Our first man falls
I was told that 7:00 a.m. treated Sgt. Jackson to two surprises. First, alarm clocks went off in every one of the guy’s room. No one wanted to be late for their workout with the sergeant.
The second was the hulking figure of a cold, shivering six-foot two, 220 pound boy outside the bay window of the Commons room. He knocked on the window and shouted through the glass when he got Karen’s attention.
“Open the door, will ya?”
“Who are you?” she asked, opening the main door, but blocking it.
“I’m Ryan,” he said, extending his hand to shake hers as he pushed his way inside.
“And Ryan,” she challenged, “Exactly who are you?”
“I’m Ryan Knolls. Nice to meet you. Who are you? Are you a new worker?”
“I am, ah …. Yes.”
“Oh, Hi-ya Ryan,” said Trey coming into the hallway. “You’re back, hunh?”
“Yeah, Trey, how ya doin’?”
“I’m hanging, man. You?”
“Yeah, I’m hanging. I’m glad to be outta that school.”
“You’ve been up at North all this time?”
“Oooh, man, how could you stand it? I mean, me and Willy, we had to cut as soon as we could. It was so ghetto up there. Have you met my new woman?”
Trey began to put his arm around Karen’s waist but she gave one tiny look out of the side of her face that changed his mind very quickly. The best recovery Trey could muster was, “She’s tight man, she’s tight.”
“Hey, Ryan, you’re back,” Kevin P called out, walking down the hallway. He and Ryan exchanged knuckle-knocks and thumb twists.
“Obviously, Ryan,” said Karen, “you live here.”
“Yup, been here almost two years.”
”Yeah, ever since he got out of Berkshire Valley,” said Willy under his breath as he too, joined the group.
“Berkshire Valley?” asked Karen.
“It’s a prison for bad boys like Ryan,” replied Willy enthusiastically.
“I understand,” Karen replied. “My brother’s in Danbury.”
”Really?” exclaimed Willy. “What for?”
“Dealing, possession, and assault with a deadly weapon. He got caught in a busted cocaine deal, and now he’s doin’ 7 to 10.”
“My uncle was in Danburybefore he was my uncle,” Ryan added. “He was busted for drugs, too, in Florida, but he’s a good man. He’s my favorite uncle; he took me on his boat once. My Uncle Johnny; I wish I could see him again.”
“Why can’t you?” Karen asked.
“I dunno. He’s not on my list.”
“Yeah, my social worker’s list.”
Karen still looked confused so Willy stepped in. “Social Worker’s Approved Contacts List.”
“For Ryan or anyone of us to visit anyone,” Trey added, “or for them to come here they have to be on an approved list.”
“Yeah, like anyone ever comes here,” retorted Willy.
“For visits,” Trey continued, “all the people have to be approved by your social worker and they go on your list. If they’re on the list you can call ‘em and visit them, if not, you’re not supposed to talk to them.”
“Hmmm,” exclaimed Karen. That’s some rule.”
“Rules!” hollered Willy. “We got rules you wouldn’t believe. Do you know ya can’t use the bathroom if there’s someone already in it?”
“Yeah, that’s to make sure perverts like you don’t screw someone,” joked Kevin P.
Willy slapped KP on the sides of his head.
“Motherfucker!,” shouted Kevin P. “Get, get your fuckin’ hands off me or I’ll cut off your balls…. I’ll stick ‘em in your fucking pervy little mouth, you fucking cocksucker.”
Wildly, Kevin swung his fists at Willy.
“Hold it, you two. That’s an order,” Karen commanded.
Ignoring her, Willy pushed KP against the window.
Kevin grabbed Willy around the waist and was about to throw him through the window vent screen when Karen jumped in and bear-hugged Kevin from behind.
“I said HOLD IT! Okay, you two…”
She threw Kevin P to the floor and grabbed Willy by the back of his shirt. She led him ten feet away and pushed him down as well.
“Give me twenty,” she commanded.
“Twenty what?” Willy asked.
“Twenty push-ups, you doosh-bag,” Kevin cursed from the corner of his mouth.
By now everyone in the house was up.
A few minutes later, I joined the group and saw Karen with her arms folded across her chest, and a stern look on her face.
