A man's intentions are mistaken when he treats a car wreck victim for shock.
| Suddenly a blue pickup veered into the lane in front of the SUV ahead. The SUV swerved to the right to miss the oncoming vehicle. The large truck like car left the highway and tumbled down the steep embankment beside the road. Riley jammed his foot into the brake pedal of his Honda Civic and nearly went off the road himself. The SUV made loud, horrifying bangs as it bounced down the steep grade. The thought of what must be happening to the people inside mortified Riley. The door of the vehicle flung open, and a female figure flew out. Riley would remember years later that she was dressed professionally, and that she clung to her purse until she landed. Riley didn't know why he noticed that. He stopped on the thin strip of highway shoulder and hit his flashing emergency lights. He punched 911 on the phone.
"This is the emergency hotline. State your emergency," the operator intoned.
The guilty vehicle drove by the scene and kept going. It was unsteady, like it was drunk too. Riley cursed the scumbag who would get so out of control drunk and then drive the public roads. The idiot had tried to pass in a no passing zone.
"There has been a very bad car wreck just outside of Beeland on highway 42. At least one person has severe injuries," Riley answered.
"Sir, do you know what kind of vehicle you are talking about?" came from the nasal voice over the phone.
"It's a large sport utility vehicle. I'm going to give first aid," Riley answered.
"Sir, I need more information," came over the phone.
Riley realized that someone might be bleeding from a severed artery down there, and he had given all the information he thought the operator needed. He stashed his phone in his pocket and slid down the steep grade.
Riley checked inside the SUV for other passengers. There were none. He turned his attention to the woman who lay at the base of a tree twenty feet away. Ripe apples hung from the branches of the tree above her. Blood soaked her slacks and bone stuck out from the middle of her thigh where she had hit the tree trunk. One of her shoulders was higher than the other. The woman stared blankly into the cloudless sky. A small crucifix rested on her chest. Riley checked for blood spurting from a ruptured artery. There was no external bleeding, but she could be bleeding internally. Riley decided that all he could do was treat for shock. He placed his coat over the woman to keep her warm. He grabbed a log and placed it under the undamaged leg. Then he began to loosen the woman's restrictive clothing, unclasping her slacks and moving his coat so he could cut loose her bra with his Swiss army knife. Then he tucked his coat in around her. Her purse lay by her side with its contents scattered over the grass. Riley noticed an old man standing on the road above, squinting his eyes and staring down at Riley with a look of hate.
The ambulance pulled up with its lights flashing. A couple of paramedics yanked the stretcher out of the ambulance and then slid down the steep grade to give the woman first aid.
"I treated her for shock. You don't have to worry about that," Riley said to one of the paramedics.
"We don't need amateurs trying to give first aid. Stand back and let professionals do their job," the paramedic snapped from behind bloodshot eyes.
Riley wondered if this guy was hung over. He looked like a drunk.
The woman cried out in agony as the medics put an air inflatable splint on her broken leg. A paramedic pulled a couple of high tinsel strength ropes down to the stretcher. They carefully lifted the broken woman and placed her on the stretcher and strapped her down with wide, black straps. The woman groaned with pain every time they shifted her body to get the straps on. They fastened the ropes to a winch on the ambulance. The winch slowly pulled the stretcher up, with one paramedic on each side struggling to keep her stable. As the woman slowly ascended the slope Riley felt relieved that soon she would get pain medication and professional care.
"He put his finger in her 'gina . I see'd what he was doin'," the strange old man yelled.
Riley looked up to see a bald old man with tobacco juice dripping down his unshaven chin. His teeth were visibly yellow and black. He wore a dirty, ragged checker shirt and baggy pants. His decrepit pickup sat beside the road. There was a dirty bumper sticker on the truck's back window that said, "I go to Trinity Baptist Church."
The wail of sirens grew louder as a highway patrol approached the scene with its lights flashing. The vehicle stopped and a husky highway patrol man approached the crazy old man spitting tobacco.
"Officer, I see'd him stick his hand down the front of her pants and finger her 'gina! He was doing molestation on that woman," the man shouted at the peace officer.
