You know us We are the Pain Warriors The ones who have been blessed With a variety of ways To fight the chronic pain we live with We write about our …We Are The Pain Warriors ~ A Poem By Walt Page, The Tennessee Poet
This is part of an ongoing series called Graveyard Shift. It can be read alone or you can roll back in my archives and start from the beginning.
Sergeant Michael Valentine was stuck in traffic. He was supposed to meet his partner at 11. He didn’t have to punch in, he just hated to be late. Now, road construction, his tax dollars at work, was holding him up. He was getting antsy when it occurred to him that he was a cop, why didn’t he throw on the reds? Then he realized that the reds won’t help him through the oncoming traffic, it was one lane. He punched the steering wheel. Take a deep breath, he scolded himself.
He called his partner and told him he would be late and to meet at the coffee shop. It was a short walk for him and Mike could pick up both him and a decent cup of coffee. That being handled he focused again on the traffic, his Agita, and his anxiety. Cheryl loved to fuck with me when this happened. This was one of those moments that reminded him of his ex. When he had one of his “moments” of anxiety, impatience or intolerance it would always end up in a fight. Despite the conventional wisdom of leaving him alone and letting him work through it Cheryl always picked and prodded at him and made an otherwise small thing into a blowout. One that regrettable things were said, things you don’t forget. It’s bad enough that I’m wrapped tighter than an airport sandwich, do I have to think of her every time I get worked up? The traffic started to move. He could feel the tension in his chest ease a bit. He lit another cigarette and waved to the flagman as he drove by.
“Hop in” he said as he flung the passenger side door open. In came 2 paper cups of hot coffee immediately followed by his partner James “Jimmy” McInerney. Mike put the coffees in the cup holders and opened the tab on his.
“Extra cream extra sugar?” , he asked.
“It’s your friggin’ heart attack”, Jimmy replied.
“Spare me the commentary, dickhead. Jus’ asking. Coffee is all I have until I can have a drink.” He took a sip. Jimmy laughed.
“You don’t need either. The shape you’re in, you could donate your body to Science Fiction.”
“You’re right. And Fuck you”, Mike said as he tossed his spent cigarette out the cracked window.
They drove in silence, the hum of the tires as they drove down Main St. provided the filler for their silence. They focused on police work, scanning the crowded sidewalks for signs of trouble.
This was their routine every night, to cruise the main street containing the college bars looking for trouble makers. The establishments generally let out just as their shift started and if there was going to be a fight or some sort of mischief this was the time. Jimmy pointed across Mike’s chest.
“There.” He was pointing to a circle of young people. They were gathered around something hidden from their sight. Mike swung the Crown Vic into the opposite side of the street, threw on the lights and blew the siren. Several onlookers turned in response.
“Everything ok over here?” He called out through his open window.
“Yes, officer. Just a drunk girl.” As the circle opened up they saw a very intoxicated young woman sitting on the ground with a befuddled look on her face. Nobody was really helping her, they were treating her as a curiosity. She was clearly disoriented and in need of help.
“You go in and talk to the bartender. That young lady has clearly been overserved. Tell him I’ll shut them the fuck down if they’re not careful. I’ll take her home and swing back for you” Mike said.
“K”, Jimmy replied in his usual perfunctory manner and jumped out of the car.
Mike stepped out and the crowd scattered. A physically imposing guy of 6’2 and a reasonably muscular 250 pounds with a strong chin and a buzzcut, Sergeant Valentine didn’t need a badge and a gun to clear a crowd. He leaned in, spoke briefly to the young woman and helped her to her feet. As he helped her into the back seat of the car he turned to the crowd.
“Maybe next time someone can help out instead of standing around. What the hell is wrong with all of you?” he scolded the crowd. Not one of the bystanders dared to be indignant enough to defend themselves.
He leaned in to get the address of the young woman. Once done, he strapped her in and drove off in search of her dorm or housing. He considered, for a brief moment arresting her for Public Intoxication but he had a soft spot for the kids, especially the girls. They were, after all the same age as his daughter.
The clock on the Microwave read 10:38 PM. That microwave is almost as old as me Mike mused. He stood up from the kitchen table, stubbed out his cigarette and put his coffee cup in the sink.
He was late for his shift. Goddamn Graveyard shift. Another night of dealing with the crazies, drunks and other dregs of society. He threw his holster over his shoulder and fastened the buckle. If all else fails him, his trusty 9MM never will. He grabbed the jacket off of the back of his chair and went to the door. As he opened it he heard the shuffle of feet in the kitchen. He turned and saw his daughter at the cupboard, she was getting a coffee mug.
“The water is still hot if you want the instant stuff.”
“No thanks”, she said. “I’ll use the Keurig.”
“You gotta have that Starbuck’s crap dontcha Sarah?” he chided.
“Leave me alone, Daddy. I’m too tired.”
“I’m just playin’ kid.” He looked at her intently. “You ok?” He was worried about her. Between his job and hers he never saw her. She didn’t look good.
“I’m fine. Just tired. I would worry about yourself if I was you, Dad. You look like shit.”
“Thanks”, he said. “I’m late. Let’s chisel out a spot of time that we can hang out. I miss you.” He couldn’t think of the last time he had spent any real time with her. Maybe it was Thanksgiving. Or Christmas. Who knew, time went by so fast lately. He dug into his breast pocket, pulled out a pack of Marlboro Reds and stuck one in his mouth. He lit it, exhaled and coughed. Goddamn things are going to kill me.
As if on cue Sarah said, “those things are going to kill you.” They both chuckled. “Got one for me?”
He begrudgingly reached into his shirt and tossed the pack to her. She took one and tossed the pack to him. She stared at him sarcastically for a moment until he realized why and tossed her the lighter.
“I’m late, kiddo. Gotta go. Love you.”
“You too, Dad. I’m going out soon.”
“Work or pleasure?, he asked.
“Out”, she said.
He knew nothing about her lately. Where she went, who she was hanging with. As a Police Sergeant in a college town of 45,000 people, his job had him pulling doubles, living on bad coffee, fast food and no sleep. Consequently, his relationship with his daughter had really suffered. He wasn’t even sure what she was doing for work right now. She had changed jobs so often. His lack of connection with her was haunting him and he didn’t see a break in sight. At least until the kids went home for the summer.
“Out. Ok then. Wherever that is, don’t have them call me.” They both chuckled. He went over to her and kissed her on the cheek. “Love you.”
“You too, Daddy.” She never looked up from her coffee.