. Listless and wasting, the aged curl into themselves as they
wait for an end. No cries here, I look around to leave. An ominous cloaked figure at the end of
the hall, crouches, guarding a door blackened with soot and rising plumes of smoke. Something,
someone hidden behind the door waits for me. Uneasy, I hang back. This is but a dream, I tell
myself. Go, heed the bidding. As I near the sinister figure, it looks at me, I blanch. It's riveting
slits of eyes are a menacing grey, they are ghastly cold. Insolent and forbidding, it blocks the
door to its reap. It gloats. Hands, blistered and dripping with pus, grips the knob. Gagging at its
caustic and putrid fumes, I shove the fiend aside and kick down the sooted door.

Living swiftly steals out of the austere room of a shrunken, pale man. A voracious gloom
sinks around my Father, it yearns for his dying. His tremulous eyes are chasms of fear, he fights
to live. Not ready to be taken, he clings, but he is drained. His labored breaths rattle, the grim
cadence chills. Bending over him, I murmur...

"I am here, I am with you."

Across the room, in the shadows, my Mother watches forlornly from her bed. Helping
her, I bring her to my Father's bedside. His last hour diminishes as our tears fall on his hands.
Embracing him, she feels the crush of his torment. Voice quavering, she lets him go...

"Go my love. We will see each other again."

Her soothing words quiet his terror, dolorous breaths ease. The rise of his chest slow and
his soul whispers out, grateful, serene. There is no silence more profound than the silence that
follows a last breath. In his sacred moment, we helped him depart the living. Turning to Mother
to comfort her, blackness comes over me.

Grieving, I am standing alone in a cemetery, watching clods of dirt fall on Father's
casket. The morbid sounds echo, woeful and final. There is no solace, he is gone. Remembering
days gone, I meander around the tombstones, saddened. A ruffling wind carries to me a baby's
hoarse cry. Back to the labyrinth, I hasten. Who cries? Why?

A Waiting

A rusty gate ahead creaks open, it leads me to a dingy room. There is no baby here, cries
elude me. Blighted walls and a peeling ceiling close me in. Lighting, murky and dull, bathes
the room. Off to the side is a torn musty divan and an unmade bed with shabby sheets. Sitting
on the sofa is Mother, mourning. Her despondent fragile frame looks out of a glassless window
watching torrential rain and streaks of lightning. Turning around she lights up at the sight of
me, her face moist, glistening with rain. Thankful for the company, she smiles. Her hours alone
are long and lonely with only fading memories to console her. Why is my mother in this dismal
place? Distressed, I start to take her away.

"No, I stay here. Your father will come for me"

I abide. We sit. We reminisce. We laugh. What she forgets, I tell her. Tenderly, I tend
to her. Oiling her skin, she sighs, content. Soaking in my touch, I rub her back and knead her
sore knees. Brushing her hair and changing her clothes, I ask for childhood stories. She had no
childhood. She had war, poverty and she hid. Listening to her, I forget my thirst. Hours glide by,
easy and mellow, gentle rhythm cradling us. Her eyes grow heavy, she drifts. Pulling a blanket
around her, I touch a withered face. Her fierce spirit dims; this warrior leaves me soon. Lips
touching her forehead, I cherish her,

"I am here. I am with you"

An infant cry.

Mother, I have to go. Looking back, the delicate face of Mother recedes, her wistful smile
longing for Father and for rest. She waits to die.

A Shining

Spotting an archway festooned with balloons and puppets, I go in. The cries must be
coming from here. In the nursery, vivid in vibrant colors, a lively and joyful baby plays. His
face, round and radiant, is enchanting. Giddy, elated, I laugh. The boy has arrived. Oh, he is
gorgeous, this Grandson. Arms outstretched, he reaches for me. Picking him up, we dance to a
merry nursery rhyme. We twirl, blithe and carefree as he gurgles, giggles and shines.

"Grandson, I am with you"

Music stops. My steps falter. Something has changed for Baby grows quiet. Placing his
small soft hand on my face he looks at me sadly...his gaze hypnotic and somber. As I watch him,
the familiar sound of an infant crying reaches us, it is near. My eyes widen. It is not you who I
heard cry? His eyes well. No, he seems to say. Go to Him.

A Grace

Running through the endless maze, the plaintive wails are louder. Knees burning and
heart racing, I am confused, I don't understand. It can't be you, it's too soon. You are not
supposed to be here; not due for 4 more months. Foreboding and fright thickens and darkens,
it saps me. Sickened, I search for you. Coming to an abrupt end, I barge through wide doors.
Panting, I am standing in a hospital. A sign, NICU. Gasping, I heave to catch my breath.

