My ghosts have been walking again...
I thought I was rid of them, but the events of September 11, 2001 cracked open that vault and they've slipped out once again.
Watching and ruminating on the events as they unfolded at first was an exercise in abstraction. ...and the video clips were better than the best special effects work.
...and here on the west coast, there was work to do. A few bases to cover, seein's how certain types of shipping were no longer available when the aircraft were grounded. ...and my main suppliers ship from the east coast. ...and have offices in New York.
Then some of the realities kicked in. ...especially when the buildings came down and took the emergency workers with them. I think that's when the seals on that vault failed.
I didn't know they'd failed. I just figured I was having a problem with the loss of life. Heck, I didn't have a clue until I walked outside later in the day.
...and found myself looking at the skyline for pillars of smoke.
In contrast: The town where I work has only a handful of structures that could be considered "high rise". ...and nothing over thirty stories. But my mind kept overlaying smoke pillars on the skyline as I drove off on a errand...
...and, after the effect kicked in a few more times as I came over a high spot on a freeway, I realized it stemmed from my days on the fire department: you automatically locked in the fire's location and size as soon as you could get a view of the base of the smoke.
That was livable, but I found myself getting more and more withdrawn during the day. ...and I was in a terrible mood at home that night. I didn't really figure out that the images from the tube were getting to me; I thought I was just angry about what had happened.
...but the vault was open. Every time I stopped working for a moment, a scene from the past would float up: the overturned big rig on I-5, as I worked on the driver while the firemen cut the vehicle apart around us; the smoke banked down around the house as we pulled up in Medic 8 and neighbors running up to say there are people inside. ...and we know we have a rescue.
...the day I seriously thought about bringing a helicopter down on the surface road in the middle of rush hour traffic as they'd be able to bounce to the hospital quicker than the ground units. ...and they'd have plenty of time to land and setup 'cause this was going to be a long extrication
...the night that car blew the stop sign into the pickup. ...and Andrea and I had to wait and wait for additional units. ...because we were the only crew from any agency on the scene for over twenty minutes. ...and we each had a critical patient.
...the day the Lear jet fell from the sky. ...and missed the school. ...but not the apartments.
...and the images just kept coming: the day I teamed up with the Fire Captain who got me into teaching (both of us off-duty) to work an interior salvage operation on a fire in our own neighborhood. ...and how he was killed by a drunken driver years later.
...the blood dripping from the pickup truck bed. ...and how someone (read: me) had to lift the tarp to see if it was from a beating heart.
...the night Shelley and I were first in on the--- Nah, that's enough; you don't need the visuals anymore than I do.
I finally figured out at least one common factor for most of the ghosts from this particular vault: I was actively doing something, working a patient or an extrication.
...and every time I look at that canyon on the tube, a major part of the old fire horse inside me wants to respond to the sound of the bell just like in the old days. Because when you're working a scene like that, your brain really doesn't have time to think about the people cost. ...and the horror of it all. You just get to work at saving people...
...and yeah, you may pay that piper later, the one that gives some people nightmares. ...or drives them to drink. But that's later. ...in the short term, you're so exhausted you really don't have a problem sleeping. Then...
Well, that's the working hypothesis; if I'm correct, I should be able to lock these guys away again. ...and try to use a better quality seal.
I admit I really didn't expect to see this bunch again. ...at least not as a collection. Every so often, one will glide through the crack between the doors and come out to play for a time; but this is the first time in many, many years that the doors have swung wide.
...and I usually can just shove the errant thought back through the opened space. It's usually my fault anyway: I was probably thinking about someone from the old days. ...or some of the craziness of the work. I try to keep those thoughts tucked away also, although their door is simply closed rather than locked. Still, I don't open it much... 'Cause when I do, those memories seem to draw out the wraiths that drift out from that other vault....and I frankly don't want either of them open. You see, there's that third vault. ...the one whose contents I will only discuss with other professionals.
...the one where the inhabitants speak of failed rescues. ...and loss. ...and utter tragedy.
The one just like the ones the men and women working in the canyon are now filling...