Riley realized that the treatment for shock he gave the woman could be misunderstood by those who weren't familiar with first aid. One of the things they told Riley about treating for shock in the army was to loosen all restrictive clothing. Riley asked if this applied to women. The instructor added that it did apply to women. It could be a matter of life and death.
The crazy old man was yelling at the highway patrolman.
"That pervert was doin' molestation on that woman!" the crazy man yelled, jumping up and down in front of the officer.
The highway patrol man cast a bitter frown at Riley. Riley couldn't believe the law man was taking the old coot seriously. The other officer approached Riley.
Riley saw something happening he did not want to happen. The highway police were looking at him like he was the guilty person, and not the man who drove the blue pickup. They were making him the scapegoat for this random, horrible accident. It is too great a threat to the human psyche to admit that horrible things happened for no discernable reason, so people will look for the handiest person to blame. But why didn't they understand? The man in the blue pickup was the one at fault, and they were letting him get off free! Riley guessed it was due to proximity. The man in the blue pickup was far away, and Riley was right there, in person, and he was catching all the frustration and anger caused by this horrible accident.
"The man says you tried to molest this woman," the policeman stated. His cryptic voice sounded like it came from the bottom of a grave.
"Officer, I treated her for shock. I'm sure you know that a person can die from untreated shock."
The highway patrolman jerked like he had been stung by a bee.
"I don't need no stuck up, pervert freak to tell me how to do my job!" the policeman snarled.
"I'm sorry if you thought I was impudent, but I can tell you what actually happened way better than this crazy old man can," Riley stated between heavy breaths.
"I don't care if you are impodent, but when you have to get crackin' by molesting an injured woman you need to go to jail."
"Are you going to arrest me?" Riley asked breathlessly.
"No, not yet. Just give me your personal information. We'll find you when we need to," the patrol man answered.
The crazy old man was yelling as he pointed at Riley, "He a pervert. He needs to go to jail where they can make him a sissy. No woman should take him!"
The policeman took Riley's personal information and then told him to get an attorney. Riley stared at him in disbelief as the patrol car pulled away.
Riley had given all his severance pay from the army to his mother so he could stay with her while he got back on his feet. He'd been out of the army for twenty-three days. He didn't want to hire an attorney because he didn't want to borrow money from his mother. Riley wondered if he could act as his own attorney.
Riley left the army as an "acting jack" buck sergeant. That meant he wore the rank and had the authority of a buck sergeant, but he still got the pay of an E-4 specialist. Riley chafed a little under this arrangement because if he had the duties of an E-5 buck sergeant he wanted E-5 pay. And though he had the authority of an E-5, any E-6 could lock his heels. (When a person's "heels were locked" a ranking sergeant would put a lower ranking soldier at parade rest. Then the sergeant would question the subordinate soldier. The ranking sergeant would say something like, "Soldier, is there any reason you can't perform your duties to the best of your ability? Is there something bothering you?" Then the soldier would inevitably slouch, and the ranking sergeant would yell, "I didn't say 'at ease, soldier! Get at parade rest!' I said, 'get at parade rest!" Sometimes this would go on for thirty minutes. There was a psychology to it.)
……….. ……….. ………
Riley walked to his part time telemarketing job. He looked down Boston Avenue. Four story apartments lined the street, looking like the walls of a medieval fortress. Trees arched overhead like the gothic arches of European cathedrals. Cars lined the scene like they were wagons bringing food and supplies to privileged people. At the far end of the street stood the steeple of the Presbyterian church. A cross sat on top. It seemed to accuse Riley of doing something wrong. No matter how right Riley's intentions were at that car wreck, he was going to become known as the worst kind of sex criminal. This judgement felt like it was pushing Riley down, into the sidewalk. He wondered what his real responsibility was to the woman in the car wreck. Sometimes he shuddered when he remembered the woman flying out of the SUV. He felt like all people have a duty to do whatever they can to alleviate a stricken person's injuries. They said at the hospital that this woman was out of intensive care and was making a strong recovery. Did he have any effect on her well being? The timely treatment of shock could shorten a person's recovery time. Riley straightened his back and held his head up. He would not accept their blame for this. He did what he thought was best. He was going to college next semester. He needed to get the crap out of his mind and focus on that.