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

You are in the center of the room. Dread hangs in the air, palpable, it drenches. Life and
Death silently blares at you. Doctors and nurses move around you in a blur, no one will look at
me. Flashes, beeps and alarms ring shrill. But above the din, I feel the reach of your muffled sob:

"Come to me."

I near you, your miniscule form lost in the swaddle of wires and machines. Your raw skin,
a scalded red, lies stark against brilliant white blankets. Your heart barely beats and you can't
breathe. My heart sinks. Your face crumples in agony, eyes bruised and closed. Frail, fraught
with weariness, you hold on. The pain is staggering, it sears through you. They pump and
puncture you, keeping you alive. Arching your tiny body, you wheeze, strangling for dwindling
air. In my fearful stillness, my eyes scald and spill with desperate tears. Breathe, I plead. Live,
I beg. I take every breath with you. You belong to us. We need you. Without you, how will we go

Time stops. Death hovers.

Dawn sweetly comes. Grace enters; she comes to you, Grandson. Sweeping by me, her
trailing tendrils touch me. Lumen tingles and dances on my skin. Turning up my face in rapture,
her dew wets me. Rising, I watch you open your arms to Grace. She gathers force and turns to
the marvel of you.

"She is here, she is with you."

You soar, the wonder of you.

A Parting

Through the halls, gates, rooms and arches of this strange maze, I wander. Will I
awaken? Where does the trail end? Caressing the walls, they feel sublimely smooth. Gardens
spring up as my feet touches the ground. Flowers bloom. Grass sways, richly green. High up,
above the maze walls, trees tower, dappled sunlight streaming through the leaves. This is a new
land, I rejoice.

But the trail ends. The wretched lair opening yawns, it engulfs me. The gnaw rummages.
I Weaken for this is what I know. Joining the line of wary Wanters, I wait my turn. Shuffling
forward, bodies press against me, but sorrowfully I think of family. Others can visit you Father.
Mother, many can sit with you as you wait for him. Grandsons, your parents are always with

The sparkle, the fire, my turn is upon me. The bottle is placed in my hands, sumptuous
and enticing, my faithful love. Trembling, I ache to drink. Tipping my love, I empty the bottle.
Watching silky juice spill to the ground shakes me. Can I live?

The Wanters leave, shunned. The fire is dead, a mound of ashes. Walls crumble, the cave
turns into rubble. I stand, unmarred. Walking away from the ruin, I leave behind a wasteland of
broken bottles. Wending through the maze, peace blankets the land.



-My father, Santiago Balleza passed away in 2010. Preparing him to die with dignity deepened
my soul. He suffered much throughout his life. I still ask God, why? I long to see him again.
-My fierce, warrior mother, Angeles Colinares, declines and continues to wait for my father to
come for her. Watching her wait and yearn teaches me much about devotion. I cannot imagine
life without her.
-The first baby, my grandson, Liam Noah Thompson just turned 1 year. Laughter, there is no
-My second grandson, 23 weeker, "Mighty" Jax Connor Thompson lives. He thrives; he has the
heart of a lion. Gratitude abounds.
-In October 2014, I will be 20 years sober. My heart is open, I am humbled.
-My heart beats... for this family.
-Not sure I will wake up from this dream, seems to me my maze of unfinished business is real.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Poem of Santiago Baldevino Balleza
Filipino Guerilla
February 1942:


While the battlefield was drenched with crimson,
bullets zinged their serenade of death.
While canons roared defiance in unison,
my dearest comrades drew their last breath.
Cries of fear rang eerily, chillingly,
from distant mountains, hills and dales.
Mother Liberty bled profusely,
ravaged and raped by devils from the gates of hell.
To arms, to arms, all ye brothers of mine.
To arms, to arms ye vanguards of Freedom;
We must fight and die for a cause divine,
and help save the light for the world and thy sons!


From a foxhole in war, Santiago wrote this poem in despair and pain. The enemy had just massacred his parents, brothers and sisters. Grief crushing him, he ran through jungle fighting blindly, bullets barely missed him. He didn’t care if he died. He lived. But his anguish was deep, sorrow scarring him forever. He had no family to return to, no graves to visit.

Who writes a poem when death is all around you? My father, the gallant soldier, the poet does.

A glimpse into this poet’s life… Santiago lived on to marry and have seven children. My father was troubled. His mind haunted and his heart heavy, he lived in quiet torment. He often withdrew from those around him.Though he suffered and struggled from mental illness, he raised us honorably. He placed his children on paths to never live mediocre and timid lives.

