The broken pavement was still radiating the stored heat of the July day, mixing with the cooler night breezes spinning off Lake Erie. Saturday night in the summer, perhaps the only time this crumbling once-upon-a-town felt like it had a little life left in it, had the ability to produce a little bit of energy, even if that energy was random and mostly negative. Nowadays what vitality was left was generated by the drinking of beer rather than the production of the steel by mills that once made the night sky glow red, filling the pockets of the workers with money, and their lungs with the acrid smoke of industry. Coming to find a better life from eastern Europe, Puerto Rico, Appalachia and the Deep South, it was the working people, the immigrants and their children, who made this town thrum with an energy now long dissipated.
The call went out for injuries from a fight, only a couple of blocks from the station on the edge of the blighted downtown. Police on scene, we arrived quiet and dark, not wanting to further stir a population desperate for something to excite them. We pulled up behind a squad car in front of a row of seedy, tiny single family homes. Once respectable, kept clean and neat by the working families that toiled in the mill, they now disintegrate around the jobless who exist within their crumbling walls.
Folks are milling about the sidewalk and street, or sitting on stoops and porches. Two cops are holding onto the arms of a guy down the block who is fighting them -- not too hard, just enough to make a show for the crowd. His anger is directed at a woman who is being blocked by two more cops, trying to calm her down. They are both of indeterminate age -- somewhere between thirty and sixty -- drinking, drugs, violence and poverty having made them ageless and aged. They are yelling at each other. He stole my forty-ounce; he stole my forty-ounce. He yells back the unprintable. My partner goes to him, I go to her. She has a cut on her head. What happened? He stole my forty-ounce, and when I try to grab it back he hit me upside the head with it. I almost fell out. He broke my forty-ounce (expletives deleted). I can t fix the forty-ounce, but we ve gotta get your head fixed I told her. We can t put him in the same bus with her, chief I say to the sergeant, I ll call the other unit. Let s get her in the back of this one.
We half drag her into the back of the ambulance, because she still wants to go at it with the other guy. She calms down in the ambulance and lets me put a bandage on her head. She curses him the whole way to the hospital. That forty-ounce was clearly a most precious possession.
While unloading her at the ambulance bay, the other unit arrives with the boyfriend. They try to go after each other again but the cot straps hold them back. We wheel them to opposite ends of the ER. Of course, the staff is delighted to see us.
About ten minutes later I m at the nurses station filling out paperwork when I hear it. I loves you baby! she yells from the corner cubicle. I loves you too baby! I hear from the other end of the ER. This goes back and forth a few times. I glance up and see the doc across the desk working on a chart. We both scrunch up trying not to laugh. He hides his face in his arms folded on the desk, but his body still convulses. Then I hear giggling from a couple of the other cubicles, from the other patients. And it goes on, I loves you baby! I loves you too baby! and the rest of the ER, medics, docs, nurses, patients, clerks are snorting with laughter, in tears.
Love is a beautiful thing. Somebody, just hold me.