Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Unknown Blue 50051484--Part 1

As you all have no doubt noticed, I have posted very little for months now. There are a few reasons for that, but one of them is very definitely a feeling of impotence and an overwhelming anger at that sense of impotence. And grief. In the last nine months I have lost three friends, seems one every three months. That can put a dent in ya. Oh yeah, and those deaths, while personal were accompanied by news reports of lots of other deaths, which while less personally effecting, still registered and ramped up the grief and impotence.

As most of you know, my husband had a terrible accident in September. Certainly the posts shrivelled up during that time as he was in bad shape and needed some help. Naturally that became my first priority. But there was something else seething inside that I haven't written about in all these months. Now it's time I did.

The night my husband was wheeled into the ER at Charity Hospital was a nightmare and totally surreal. Was anything broken? Was he going to be alright? He was scraped up from head to toe and in shock thinking giddily that he'd be back out giving tours in two days. Hell, he told the ambulance guys they could go and he'd just finish the tour he had been doing---nevermind that people were bringing him his shoe from up the block and his hat from down the block and his glasses and his. . . . .personal debris all up and down St. Philip. Any one wanting his DNA could have sent a CSI guy to scrape the street and they'd have had plenty. I had asked the ambulance driver where they were taking him as I had no earthly clue where a hospital was, or which hospitals were now open. He told me, "Glue your front bumper to my back bumper and run all the red lights I do." So I did, almost getting broadsided in the process, but I got to the hospital and was there as they wheeled my husband in.

One of the EMT's looks at me and says blithely, "Ya know, the last fatality in New Orleans was on that very gurney your husband is on now," as though that's supposed to make me feel better. He follows with, "Dammit, I forgot to take my Risperdal today, I have notes all over the house saying TAKE YOUR MEDS STUPID but I keep forgetting." He laughed long and heartily over all this and I chalked it up to the black humored stress of being an EMT in New Orleans.

Hours go by as they x-ray, examine, set up IV's, examine again, do more x-rays. In the curtained area down from my husband was a woman, very large, ageless in that way that could be 40 or could be 70, who knew. She was pretty much unaware of her surroundings but was conscious and awake, just not there if you know what I mean. She had had an accident of some kind in her home, days ago, and had only just been found by a neighbor. It gave me the willies that some poor soul like her could spend days without anyone noticing she wasn't among them.

More hours go by. I go outside to have a cigarette, it's very late at night and I guess most of the docs and nurses were on break. They were all out there smoking, comparing types of cigarettes, talking about how bombed they were last weekend, just having a wonderful time. It was encouraging in a weird perverse way, at least for me. But by now it had been many hours and I still didn't know exactly what the damage was to my husband. I was getting impatient, asking questions, getting no answers, filling out more papers, trying to reach my daughter by phone which turned out to be a futile exercise but kept me busy hitting the redial button on the cell phone.

Suddenly all hell broke loose about 1AM.

People were running all over the ER, hollering "Seven shot at Charbonnet and Royal in the Lower 9. They're bringing four of them here." A nurse breathlessly tells me that they'll have to move my husband, so he's moved over behind a curtain to the left. The ambulances can already be heard screaming in the distance, the sound getting closer.

BAM! The doors of the ER slide/slam open and the first gurney is wheeled in. I was leaned up against the wall near my husband's bed at the edge of the curtain. A once white sheeted gurney passes me, it is now crimson with blood soaked everywhere, four people are running with it, some pushing it some holding the IV bags. On it is a young black man, no older than 20, 23 at the outside. He seems to be bleeding from everywhere. One doctor says quietly, "Take him to the OR. He'll probably be paralyzed. Bullet hit his spine." The young man, unconscious and bloody slides past me and is gone. Two cops walk in through the sliding doors and deposit large brown paper grocery sacks. They are labelled in large hand scribbled sharpie: UNKNOWN BLUE 50051484, UNKNOWN PURPLE 50051485. The bags contained any personal belongings that had been found at the scene. There might have been another one, I can't remember. I was just stunned by the labelling and wrote it down in my checkbook register so I wouldn't forget it. Absurd, but that's what I did.

The two cops, both black and large, joke around with the ER desk staff as they are setting the bags down. The cops and the desk staff carry on a strange latenight conversation, laughing but otherwise emotionless: "Yeah, there were seven of them, shot each other up." "Any reason or are they just trying to kill each other off?" "We don't know yet, but if they do kill each other off that's less for us to do." Laughs all around. My guess is they've seen this so many times that they are jaded, they can't care or they'd scream, so they become cold, inured to the bloody colors streaming by, scribbled on brown paper bags.

As the repartee continues, a 40-ish black woman in scrubs and gloves walks by me carrying a large orange biohazard bag away from her body and slightly up in the air. Behind her is another red soaked gurney, another young black male body, but his face is barely there. As they wheel this victim past me I hear the EMT's saying, "Yeah, we just cleaned his brains and guts outta the rig." Oh, I think, so that's what was in the big orange bag. The doctor running alongside the gurney says, "This one isn't gonna make it."

Another gurney is brought in and put on the left side of the doors. There is a young black woman sobbing and howling as she lays on it. A woman in scrubs stands over her, trying to examine her and calm her. "I didn't know anything like this was gonna happen," the girl wailed. "I don't want to die. I didn't know anything like this was gonna happen." She repeated the same refrain for nearly 45 minutes, sobbing loudly, clearly terrified, probably no more than 19.