Santiago did not know how to talk to his children. In his lonely world, he couldn’t connect. As a child, I hungered for his attention and scrambled for approval. I looked for ways to reach him. Eventually I did. Through poetry. Poetry was the gateway to my father’s soul. When he recited, he was expansive. Open. Flowing. Santiago could not show his feelings but in poetry, he effused. Imbued with vitality, he was joyful to watch and listen to. I adored the gift of him. For a moment, listening to him, he was all mine. I feasted on the timbre of his voice, mesmerized. When reciting, his voice and eyes filled with passion, wonder, love! Reciting poetry was balm to him. No secret life to wrestle with. No engulfing sadness. He loved dramatic poetry with power and heart. Courage. Resilience. Magnificence. Enduring Love. Poetry lightened his heaviness, lifted the somberness, eased the quiet, dark desperation; making him what he didn’t feel in his life, grand. Fearless.

Standing vigil at his deathbed, I watched my father in his last days. The fear in his eyes deepened my soul. This wounded man lived a hard and injured life. Yet he fought to draw breath every possible living moment. Listening to his labored breaths, he taught me, life bestowed is a wonder. For it, you must fight, you must breathe, you must live.

Santiago, the guerilla, my father, was a poet till the end. His memory in remnants, his body failing, it soothed him to recite his poetry. Maybe it help him feel brave, hopeful, relevant. Sitting by his side, I was still entranced. He recited Rudyard Kipling’s poem IF, starting off forceful, and confident. His words rang robust and impassioned, then foundered.

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

Umm, ahh…”

“You got it Daddy, keep going. Next line is If you can trust yourself…”

“Yes! I remember! When all men doubt you…”

He couldn’t remember the rest. I gently took his hands in mine and returned gift. Drinking in words he so loved for decades, he listened to me as I held his feeble gaze and stroked his feverish face. Trying not to cry and falter, tenderly I finished the poem he so cherished:

“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son!”

Sleep in peace Daddy, my dearest poet.

Sunday, June 30, 2013


He summons. My eyes open. I look over to the dark corner of my room. I feel rather than hear his earnest words.

Bring me my Nene, my little girl.

Of course Daddy, I promise.

Good night, sweetheart, good night.

My throat catches. My heart aches. He would say that when I was a little girl. A pure, delicious thrill would sweep over me that would make me want to cry. I matter.


Cold Christmas morning dawns with a misty breath of damp, hazy fog. We go to him. In the gloomy chill and eerie cast, the lonesome dead lay on pristine slanting hills. Silhouette of gnarly, bare trees frame the somber cemetery, their boughs drenched in dew. Trailing wisps of fog lace and drift low over long rows of tombstones. No one but us visit.

Bundled and bowed, feeble on my arm, she falteringly makes her way to him. My mother’s steps are heavy. Old. Reaching him, she stoops awkwardly and her fingers trace the etched name. Drawing smooth circles around his name, she tenderly caresses her beloved. She straightens and looks down at her dewy fingers laced with tombstone grime, with him. With cold wet hands she cups her cheeks and closes her eyes. In a quiet, frail trance she rubs him into her. In steady rhythm, she presses him onto her eyelids, lips, her chin. Lowering her hands, she loosens her scarf and clasps her neck, pushing him into her pores, rubbing deeply. He whispers to her.

Drink me Nene…I come in.

Glow seeps into her sallow, sunken face. She blinks, breaking trance. Doleful, barren eyes fill with a warm gleam. Catching a glimpse of the past, what was, I see her and revel. She filled our pages and spaces. Fearsome mother and warrior woman: seeking, hurtling and restless. Gushing with life, yielding and wielding, she is fire…his wife.

Memories and images flicker, quickly fading. Looking around, I see only this morose, wan woman. Gaunt. Pierced by loss, she is left bereft. I hurt for her.

She lowers to a worn chair, swaying. Catching her, I cover her with a blanket. I hold her to me. Squeezing eyes shut, my chest tightens. I wish for her solace, comfort. At her quavering sigh, I let go. The keening starts. I watch her yearn; it withers me. Stepping back, I give him his Nene.

She stares at his tombstone. He lures. Tethering herself to his grave, he holds her. He strokes and she is consoled. She is wife, his woman, devoted in life, in death, in the stream of eons. Lost in her mourning, she whispers to him. Her words fraught with worry and steeped with longing. She questions. She hankers. Beseeches. Laughs. Scolds. Whispering like a schoolgirl, her expressions are ardent, petulant. Her tales, lonely.