When Riley got his week's pay from his part time telemarketing job he went to Mark Gladstone's house. Mark had been out of the army for six months. He had the physique of a man who worked out, and his hair was still shorter than fashion dictated. He was the type of guy who would tell a person where to go , and he was a good enough mechanic that he could get away with behaving like that in the army. Mark stoked the rebelliousness in Riley's soul. They'd both served in the same post at Wildflicken, Germany. Mark had gotten on as a machinist at a steel working company, so he always had a lot of money. By six o'clock that evening they both were so smashed they were numb. They decided to get some air. Riley felt like he could tell anybody he wanted to go to hell. What a liberating feeling! What a refreshing difference from army life!
They entered Boston Street and saw an empty apartment with its door hanging open.
"Hey, look at that," Mark said with quiet fascination. "Let's go inside and check it out. I've always wondered what these apartments look like on the inside. I might end up living in one."
Riley's interest was piqued. He had some hope of living in one of these places before long. He planned to come back from college and help with his father's hardware store. Then Riley would decide if that was the life for him, or if he wanted something different. Riley also had a love of literature, and he had considered becoming a college professor or a high school English teacher.
"I'm all for it, man. I've considered living here myself."
Then a car door slammed outside. Heavy footsteps approached. A large, dark figure entered the apartment. He flipped the light switch, and his massive form appeared in the bright light. His face was as hard as stone, and it was red from exertion. His clothes couldn't hide his massive belly, so he looked like humpty dumpty. But his demeanor said he knew his business. He would not tolerate these two young men trespassing on his property. Riley had heard of this guy. His name was Stuart Green, and many people thought he was a jerk.
"You young punks are vandalizing my property. Didn't you mommas' teach you not to steal when you were little?" Mr. Green barked.
Stuart Green was coming dangerously close to disrespecting these guy's mothers. Those were fighting words in some places.
"We weren't going to take anything or destroy your property. We were just curious what these apartments look like on the inside," Mark cajoled.
"Look at you. You're so drunk you wet your pants," the huge man shouted as he pointed at the wet spot between spot between Mark's legs.
Mark's expression changed, and his back stiffened.
"It's beer. Smell it," Mark answered.
Stuart's head seemed to grow, and his face turned redder. Riley laughed out loud.
"You little shits are gonna' pay for this. If I have to turn this whole neighborhood inside out you'll pay. I know the police chief. I know the DA. Your asses are cooked. Then you'll find out what it is to mess with Stuart Green, " the man shouted as he stormed out the door.
"That was great, man, classic," Riley told Mark.
"Thank you. An occasional bit of praise is a true artist's only reward," Mark answered.
"I'm going to walk around some and try to clear my head. Want to come?" Riley asked his friend.
"No. I'm going to go home and sleep it off," Makr responded.
The two young men headed opposite directions as they left the house. Riley occasionally chuckled to himself about Mark's clever comeback - "It's beer. Smell it." Suddenly two police cars pulled up.
"Get down on the ground!" a policeman yelled at Riley.
"We didn't steal or vandalize anything, sir. We were just exploring," Riley answered.
"I didn't ask your permission, punk! Get down on the ground!" the policeman roared.
Riley did as he was told. Four policemen got out of their cruisers. A policeman advanced with his handcuffs ready.
"Any time a policeman tells you to do something you don't ask questions, son. You do it," the officer growled at Riley.
They took Riley's finger prints at the station. Then they took his picture. Riley was afraid he was getting a permanent blemish on his record.
"This is the pervert who molested that woman in that car wreck. I wish we could put him in permanent population," a policeman muttered to the clerk sitting behind the desk.
Riley wanted to turn and yell at the official, "I could have saved her life!" He wanted to say it, but he knew he couldn't. Riley realized he had just been branded. His life would not ever be the same.
"Let's take him to room 22 and cut his nuts off," a prison guard added.
Riley realized it didn't matter how noble his intentions were. In the eyes of the authorities he was a sex criminal. He wished he hadn't treated that woman for shock, in spite of the fact that it was the right thing to do. That was the way of the world, "Live and let die".
