Stories Tragedy


Maybe the lights won’t come back on.

Maybe you can sit in silence in the back of the community center next to your ex-wife for a little while. She’s been remarried for years. You try to remember where what’s-his-name works.

You hold her hand. She squeezes your hand back.

🜋 🜋 🜋

You know the community center well.

It is where you register your daughter for soccer every August. Heck, the athletic league even talked you into becoming a coach last season. What did you know about coaching soccer for 7-year-old girls? By the end of the season, you were a veritable Lionel Messi.

You smile at the memory. It fades as you look up.

🜋 🜋 🜋

The auditorium is full.

Emergency medical service providers are everywhere all at once.

Acronyms fly out of officials’ mouths.

No one knows anything.

Not even the sad-eyed old men in brown cardigans, large ID badges affixed to their lapels. They instruct the younger staff how to set up partitions in the back of the hall—making privacy bays. Three folding chairs each. One box of tissues.

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Earlier, an EMS worker takes you by the elbow and walks you here, not too far away from the elementary school. Just across the soccer fields.

You protest.

Lots of fathers protest—and a few mothers. But a sea of flashing lights and high visibility vests and sirens cow you into being docile. Police dogs bark. Why do they need the dogs? You want to follow that point of thought but you aren’t connecting a lot of dots right now.

Too much noise. Lights. Chaos.

Maybe if you are good and follow directions, then things will work out all right.

You comply.

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When you first get to the community center, you look around the room.

You look at your ex-wife. She is still so pretty, texting her heart out to another man who is far better than you’ll ever be. You squeeze her hand again, but she waves you off—absorbed in reading whatever what’s-his-name is texting her.

“What’s going on?” you interrupt.

She just looks at you with grief-stricken eyes. She shakes her head.

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How long have we been sitting here? Time seems both too long and too short.

The EMS personnel have set up a screen and a projector. A heavyset woman says a few words that no one can hear. The acoustics are bad. No matter. She has nothing of importance to say at this point anyway. No one asks her to repeat her palliative words.

Someone dims the lights.

The film begins. Someone twiddles with the volume knob.

The film stops. It starts over.

The music is overdone. A sad oboe or bassoon. Neither are necessary.

The title slide appears: “What You Need to Know About MCI”.

“What’s MCI?” you mouth to your ex-wife. She shrugs, puts her finger to her lips. She’s shushing you. She never liked when you talked during the movies.

You google “MCI.”

Mass Casualty Incidents. 

You swallow hard.

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“Triage is dynamic and ongoing, not a discrete activity . . .” the soothing female voiceover continues her monologue.

Not a discrete activity. You roll your eyes. Tell that to the parents who still wait outside the school watching the ambulance gurneys come and go. They call out their children’s names—hoping for a lifted head or the slight wave of a hand. It’s the ambulances that don’t drive off with their lights flashing that scare everyone the most.

“Patient assessment will be prioritized on the scene. Public health officials must consider the number of patients and casualties and emergency medical services personnel available . . .”

You start counting people around the room. How many of us are there? 

Twenty-one clusters of people. Including you and your ex-wife.

You look over and see that her husband has joined her, sliding into a warm embrace, both weeping into each other’s necks.

You hold your own hand.

🜋 🜋 🜋

The movie is over, but no one moves. The woman in charge lets the credits run.

This is idiotic, you think, watching names scroll by. Who gives a shit about the gaffer on the set?

You look around to see who else finds this situation untenable.

What can we learn from watching the credits? You want to scream. How about if you just tell me if my child is alive or not?  

You stand up—righteously indignant. Pacing. You look as feral as a panther.

A man in a brown cardigan notes your unchecked anger. One of the five stages of grief . . . he’ll say. You will tell him to go straight to hell. If he hasn’t lost a child, how could he ever know what you feel?  

You don’t need this man in your life right now—so you sit down and break eye contact. You dissolve into your phone to doom scroll.

The governor is making a statement. He’s giving credit to those who are due—the heroes in this slow moving horror show.

You feel your throat constrict, hearing your name called back to the privacy bays. Your ex-wife stands, too, her beloved husband’s arm about her waist.

The credits of the film have finally ended, but in your tortured reality—they begin to scroll in your mind: a director explains who is in charge of your case. Writers are all about the room, scribbling words to type up later. The head of EMS appears to be the producer, assigning everyone their roles. You hear him tell the director of photography what grisly scenes to snap next. First muffled, now audible, cries and wailing compose the musical score. The Red Cross acts as craft services, bringing in coffee pots and danish.

What’s missing?

Usually near the end of the credits, they list all the shooting locations.

But if they listed all of the shooting locations . . .

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Three chairs face the man in the brown cardigan. He is just about to speak.

Your ex-wife looks at you. She reaches out and holds your hand. You squeeze her hand back.

Someone turns on the lights in the community center’s auditorium, but it doesn’t matter. From this moment onward, even when lights come back on—there will always be so much darkness.

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