“Are you in heaven?”

“I would make you coffee…”

“You are happy, yes?”

“Do you sit with me at night?”

Moments pass, the whispering trails off. Spent and wretched, she slumps in her chair. Her little fragile body curls in. I think of a small dejected girl. She shivers, cold stealing into her folds and bones. Her face, ashen. A mewling wind picks up, urging me to worry.

I near the little one. Gently touching her, the moist sheen of her crumpled face moves me. Her eyes open, I fall into desolate pools of ragged, relentless grief. Her hollow cheeks streaked and stained with dirt, with sorrow.  Her eyes wail, knowing we must go. She trembles, dreading the emptiness of leaving him. Untended. Alone.

Looking beyond the cemetery gates and the vast swath of purple grey sky, the pulse of the living beckons.  I go to gather what is left of her. Straining, I try to lift her. Her body is heavy, sodden with the anguish of leaving him. I can not move her. Feeling worn and scant, all light leaves me. Grimly, I plead with him. Please, let her go. She is COLD.

A grip eases and lets go. Weaning her from him, I pull her to the living. She stands. Facing him, she draws from within. The tethers fall and she smiles a lingering farewell, luster in her eyes. As she speaks, I see her. I am riveted. She is womanly and beguiling. Soaring strong and steady, she is radiant. His beautiful wife steps closer to him. Palm on tombstone, on him, she whispers:

“I love you, I love you, I love you….”

I cannot speak. Taking her hands, we turn for the gates. Bracing ourselves against the hiss and heave of wind, I hear faint words come from the singing whistle of wind. I strain to listen. A thrill sweeps over me:

Good night sweethearts, good night.

His little girls walk away.

In the gloomy chill and eerie cast, the lonesome dead lay on pristine slanting hills.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013


“Dead bodies. Dead of night. Broken glass. Debris everywhere. Vehicle 1, Vehicle 2. Wreckage. Carnage. Saw and felt lots of things like…the dread.” 

Jeff paused. His face sagged, letting out a tired sigh.

 Jeff was a policeman for 30 years. A traffic homicide detective and sergeant of a CRU, Crash Reconstruction Unit for 11 years. This interview dredged up Jeff’s memories of the job, victims he got to know (though dead) and the families that cared or did not care.


INTERVIEWER:  How many crashes did you work?

Jeff: 86 fatals and maybe 3 times that in crashes.

You walked up to a scene, what did you think and feel?

It started before that. Way before walking up to the carnage. I’d mark out a couple blocks away. Prepare myself. My heart would be pounding. Was anxious, really anxious. The dread, I’d be overwhelmed by it. Steeled myself against the cold. Had to survive the moment so I could move beyond it. Get back to my life. Home to the wife, the boys. I hardened. Calmed down.

Tell me more about that dread…what was it about?

Many things. Drama. Pain. Didn’t want to deal with it. Families, bureaucracy. The media. Flood of questions. The case. Painstakingly picking up evidence. Hated that. Picking up small stupid shit, bagging possible evidence.

The dread. Scared to fuck it up. I’d get closer to the crash, observed from afar. I slowed down - looked to see the entire scene. Was the scene protected or contaminated? Looked for evidence. Direction of travel. Placement of vehicles. Played a movie in my head, watching cars roll and crash.

You got to the scene. What would be going on around you? What did you do first?

Took my time getting out of the car. Always had a pen, a small note pad in my hand. ALWAYS.

You say that like it was significant?

That notepad protected me. I saved myself. Had to look like I was figuring, ciphering. Examining kind of thing. Needed to look serious, have the furrowed brow, you know. If someone approached and I wasn’t ready for them, I’d look down at my notepad. Scribbled. I’d hold up my finger so they wouldn’t interrupt. I wrote. So I could breathe. I was posturing, I suppose.

What did you scribble?

The date. Weather. A car model. Anything to buy time.  The duty officer (or in charge guy) and I talked. He had a notepad. Protected himself. Had to save himself too. When he talked, I didn’t write. Let him feel important. Allowing him to talk bought me time. Listened. Nodded. Asked questions. Hmm, really? Over there? He repeated, I repeated. Then, I started listening. Really listening. The machine started. Fear subsided. Fell away. I could finally engage.

So you got in that zone, the work mode. The fear and dread was gone. What were your thoughts then?

Had to be systematically unsystematic. If rigid, I paid. Made a mistake or missed something. I was on guard. I protected me. Fluid. Had to be ready to decide. Gave directions. Managed. The other cops, they’d be young, wide-eyed. They got caught up…didn’t want to fuck up as well. Some of those young sergeants, they were babies. They think they knew what happened and they surmised the crash wrong most of the time!