Finally the fourth ambulance arrives. Yet another young black man dripping buckets of red blood on the white sheets and floor. This one is semi-conscious and looks like a child. His face, unlike the previous young man's, was still intact, and I started to cry knowing that his mother had kissed that face many times over the maybe 21 years he'd been on this earth. No one saw me crying. I was still peeking out from behind the curtain, my husband drifting in and out of consciousness thanks to the painkillers they had administered. The desk staff asks if there are any more. The EMT says, "There are three more but they're taking them somewhere else, this is it for tonight." "Typical Friday night in the ER, huh?" ::::::chuckle chuckle:::::: "Looks like the girl and the last one will make it. Anyone know what this is about?" "Does there need to be a reason?" :::::::::chuckle chuckle:::::::

At that point, a young white doctor notices me, apparently looking shocked, still peeking from behind the curtain. He adopts a serious, kindly look, and heads my way. "Ma'am, as you can see we're a little overwhelmed here. We haven't forgotten your husband but. . . . ." "I understand," I say since my white husband isn't gushing blood all over the floor and I really do understand the seriousness of what I just saw and the fact that something has to be done instantly for these kids. "Ya, know," he says, "99% of the gunshot victims we see in here are black, male and under 23. They seem determined to kill each other. You probably think I'm cold, but if they want to do that, there's nothing I can do about it. It's hardly worth patching them up 'cuz they'll just be back in 6 months."

They did what they needed to do for my husband, at one point they kicked me out of the ER when I asked what was the diagnosis for my husband? Was he okay? Broken? What was broken? "Lady, go sit in the chairs in the waiting room and we'll call you." At 6:30AM the next morning (we'd gotten there about 10PM the night before) they released him and I brought him home.

I still don't know why seven kids were shot at Charbonnet and Royal Streets on September 14, 2007, nor do I know their names. I don't know who made it and who didn't. I only know that Unknown Blue 50051484 and Unknown Purple 50051485 were someone's kids. And they haunt me.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Things I learned from Ashley Morris

I have been thinking about this for days. There are others among the blogger group who were in closer touch than I was with Ashley, but we did have our moments. I learned a lot from this man. One of my favorite photos of him is the one above. I always thought we should make t-shirts out of it.

I learned that ignoring conventional wisdom regarding the wearing of horizontal stripes was a good thing and could make a statement while flattering one's figure, and that being comfortable in one's own skin made that work. So there, Mr. Blackwell.

I learned that lapdances were an appropriate gift for someone who had just had a heart transplant (this, according to him and his testosterone filled posse via email) as long as you provided a laptop for said transplant patient to get some work done between dances.

I learned that laughter and generosity coupled with sheer frustrated rage could be a productive combination. Much could be accomplished by opening one's mouth and screaming to the high heavens that something was just flat out WRONG.

I learned that if I didn't understand some of the geek stuff, he would always take the time to answer my emails, even with his plate so full with family, work and activism.

I learned that there was a big guy out there who loved cigars as much as my husband and would help look for that husband at a Krewe du Vieux after party when it was thought that the aforementioned husband might be drunk and passed out somewhere in a run down theatre on Rampart Street.

I learned that size DOES matter when it comes to fleur de lis tattoos and the size of one's heart.

I also learned some wonderful phrases which will be forever linked to him in my head.

FYYFF could be a password for a secret clubhouse of bloggers, and probably will be one day, but it often summed up everything the rest of us were thinking but didn't have the balls to write: Fuck you you fucking fuck.

Sinn Fein, obviously co-opted from the IRA, it nevertheless became a rallying cry for those of us who felt that the social contract had failed. We knew we were indeed in this ourselves alone a lot of the time.

Fuckmook. Well, what can you say about that? The first time I met him in person, after having several email exchanges within our little group, I walked up, introduced myself and told him that my husband and I had to thank him for that wonderful word. It has become a staple in the vocabulary around here, usually hollered loudly by one of us as we read some thoroughly appalling article in the paper. He laughed very hard and confessed that he hadn't made it up. He said, "That's what Johnny Depp says when he gets in the cab in 'Once Upon a Time in Mexico.'" I was delighted. Here was one other human being who had actually seen that movie and liked it in its bizarre-ness like I did.

Food Porn. A photo of a gorgeous cochon du lait with an Abita standing by, or a photo of. . . . . you name the food. He'd describe it in detail until you found yourself standing in the kitchen making peanut butter toast cuz it was 2AM, you just read it and now you were jones-ing with no hope of copping.

I learned that what we write here really does matter, and after a long layoff wondering if anything at all mattered, I thank him heartily for that.

Please make sure you click the photo/link in the picture to the right (the one where he has a plate in his hand). Donate if you can. His family can use it. I hope the family knows that we'll still be around to help out and to carry on what Ashley did so well. As Karen so perfectly put it: RAGE ON.

Monday, April 07, 2008

RIP Ashley Morris

I have been unable to find the words for the grief I feel at this heroic man's passing. For now, this is all I can muster, but will be putting in more information this afternoon about funeral details and fundraising for the family. For now, please click the photo/link below which will take you to the memorial page.