For first responders

“Can you help me clean the puke out of the Durango?”
She stood wavering, ever so slightly. Maybe a little pale, but definitely with that far away look in her eyes.

River, river carry me on
Living river carry me on
River, river carry me on
To the place where I come from

As a member of the Grand Jury this year, ordinary tasks call for observing some Shasta County operations. I’m remembering her description of the Shasta County jail tour, and about the food.
Today, the schedule was to take her to the Coroners office.

So deep, so wide, will you take me
on your back for a ride
If I should fall, would you swallow me deep inside?

“You know,” I said earlier that morning, “they’re gonna have that kid there today. The child that drowned in the Trinity. Maybe you should ask for a different day.”

“When is it a good day to witness an autopsy?” she said. “I think I can handle it.” So confident. A false bravado, I’m thinking.

River, show me how to float
I feel like I’m sinking down
Thought that I could get along
But here in this water
My feet won’t touch the ground
I need something to turn myself around

Shasta County Coroner

Going away, away toward the sea
River deep, can you lift up and carry me

“She looked like a doll, I…”

“…I thought I was okay. But then I just started sweating. It was hard to breathe. I said I had to go. Then, I just lost it in the car.”

Oh roll on though the heartland
‘Til the sun has left the sky
River, river carry me high
‘Til the washing of the water make it all alright
Let your waters reach me like
she reached me tonight

“How could…” her unfinished words slowly evaporated.

No answer. What separates any of us from hearing voices in our heads? Maybe just some few brain chemicals, keeping things rational. I look away.

Letting go, it’s so hard
The way it’s hurting now
To get this love untied
So tough to stay with this thing
‘Cause if I follow through
I face what I denied
I get those hooks out of me
And I take out the hooks that I
sunk deep in your side
Kill that fear of emptiness, loneliness I hide

“It must have been terrible for the first responders, the rescuers, the searchers. Whoever pulled her out of the river will have that image.”

And so we are thinking of you today, Search and Rescue, First Responders, and Coroners. All very needed. All quietly going about your very necessary work. You are in our thoughts. Whether in Trinity County, Shasta County, or Joplin Missouri.

River, oh river, river running deep
Bring me something that will let me get to sleep
In the washing of the water
will you take it all away
Bring me something to take this pain away


Lyrics: Washing of the Water, Peter Gabriel

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2 Responses to For first responders

  1. Beautiful, heart-wrenching piece, Skip.

  2. Sara McCurry says:

    I appreciate the quality and intellect of your writing on FDotD and just happened onto this piece. I went searching for the weather in the Record Searchlight last Friday and instead found this story, waited while they searched, and then followed the tragic outcome. My own daughter is 2 1/2. Kept remembering the opening lines of “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter” by John Crowe Ransom, “There was such speed in her little body / And such lightness in her footfall / It is no wonder her brown study astonishes all…” Somewhere out here still struggling with theodicy, but your writing and compassion are a balm…

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