Scenes…bedlam. Total mayhem. Two fire trucks, five cop cars, media. Upset, angry bystanders. Why weren’t we helping the kid? Why was he still lying on the road? Why has the driver NOT been arrested? It’d take a while to figure out. I’ve had over a hundred people on a scene. I’d walk away, get low. Hunker down to the road. Watched that movie in my head. Figured out the first events. Sometimes it was self-evident. Other times, had to figure it out. The guy ran off the road here to the right. He overcorrected, came back to the road, struck the other car and bounced like a billiard ball and redirected. I’d piece hard evidence together. Formulated the events.  I liked the theorizing, being a detective. Uncovering. Unlayering.

The victims, the dead, what about them? What were you thinking about them?

They’re dead. Who, what, when, where, why and how. I profiled. It was the ultimate profiling. Thoughts went like this: Somebody was drunk. Or everyone was drunk. I was tainted. But when I started to work the investigation, the victims had to be faceless, raceless. Was bound by the creed. I was entrusted to get the facts.

What’s the creed?

Looking up…
“No greater honor will ever be bestowed on an Officer or a more profound duty imposed on him than when he is entrusted with the investigation of the death of a human being. It is his duty to find the facts, regardless of color or creed, without prejudice and to let no power on earth deter him from presenting these facts to the court without regard to personality.” ~Anonymous~

Felt serious about it.

Back to the victims. What was going on with them?

Most of the time, they were gone. If there was any viability, any hope at all, they were taken to the hospital because it was a medical case. If dead, truly beyond any hope at all, the bodies weren’t moved. It became a homicide investigation.

What did you do with the witnesses?

God, they were laborious. If it was manslaughter, hit and run, whodunit, then witnesses had to stay. Woe to the cop who let my witness go. Were the witnesses separated from each other? If not, hauled ass and separated them. If these guys were left together, they’d change their stories. Discounted or second guessed each other. I wanted, needed the purity of what they saw. They were my check-off list. Validated what I was formulating or invalidated it. Young people didn’t give a shit. Or had folks who could barely hold it together. They were traumatized. Weepy. It was ghoulish what they saw, you know, dismemberment…messy scene. It was surreal for them.

How did you talk to them?

Interviewed them before the evidence got stale, vanished. It was urgent to get to the essence. Calmed the witnesses so I could manage them. When they were having a hard time remembering, I had the witnesses close their eyes and watched their movie in slow motion. Got a lot more crucial details out of women than men. Guys were mechanical and dry. Just before they left, I asked them what small details stood out in their memory of the crash. You would be surprised at what I got. Stuff like “The driver threw something out”. I’d sweep the trees and find a beer can. Reasonable suspicion stuff, gave me an additional layer to investigate.

If the victims were taken to the hospital, were body parts sometimes missed and left at the scene?


Would those parts be taken to the hospital?

Negative. What if the piece was NOT viable? You couldn’t use it.

The death notification. It was an awful part of your job.

Yeah. Tough. Had to.

How long did the notification take?

As little as 15-20 minutes. Stuck around as long as an hour or more. For families, it’s their first contact with true, harsh reality…loved one is DEAD. Had to make sure they were ok.

How did you break the news?

Had a patent speech. Went to the address. Asked to come in. Asked to sit down. Sat. “Bob has been involved in a very serious crash tonight. He was injured and his injuries were very severe.  Unfortunately, he succumbed to his injuries. He did not survive.”  Most folks went ape shit at this time.

You did it just like THAT?

Look, the bottom line is this: every time you work a crash and give a death notification a little piece of you DIES too. It de-sensitizes you. It’s about protecting yourself.  You can’t get pulled in or you’re a mess. The job needs to get done. It’s business as usual.

How many death notifications did you give?

Between 30 and 40. Went in twos. Had to be ready to protect ourselves. Maybe. From family. Didn’t know…who, what to expect.  Dreaded giving the death notification but had to be ready for possible danger. Had NO idea what was waiting.

Danger from their emotions?

You don’t know if they were dealing drugs out of the house! You don’t know what guns they had! You don’t know who they were and how they would react. They might be constrained or they puked, bashed walls, fell down. They’ve grabbed my shirt and screamed:

Family also came to me to be held. Comforted. Would comfort and would watch my gun. At times had to stay. No way, couldn’t leave them alone… in their pain.  Waited till help arrived.
Never knew what the reaction was going to be. It was cultural too.