She pushed Willy down with her foot every time he came up from the floor.
“Good-Morn-ing-Dave,” she sputtered through clenched teeth.
“Good Morning, Karen,” I replied, cheerfully. “Giving some of our darlings extra exercise this morning, sergeant?”
“Yes. Some of our Men of Honor seem,…” she paused to push Willy back down, “seem to have momentarily forgotten their pledges. But…” she paused to push Willy down again, “I think they are slowly remembering.”
“Ah, well,” I offered, “that’s good news. I like good news in the morning before I’ve had a cup of coffee. Oh, by the way Sergeant Jackson,” I said slyly over my shoulder as I walked out of the room toward the kitchen, “this is a ‘hands-off’ policy house. So, I’m glad you’re using your foot instead.”
“Dave,” shouted Ryan, lumbering across the room in my direction. “You didn’t say hello to me.”
“Oh, ‘Hi,’ Ryan. I guess I didn’t see you with all this commotion. Welcome back.” I shook his hand.
Terry walked over at the same time and said, “Welcome home, Ryan, it’s good to see you.” Then she turned toward me.
“What just happened out here?”
“Just another bout of fisticuffs and cursing,” I replied.
Terry nodded and we turned back toward Ryan.
“It’s good to see you, too, Terry,” Ryan said, once he had our attention again.
“Ryan, you gotta take a shower and get the dust off of you, “ I instructed, “but before you go, tell me how are things at the high school? That’s where you were, right?”
“Yeah, I just left there.”
“Oh, are they letting the kids go now?” Terry asked.
“I dunno. I just left. Some of the kids are getting sick and I didn’t want to get sick, too, so I left.”
“Some of the kids are getting sick?” Terry continued.
“Like how?” I asked.
“Oh, they’re throwing up a lot. I didn’t like it, so I left. I’m hungry, are we gonna have breakfast soon?”
“Gee, I don’t know, Ryan” and I looked around for Bill to see if he would cook breakfast again. I didn’t see him.
“We got Bill the SYSCO driver staying with us,” I said. “You know Bill don’t ya, Ryan?”
“Sure, he pays me a dollar to help him unload his truck; I like Bill. Bill’s here? Cool.”
I went to Bill’s room and knocked on his closed door. There was no answer. I knocked again.
“Bill, are you in there?”
“Yeah,” I heard faintly.
“You okay?” I asked, pushing the door open a crack. I saw Bill lying flat on his bed. “Can I come in Bill?” Bill didn’t answer.
Walking in, I smelled the vomit. A thick deposit lay in a waste can next to his bed.
“Bill, you’re sick.”
“Yeah,” he said, trying to get up. “It came on strong last night. My gut hurts like hell.”
“Do you think it’s the flu?”
“I dunno. I got a fever, but it doesn’t feel like any flu I’ve ever had. Every bone in my body feels like it’s on fire, ‘cept I can’t feel my toes. Shit, Dave, I can’t walk.”
“Oh, Bill, that doesn’t sound good.”
“It ain’t. Do you think it’s radiation, Dave?”
“I don’t know. I hope not. But, Ryan, one of our kids, just came home from North High School and he said the kids are getting sick up there. God, I hope it’s not radiation poisoning. Hang on a second, Bill. I’ll be right back. Do you want a glass of water or something?”
“Yeah, water sounds good.”
“Okay, man, I‘ll be right back.”
I met Terry in the hallway.
“Bill’s sick,” I said. She stopped in her tracks.
“I think so,” I said slowly. “He’s vomiting and looks like hell. He can’t walk, either.”
“What did Ryan say about the kids at the high school? What are their symptoms?”
“Ryan,” I called out, “C’mere.” Ryan eagerly joined us. I put my hand on his shoulder without thinking.
“Ryan, what kind of symptoms did the kids have at the high school?”
“They were throwing up a lot. They had the sweats, and they couldn’t walk.”
“Oh, God, this doesn’t sound good,” Terry said. We turned towards Bill’s room. Ryan followed us.
“Ryan, you gotta shower and get that dust off of you. It’s radioactive and it’ll make you sick. Like what’s probably happening to Bill,” I said.