As they wrapped the shackles around Riley's body he had a deep sense of foreboding. He'd heard of people going to prison on a short sentence, and then the things they had to do to survive got them a long sentence. He'd heard of guys going to prison for the first time and finding a shank in their cell, with a note saying, "Kill your cell mate, or we'll kill you."
The guards led Riley to a large metal door. They took off his leg shackles but left his handcuffs on. The guard led Riley through the portal. There was a loud, metallic bang as the door rolled closed on its metal track.
"Hey, stick him in here with us. We'll make him respect women," an inmate yelled as they lead Riley past the cells of long term inmates.
"Hell, we'll make him a woman!" another inmate yelled gleefully.
Riley realized he was being put on display to the other prisoners. The guards weren't only showing the prison to Reilly, they were showing Riley to the prison. Riley cursed his good looks.
Riley had recently heard a quote: "If you see a monster, don't fear the monster. Fear what made it a monster. Riley mused bitterly that a person would have to be made of granite not to become evil in this environment. The things a person would have to do to survive made evil the mandatory code of conduct. How could you be a good person if being a good person would get you gang raped? And how could you stay good if you were raped? Riley mused bitterly that he didn't deserve this. He'd helped that woman. A dark bile was forming in his stomach. What point was there in helping other people when you got this because of it? He kept seeing the blue pickup going around the wreck it had caused, and getting away with no punishment.
The inmates made catcalls and blew Riley kisses as he walked down the hallway. Adrenalin surged through every corner of his body. His heart pounded, his throat was dry, and his palms were sweaty. All a person could do in this environment is get ready to fight. They led Riley to a dirty white door with no light shining through the mesh glass window. Riley thanked God he was in a solitary cell. Being on the downside of a hard drunk, he knew he faced a long night.
As Riley sat in the drunk tank he considered the moral terrain he was on. He knew he was blameless. He did exactly what he should have done. Maybe the reason the woman was recovering so well was because Riley had treated her for shock, but that thought never entered anyone's mind. Riley's head hurt.
The next day Riley appeared in court in a bright orange prison jump suit. A U.S. flag with gold tassels on its edges hung with all its majesty beside the judge. An Oklahoma state flag hung on the other side. A policeman with a deadly looking 9 mm automatic riding on his thigh imposed his presence on the scene. Riley silently mused that each bullet lodged in that ammo belt could take a person's life. There were a few inmates that were waiting to see the judge. Most were misdemeanor cases, but a person could be brought down by them too. There were also a few felons in the bunch. No one messed with them because they felt that they had little to lose.
The judge gave two hard looking men five years a piece for car theft. Then the guard took Riley up to the bench and the bailiff read the charges against Riley.
"Your honor, this young man was found in an unoccupied apartment owned by Stuart Green. I believe this young man has been brought up on a drunk and disorderly charge.
"So this is the young man who treated that woman for shock," the judge muttered.
Riley's knees were suddenly weak. The judge was lost in thought.
The judge hit Riley with a "drunk and disorderly" charge. He got a $300.00 fine, but he got no jail time.
Riley understood that this might not be his last interaction with the legal authorities. They could make you think your business with the law was over, and then they would blindside you with charges you thought were dismissed. Riley had seen that happen. The young man was also terrified that they would bring up a sexual violence charge against him. It didn't matter that he was innocent. If people believed he was guilty he would be treated like he was guilty.
As Riley walked home he passed by the Presbyterian church. The steeple dominated the scene, seemingly aware of every bad thing every person in the world had ever done. Riley defied that. His own case was an outstanding example of unfair judgement. Surely they would understand that. Or was he convicted because of, what did they call it - "original sin"? If he was, then God made him that way. That woman was much better because of what Riley had done. Why couldn't they see that?
Riley felt like walking past his parent's house and venturing past the edge of the city of Preston, like he was walking off the edge of the world. Maybe he would find a different universe. He didn't like the one he was in. His family would miss him, but once he got established he could write and let them know he was okay. There wasn't anything keeping him in this place. There was a girl Riley dated, but neither of them were serious. She was having too much fun being single, and Riley was afraid of commitment.