Different cultures reacted differently?

Whites, Blacks, Latinos. They COULD.

Latinos didn’t let me in sometimes.  I’ve had to give death notification at the door and let it eat. Suspicious. Wanted you gone right away. They could be tight-lipped. Had to pry information from them. Latinos hid so they could stay.

One case. Drunk Latino. Wrecked. Pregnant girlfriend. She was bleeding from the head. The drunk was fine. He called his brother nearby. They covered up. They scooped her up and holed up. She missed that miracle hour of treatment. She died the next day. I attended her autopsy two days later. Had a cracked skull. Saw the fetus. The baby was perfect. Fully formed…I got angry on that one. They didn’t look out for her. Bastards.

Think about this. Latinos come here for a better life. Guess what, some don’t get it. I worked dozens of pedestrian fatals. Mostly drunk Latinos. Crossed the road wasted and got ran over. There was this spot downtown. Two Latino bars across the street from each other. Worked AT LEAST 20 pedestrian fatals there. The men would go back and forth the bars crossing the street at night. Wham! Impact would be so hard. Bodies would fly through the air and land on cars. One lady driver was an absolute mess. She didn’t hit anyone but was driving by. TWO bodies “fell from the sky”. Bloodied bodies landed on her car windshield. A couple of guys had crossed the street together. She could barely talk.

These men came to America to live their dreams. They get killed crossing a street. (shaking head) What a waste!

You sound angry or did you feel sorry for them?

Both. Good, bad, indifferent. These Latinos came hoping to live better, with dignity. Many of these men came from places back home with no electricity, no running water. From the “mountains.” They lived in huts or hovels. Illiterate in their own language. Hell, they could barely speak their own language! Worked their ass off, sent money home. Latinos, they’re the hardest working people. They came alone. Lived in basements with sectioned tiny spaces. These guys couldn’t read. Had no one. Had nothing. They lived shitty lives. They were lonely and had nothing to do. They worked. Drank. They died here, drunk, on some dirty highway. It was a damn shame. So senseless.

So, how did you notify their family back home?

For some of the victims, couldn’t. Tried to find out their nationality. Guatemalan. Mexican. Ecuadorian. Contacted consulates. Gave info I had. Sometimes, it was a wash. They couldn’t find out who they were. Nada. No one to notify.

That’s terrible. Unknown, unmourned. Go on.

The ones who had wives, families. I’d go see them. Still wasn’t easy. Women were nervous. Scared. Scared to see us at the door. Some could barely speak English. So, they’re scared, in shock AND they’re grieving. That’s a whole lot on them. Women wept softly, quietly.


Being quiet, meant NOT drawing attention. NOT getting found out. Reassured them that I wasn’t there about their “status.” Lots couldn’t speak a lick of English. It was three, four in the morning. I had to involve an older child to translate to their mother.

You gave death notifications to children! How could you?

Did it twice. Felt awful. Wasn’t right. There’s no interpreter at three, four in the morning. Just spent hours on a scene. Didn’t know what was ahead of me. You gotta remember, this was 20-25 years ago. The teens were right there. Things were in motion. I, we, couldn’t turn around. Couldn’t leave. They knew something bad had gone down. These kids would actually become the parent. They translated. The expressions on their faces, having to tell their mother. They were so upset too. It sucked.

You also said “Blacks”.

(Carefully) Not “blacks.”  Black male. Black female. African-Americans.

How did African-Americans culturally react when you notified them?

I’m talking about when I went into the rougher neighborhoods.  Had to be on guard. Careful. Alert. Some of the communities…were…troubled. Got calls all the time. THEY DON’T LIKE US. The Police. We’d go in on calls, or just patrolled. Neighbors, bystanders, would come up. Around us. Crowd us. Some watched. Others, hostile. No respect. Angry, even smoldering. What do YOU want? What are you here for? Get out of here! Would have to tell them to back off.

Weren’t you scared?

No. That’s what they wanted. For you to be afraid. Get out of the car and show no fear.  They’ll be less likely to fuck with you. Be matter of fact. Mind you, it goes both ways. The cops have done it to themselves over the years.

I didn’t respond to their bullshit. Their questions. Why should I talk to the bystanders? Fuck ‘em. I was there for the family. Now, if they asked if they could help, I’d talk to them. I’m not saying it was like that all the time. Times we’d come in. Bystanders, neighbors would come around. We’d just say a few words. Calmed them. There’d be no trouble.

Now, dealing with the family. Never matter of fact. Was completely different with them. Showed empathy. The black females, the matriarchs. They’d be grief-stricken. They’d fall to the ground. Screaming and crying.

