I had three calls to the ER last night, starting from 1AM. The jobs overlapped, so I moved from the adult ER to the pediatrics ER and then back to the adult ER. Luckily it was one hospital, otherwise I don’t know what my taxi bill would have looked liked.
I was with a young hardman on the way over. He was wearing a leather jacket, casually cool, like the one in Drive. He drove like hell, and with the window down – hoping the speed and the cold would keep him awake. He made a mistake though, almost drove up a one way street, he was stupid-drunk with fatigue. I recorded his name, I thought I’d report him to the dispatcher, but I was generous, after all, I get a little deranged too when I’m tired.
My victims: A forty four year old man, a sixteen year old girl in pediatrics, and a nineteen year old girl. In that order, in seven hours. I met someone new, a social worker, with a strange bedside manner. He marched into the room and said ‘Tell me! Tell me what happened. Tell me. Tell me what happened to you.’ I never ask – I pick up the story usually after the first hour passes. But there he was. The sixteen year old was astonished. She gave him a fuck-u-who-r-u look, but she told him. The forty year old man was more compliant and after the first order, he told him what happened to him.
By 6 AM I was ready to let the sixteen year old walk out with her bestfriend to catch a train, and this social worker blocked our passage with a sweep of his arms that kept us detained in the room. It worked more effectively than a locked door would have done. In the half hour that he was gone I convinced her that noone would check her urine for weed, and that it was only required for the pregnancy test. Before she disappeared into the bathroom she told me wisely, ‘that’s what they need to look for you know. Weed and shit.’ But my proud little druggie preached at me a few minutes later when I mentioned the word termination. ‘I don’t believe in no abortion. So if I’m pregnant it’s gonna be a rape baby.’ She was worried about the hepatitis injection in her backside. ‘Is it gonna make my ass fat?’ I was bemused and answered, ‘Don’t be silly. Why would it make your ass fat?’ She exchanges a look with her bestie and they launch into a discussion about all the fatasses on Depo for my benefit. ‘Nae and Jaine got fat everywhere, but not Angie, she just got fat in the ass, she a real fattyassy now. She put it up on facebook. And that’s like after just two injections this summer.’
‘Miss you from Guyana?’
‘No. I’m from Zambia.’
‘So what are you?’
‘I’m a Zambian. Zambians come from Zambia.’
‘Miss you got kids?’
‘No! Why not!’
‘Why do you want to ask me about kids?’
“I don’t know Miss. I’m just talking. I don’t want them either. I don’t even like boys. I don’t feel nothing for them. And then I let this dog take my virginity. Miss, do you think I’m gay?’
Our social worker walked back in and declared victoriously, ‘I cannot release a minor into the care of a minor. I have made arrangements. Your grandmother will be here in half an hour.’ I was surprised to see how happy and 16 years old this made my victim look. I had called the grandmother an hour before and she had told me ‘tell her to come on home before I leave for work at 7’. As I left my 16 year olds, I respectfully and humbly shook my social workers hand. My left hand carried the urine sample in a plastic bag towards the nurses counter.
There were no cops on these cases. And I missed their copshow bedside manner, crowding the witness, stepping on the examiner’s toes, always charging in during the worst parts of the forensic exam: ‘we’re gonna get this guy…you better not be one of those girls that doesn’t press charges you hear…we want to talk to you alone…we’re taking you to the courthouse right now, you’re not goin’ home…he’s an animal we’re on him.’
The ER was noisier than I’d ever known it, and even the nurses seemed charged, some were playful and but many were combative. A man warned, ‘Don’t touch me, stop touching me!’ And two male nurses standing miles away from him, were sarcastic. ‘Noone is touching you. Please!’ And a young woman, was surrounded by an excited gang of nurses as she worked herself up into a rage before she attacked – they all waited for the bell to go off. Now! And another girl lowed hoarsely ‘help me help me please let me pee, I’m desperate just let me pee.’
But in my ER it was calm. I worked with two forensic examiners throughout the night in our strange oasis. We know each other by now, although it’s been months since I last served with them. They love the victim, and they reel off empowering survivor words at every turn, and I love to watch them work. It was an easy night for me, except for the 19 year old, the victims hardly needed me. The 19 year old wanted to go home, and her grandmother, barred from entering the ER, begged me to make her stay and submit to everything. I took care of it, and it was nice between us, sitting alone together in the ER, mostly quiet. I explained the difference between evidence gathering and medical attention. She began to understand, and then she made her choice. She wanted the kit and the medication. The examiner came in and repeated my spiel. This time the girl said no rape kit, just the medical treatment for HIV, pregnancy, STIs and hepatitis. ‘That’s ok I tell her’, in case she thinks I’m mad at her. I trust her. The examiner and I both did our jobs well.
And there was a toyboycop, oh my god, as tall and lanky as a college athlete, young enough for the nurses who are all older to have some fun with him. He hung around bashful but expectant, ducked his head even lower when the next one bumped into him. I stared at his chest and memorized his name tag as I walked around looking for a spoon, so that next time, in about 6 months when I’m back at this hospital I can use his name.
There was a pregnant psychiatric nurse too, and she winked at me when my victim started to feel sorry for himself. I tried to ignore her, but it’s confusing, trying to work for him while feeling close to the professional eye. I stood aside as she was joined by the social worker in interrogating him about his willingness to enter into another detox program. They were kind of exasperated but I knew they believed him about the sexual assault, even though he was still drunk, and somehow a simpleton, and had a history of charging into the ER belligerent and high.
I leaned against a closet and dozed off on my feet as the examiner conducted the last interview at 6.30AM. Shame on me, before I slept at 11PM last night I said ‘god don’t let my phone ring, let me sleep through the night.’
I didn’t feel like a hero when I walked out of the hospital, and I didn’t feel furious either, which was great. I felt ok, the way you’re meant to feel at the start of a new day, smelling the dawn getting old and the chill lifting, almost letting the sun warm up. I jumped on a random BX bus, and then at a busstop on grand concourse I jumped out and onto the correct one parked ahead at the bus stop waiting for me. It’s the slowest bus in the world, meandering from Yankee stadium to Broadway and 231st. The same route I would have run if I’d made it to the race yesterday morning. It made me smile ‘I’m doing the BX 10 mile after all.’ I slept for almost 40 minutes and then woke up parked outside my kosher bakery. I bought a croissant and chocolate chip cookie just because they were still damp with oven freshness. I wasn’t hungry, I just wanted to look at them, the father, mother and their girl who looks more and more like the mother every day. The way they sit together in the corner table, talking and not talking and looking at each other and not looking at each other is kind of religious to me.
I left a little nauseated by the chocolate, the lack of sleep and the strong coffee, and decided to climb up up the hill, all the way home. I showed off, I took the stairs two at a time, faster than the people walking downhill.
PS I wrote this before I got back into bed this morning, and when I woke up I changed the tense, from present to past. I should have left it alone, check: ‘I don’t feel like a hero when I walk out of the hospital and I don’t feel furious either, which is great. I feel ok’.
PPS I had some fun with my book launch speech – I talked about Miley and the ass grab, black women in pornography, my crush on Freddy Mercury, my heros Jackie Chan and Rambo, and being a failure at law school. I’ve decided to laugh more in academic spaces. My students said they were proud of me – and they got the serious side of it too. Parts of the speech are up on SIN/GIN.