Ryan left, and Terry and I entered Bill’s room.
“Bill, how are you feeling,” Terry asked, sinking to her knees next to Bill’s bed. Instinctively, like a mother, she placed her palm on Bill’s forehead and pushed back his hair.
“Terry, I’m really sick; I think it’s radiation poisoning. Don’t ask me how I know, but I know. Terry,…” Bill paused, squeezed her hand and said through tears, “Terry, I don’t want to die here.” With that he turned his head away and closed his eyes.
“I hear ya, Bill,” reassured Terry, “I hear ya”.
Ryan came in, his hair dripping wet, and Bill turned his head instinctively to see him.
“Hey, kid, how you doin’?”
“Hi, Bill. You sick?”
“Yeah, afraid, so. Say, kid, could you get me some water.”
“Yeah, sure, Bill.” Ryan left the room.
“I’ll try getting word to your family, Bill,” Terry promised.
“We’re going to have to get you to a hospital, Bill,” Terry continued. “You look like you need a doctor. Adam’s been in serious contact with General Mayfield at Rescue Command. I’ll see if we can get some kind of medivac here, or we’ll take you out on the Nuke Mobile. We might have to drive all the way to Framingham because I don’t how if U-Mass Medical or Worcester General is still functional? You think you can make a trip like that?”
Ryan retuned with a mug of water.
“Here ya go, Bill. Some water.”
He could hardly sip it. We had to hold his head like a baby, and try to get some into his mouth without having most of it run down his neck.
“Rest easy, Bill, we’ll see what we can do,” offered Terry.
Terry and I left. “It almost 8:00, Terry. Time for you and Karen to connect with General Mayfield’s people. They need to send in some help for Bill.”
“Hmmm, yes.” Terry was thinking fast. “And kids are getting sick up at North High,” she mused.
“Hey, where’s our music,” shouted the aerobically entranced men in the Commons room. “Turn the music back on.”
“No one turned it off,” Terry called out, entering the staff office.
Everything was dark.
Terry raced to the computer screen in my office. It was black.
“Shit, Dave, electricity’s off. What are we going to do?”
For once in my life I had nothing to say. I just sighed deeply and shook my head.
“What happened?” asked Karen, entering with TT.
“We’ve lost power,” Terry announced.
Adam joined us, having either slept through or avoiding the commotion earlier.
“Good Morning, everyone,” Adam sung out, waltzing into the staff office and gliding over to Terry and giving her a light hug around the waist.
“We have a problem, Teresa?”
“Yes, Adam.” She grabbed him by the arm and led him into her office.
“Karen,” she called over her shoulder, “would you be so kind as to organize breakfast. I think it’s Willy and Kevin A’s turn to cook.”
Then, she stopped and faced Karen directly.
“Karen, Bill’s sick. I think he has radiation poisoning.”
“Oh, God,” Karen said, “it’s starting, isn’t it.”
“Bill, the SYSCO driver is ill?” asked Adam.
“Yes,” Terry said. “He looks horrible. Adam, what are we going to do? We have no electricity, no computer. We are cut off totally now.”
“It appears that way doesn’t it?”
“Oh, Adam, how can you be so cool, calm, and collected?”
She closed her fists and pummeled him gently on his thin chest. He grabbed her wrists as she pounded away, ‘one, two, three; one, two, three;’ they danced back and forth in a waltz of despair, anger and compassionate strength.
“Teresa,” he said gently, “help is on the way. Hopefully, it’ll be the right kind of help and soon. The Army will know in a few minutes that we’re not able to communicate with them. We have to trust that we’ll be okay, even if we don’t know how it’s going to come about. Trust the process, Terry, trust the process…”
“Oh, Adam, you always say that.” Terry collapsed into his arms.
They embraced and swayed, dancing to an invisible, silent muse.
“Yes, I do,” Adam whispered. “but it’s true. You have to trust the process.”
“Oh, hey, you two, I think I’ll just go see how breakfast is coming along,” I said, and left, closing the door behind me.
They’re a sweet couple, even if they’re married to different people. Ain’t love funny?
Bacon aromas wafted down the hallway.
Thank God for our propane stove.
© 2011 Bruce A. Smith