ALL black females?

No. Course not. What I’m trying to say is the matriarch’s grief was everybody’s grief. They ruled the roost. The women were dramatic. Loud. News spread quickly. When it was a death, the community genuinely cared. Grieved. Weren’t hostile. Well, you might hear stuff like “So, what did YOU do to help, officer?” but for the most part, they tended the family.

Whites? Let me guess, you’re going to say they were dignified?

No. Most of the time, situations had less drama…

That’s racist!

No, no. Not racist. It’s going into a KNOWN dangerous and hostile neighborhood. Black, white, orange! For Christ sake, I’m married to an Asian!

It’s what I’ve seen. What I’ve experienced. PUT YOUR OWN DAMN TWIST ON IT! It’s my reality. I looked around me; I had to know my surroundings in ALL situations at ALL times. Besides, let’s not be na├»ve. You want to accuse? Talk racism? REMEMBER, IT CAN GO BOTH WAYS! I’ve been hated because I’m white. A white policeman!

You have no idea.

Let’s move on.


Can you give me details of one death notification that stood out?

Many stood out.

Can you tell me about one?


Lauren. Young girl. Early 20s. Seriously drunk. Alcho/sensor read .34 or .36. Going too fast. Car rolled. She was ejected. Typical story. She was busted up pretty bad. Thin, covered in tattoos. Guessed she was probably a wild child. The car had baby toys. She was likely the mom, maybe unmarried. The patrolman helped me open her clothes. For pictures.

WHY? Take off her clothes out in the open?

Remember, this was not just a crash. I investigated a homicide. Had to check for other injuries like knife wounds, bullet wounds. I shielded the victim from view. If it was daytime with a whole lot going on, would’ve taken pictures in the morgue.

Okay. Of course, makes sense. But, “Wild child”?  “Unmarried”? Why would you think that?

Well, she was really young. A lot of tattoos.  It was 2:30 in the morning. She was ALONE. She was really drunk. It wasn’t her car; it was registered to someone else – possibly a parent. You put these things together. You get a sense. It doesn’t mean I’m saying she’s a piece of shit!

I DIDN’T, I... Go on.

Saw baby toys. It was sad.  Baby lost its mother. I thought, what a shame. The patrol guy and I worked together. Quietly. We opened Lauren up. Took pictures. Someone held the sheet. When I did this part and had to speak, I didn’t speak loudly. Spoke in hushed tones, really. Softly. Never spoke loudly. It was rude. Didn’t know the victims but dying like that… It’s violent and rude. Handled the victims gently, because they’ve reached their death and I just wanted to be kind. Even if there was no life in them. You had to be, what’s the word, sedate. Death is bad. Death is serious. Respectfully handled her. Moved her slowly. Gave her a little dignity, you know.

Cleaned up the scene. Went to the registration address. Nice neighborhood. Affluent. Guy who came to the door in his bathrobe was her father. Dignified. Squared-away guy. Moneyed. When he saw us, his eyes looked like he knew. I could see the woe, the pain. It was almost like he was prepared. This moment had been coming. Behind him, I saw a baby walker, baby things, scattered about. Felt a tug.

I asked to come in. His wife, from the top of the stairs was hollering:

 “What’s going on? WHAT’S GOING ON?”

He led us to the kitchen. Mother was animated. He calmed her down. She sat perched on his knee. Was curious but scared. She leaned forward intently as we spoke. The patrol cop with me didn’t say a word. It was all on me. As I spoke, mother got up. Paced. Finished up my spiel:

 “Unfortunately, she succumbed to her injuries…she did not survive.”

Never used the word dead. Too blunt. Hard. Never used “morgue” either. The father’s eyes welled. I could be wrong…maybe he looked relieved? Lauren’s demons had been quieted. The mother didn’t understand what we were saying. Was wild-eyed.

“Where is she? We have to go to the hospital and be with her! What does that mean? What does that mean?”

Her eyes searched the kitchen. Like she was looking for her daughter. She also kept staring at the baby toys. Frantic. Her arms were outstretched. Or on her head. Kept pacing in circles.

“What do you mean she DIDN’T survive?”

Father broke in loudly. Emotionally.

“It means she’s DEAD! DEAD!”

She slumped, all breath left her. Slid to the floor. Let out a terrible sound like a deep moan. I’ve heard that moaning cry. A few times. It’s awful. Awful sound. It’s the sound of losing your child. I stared at the little child table in the corner. Red, blue, green. It’s weird how you remember things like that.  

