Saturday, January 18, 2014

I never saw the angels come...

I never saw the angels come. I know they were there. They had to be. But I never saw them. Maybe I was late each time and they had come from heaven and returned. Maybe my eyes were not ready, maybe my soul was not.

Woodlawn Cemetery - almost in the 47th Precinct, NYPD
 In The Bronx of the 1980s, if you were a cop and you worked "midnights" - 11.30 pm to 8.00 am - which we pretty much all did one out of every six weeks, we figured you'd have a 20% chance of ending your shift with a "SIDS baby." The calls seemed to come every dawn, and I'm certain the dispatchers tried to spread the pain... but still, you could count on this every night.

It didn't take long for us to learn to try to hide. Even that Bronx was pretty quiet at 5.30 am, before people started moving toward the subways, before cars stolen and businesses burgled were discovered, but we'd all grab any call we could to be busy before, "child not breathing" came across the radio.

"Seven Adam?" "Seven Adam." "Seven Adam, child not breathing, second floor, 538 East 223."  ...  "Seven Adam, copy that?" "Seven Adam, four Central, on our way."

Now I wonder if it was during that pause, that sigh before we'd find the courage needed to reply, if that was the moment when the angels would come for that innocent soul.

We were almost all young fathers then. I'd guess that half the precinct had kids under two at home. And, to a man, when we came home from working our "third tours" - 4.00 pm to midnight, which was three out of every six weeks - we would shake our babies in their cribs, usually until they cried, to be sure they were breathing. We lived our lives in a fear no one associated with the young cops they saw prowling modern New York's most violent decade.

I never saw the angels come. I saw panic stricken mothers and fathers. I saw rivers of tears. I saw the surroundings of horrific urban poverty. I saw shrines on the walls which had failed in this most precious purpose. And I saw lifeless bodies - blue, mottled - bodies we would grab and perform heroic medical care on in desperate hope... no, it was not that... in a desperate performance to keep the mothers and fathers from the ultimate nightmare just a few minutes longer.

I think that if I had witnessed that tiny moment of ascent to heaven, I would cry less all these years later.

(c) 2014 Ira David Socol