Riley now saw that actual guilt didn't matter. Appearances were everything. The possibility of him working in his father's hardware store had vanished. He realized he had to leave the town in which he grew up, and hope his notoriety didn't follow him.
Riley looked down Boston Street. He'd discovered that when he was depressed the world looked more beautiful. Anyone who hadn't experienced such a feeling could not understand it. Riley remembered a line in a beautiful poem by a woman he knew: "My sadness turns the moon an exquisite blue." Riley sometimes wondered if beauty might be the real meaning of life, because the world certainly wasn't moral. The world was so beautiful, and so unforgiving.
Riley looked at the sunset, and he pictured an angry God just over the horizon. Why did there have to be a devil, when God punished us so severely? Was there some kind of ephemeral moral code Riley had violated? Riley knew he had a misbegotten pride that caused him trouble. Was it because of his pride that he was being brought low? Sometimes in the army if one of his bosses was bothering him Riley would start to give him these little jabs. He would use words the ranking sergeant wouldn't understand, and he would use them in a tone that said he was speaking down to the poor devil. That was why a lot of staff sergeants had a problem with Riley. Our pensive young man questioned if maybe his real problem was a lack of respect. He didn't show enough deference to people in power. He didn't take things seriously that he probably should, and sometimes he caught himself thinking he was better than other people.
……….. ………… ………….
Riley got a letter in the mail from Dr. Grant. Riley had a spot on his face he thought might be skin cancer. The doctor had scheduled the appointment for after business hours so Riley wouldn't have to pay for the examination.
Riley waited in Dr. Grant's office. The good doctor walked in carrying a clipboard covered with paper. Riley had known Dr. Grant for as long as he could remember. It was like the doctor was Riley's favorite uncle. The doctor studied the forms for a few minutes, scribbled on them with his pen, and then addressed Riley.
"The good news is that you don't have cancer," the doctor stated.
"Is there bad news too?" Riley asked.
"Yes. There is. Terrible news."
"What is it?"
"I hear that you and Mark Gladstone behaved like real jackasses to Stuart Green last Saturday. He was livid about it," the good doctor stated.
"We'd been drinking," Riley answered.
"That's no excuse. Do you think that if you rob a bank you could justify it by saying, 'I'd been drinking'? Some guys do stuff like that. I think they stink. Don't use that old crutch, 'I'd been drinking'. If drinking makes you do crazy things don't drink."
"Dr. Grant, Mr. Green was so pompous and so arrogant we couldn't help ourselves."
"The world is full of jackasses, Riley. That doesn't justify being one yourself. I've heard Stuart's side of the story, and he thought you guys were the ones who were arrogant. I think he was right."
Riley stared at the floor like he was trying to form words that wouldn't come.
Dr. Grant watched him a moment, and then said, "You're upset about that first aid you gave that woman who had been in that car wreck, aren't you? Is that why you're so defensive?"
"Dr. Grant, I helped that woman. She was going into severe shock, and she could have died. I did what I was trained to do in the army. I did the right thing."
"We don't always know the right thing, but in this case I think I can agree with you, and I can see why you're mad. I am going to help you. I will run off a bunch of leaflets signed by the doctors nearby stating that you did nothing wrong, and your sole concern was the health of the stricken woman. There was a good chance she could have died if you hadn't treated her for shock. Then I am going to get some legal authorities to sign it, and then I am going to pay a bunch of kids to distribute the leaflets. I have strong roots in this neighborhood. I know the doctor that delivered you as a baby. People will listen to me."
Riley was silent a moment. He felt the gratitude of a drowning person thrown a life preserver.
Riley stuttered a moment, and then said, "You'd do that for me? How can I thank you? God knows I have my faults, but this time I was right. It means so much to me that you would support me. Everyone knows you're the smartest and wisest man in the whole city."
"Don't worry about it, Riley. Most people are not as good or as bad as they think they are. Now get out of here and don't come back. If I hear about you being insufferable to Stuart Green again I am going to come over to your house and kick your ass."
As Riley walked home the moon shone through the branches of the trees overhead and the moonlight reflected off the leaves on the ground. The world was beautiful, people were good, and Riley was no longer depressed.