You know, when they cried like that, made that awful sound. They weren’t crying for the now. They weren’t seeing their abusing, using daughter. The lost soul. They were crying remembering their sweet two year old. Running around the garden with pink bows on her hair. They saw her at her birthday party. Blowing candles. They made those awful noises because…that was their baby. Gone. Forever.

We stayed longer. The father talked about his daughter. Lauren was a wild child. They had put her in rehab. She got pregnant. Moved back home. She got a job, was attempting to put her life back together. She was trying.

As the father walked us to the door, he quietly asked:

 “Was she drunk?”

Did you give him the truth?

Told him there was some evidence of alcohol usage. Left it at that. Why be brutal?

Did you deal with them for a while? You know, help them out.

You know, heard back from families. They needed closure. Answered questions. Gave guidance. Comforted. I was their connection to their loved ones. Investigated their deaths. Fathers, mothers who couldn’t let go would call. Cry. They were troubled. I listened, A LOT. Always felt that listening was a part of my job. Least I could do. Had folks keep in contact for years. They sent letters, cards, called.  But never heard from Lauren’s parents.

The closure part. Can you tell me more about how families would find that closure?

There was the Marine father. His 17-year-old son Andrew died. Tragic. An avoidable death. Andrew and two friends were in a Jeep, speed was involved. On a hard stop Jeep rotated. Rolled over to the side. Wasn’t belted. As the Jeep flopped over, he was partially ejected. As his body was coming out, the Jeep roll bar landed on his head. Andrew was basically decapitated. Head burst. Sprayed the inside of the Jeep.

What happened to his friends?

Not a scratch.

Andrew’s father wasn’t available at the death notification. In combat. Desert Storm?  I had no contact with him till he called a couple of days later. He wanted to get some items from the Jeep. He and his son had worked on the Jeep together. Well, the vehicle was bad. The firemen had taken the boy to the hospital. I don’t know why, he wasn’t viable. He was headless, for Christ sake!

I don‘t understand.

When somebody died on the scene, there were contractors that came and gathered the pieces they found. But that night, the firemen took a dead body to the hospital though there was no viability. They were emotional, upset because he was a kid. They’re sensitive you know. They’re a bunch of pussies. Anyhow, small pieces of Andrew got thrown back into the Jeep. Like a hodge-podge of parts. On top of that, the inside was sprayed heavily. With brain matter.

I told Andrew’s father on the phone that I’d get the items for him. The man was coming over, period. He came. He was a colonel in the Marine Corps. He was strack. Impeccable. Sharp uniform. Tall, striking, he looked the part - a perfect commander of men. The real deal.

When he arrived he was ready to go, get the stuff. As we were walking towards the back lot, I offered to collect the items again. He wouldn’t have it. About 100 feet away from the vehicle, I stopped. I couldn’t let him see the inside of that Jeep. There was brain, skin, hair. Blood. His son. The odor.

 “Colonel, I respect the fact that you are a Marine. That you fight wars and see really bad things. But you don’t want to see that Jeep. It is as bad as it gets. LET ME COLLECT YOUR ITEMS”.

 The colonel appreciated the offer but said he was prepared. We headed to the car. About 50 feet away I turned to him.

“I’ll leave you here Colonel. Give you some privacy and time. I’ll be back there, available. Just wave and I’ll come over”. 

I walked away and turned. Colonel had reached the Jeep. He groaned, grunted. Half fell to the ground, was on his knees. I ran to him. Helped him up. He composed himself.  After he got himself together, his need was urgent.

“I’m getting cleaning supplies. I’ll be back to clean up.”

“Colonel, we hire people that will take care of that.”

“I don’t want anyone to see…this. Ever.”

He was back within the hour. He wore old clothes, carried buckets, cleaners, tools. He took 2 hours to clean up his son’s remains. I checked on him a couple of times, from afar. The Colonel paused at times to collect himself. He wept as he cleaned. It was tough, really tough to watch that. That was his boy. HIS boy.

(Long silence)

I’d like to wrap this up.

Jeff. I’m sorry. So sorry. I didn’t realize how bad it was. How hard it was…for so long. Sometimes you weren’t able to protect yourself, were you?

No, I live with it.

When I looked at the bodies, at Lauren, I thought of you Rebecca. All that drinking. Years. That could have been you. I got lucky. When I worked the young victims, the boys, I thought about our boys (puts hand on chest). I’d think about how bad it would be to go to the house and tell you that one of your sons had been killed (swallows).

Jeff. I…I…

Let’s go to bed. Please.