By Michael Morse
We were dispatched along with police for a riot in progress. It wasn’t much of a riot, as far as riots go, but there was plenty of blood–and screaming. One girl stood out among the rest; her eyes met mine, pleading, I think, for me to remove her from the madness that surrounded her. Things were reasonably under control. A bunch of teenagers usually don’t attack the nice rescue man, so I approached the bleeding girl and escorted her to the safety of Rescue Company 1.
“You are way too cute to be in a knife fight!”
She brushed a lock of hair away from an eye, sat a little more straight, gave me a beautiful smile, and said, “You think so?”
“I know so.”
She really was adorable: 19 years old, looked 15, T-shirt tied way up her waist, jeans painted on, barefoot and bleeding from a stab wound to her upper arm. If I could, I’d give her a day with my daughters and a fashion makeover, and she would be much more than adorable–she would be beautiful. She probably wouldn’t be getting into knife fights, either.
A lady who looked to be 20 years old stuck her head into the rescue. Behind her, a mob of 15 or 20 people argued, shouted, swore, and carried on like a bunch of fools.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“That’s my mom,” said Antoinette. “Can she come with us?”
“Of course.” Antoinette shyly smiled and looked at her feet as her mother entered the truck, one hand waving and pointing, the other plastered to her ear, holding a cell phone.
“Yolanda, that you?” she said into the phone while sitting down next to the daughter she never looked at.
“You bitch daughter jus stabbed my girl … damn right, she did! My girl didn’t have no knife,” she paused for a moment, looked thoughtfully at her daughter, then shouted back into the phone: “Yolanda! I’m talking to you!”
She took the phone from her ear and finally looked at Antoinette.
“You have a knife, girl?”
“No mama, we wuz jus walkin, me an everbody else, goin ta Latisha’s to get some clothes and this van pulled up and those people jumped out and one of them turned me around and Tiffany stabbed me!”
“You hear dat, Yolanda? She didn’t do nuthin! Yolanda? Yolanda? Bitch hung up.”
When we arrived at the ER, Antoinette insisted on walking out of the rescue and into the hospital. I took her good arm and helped down the step. She didn’t need to, but she held onto me until we were inside, then smiled and said thank you.
Her mother was back on the phone. The police arrived. Antoinette was alone again, with the mask firmly in place. But she did smile with her eyes when I said goodbye and walked away. Her mom ignored me when I walked past her, much like I imagine she ignores her daughter most of the time.
If I could, I would have a house full of the kids who find their way to me, and though their lives would be far from perfect, at least they would have an example of how to lead respectful, productive lives. I can’t do much for them, but at least I have a little time to make a connection, and for me, every bit helps. For them? I honestly don’t know if they give me a second thought when my taillights disappear, and I have to focus on the next one.
Michael Morse is a former captain with the Providence (RI) Fire Department (PFD), an author, and a popular columnist. He served on PFD’s Engine Co. 2., Engine Co. 9, and Ladder Co. 4 for 10 years prior to becoming an EMT-C on Rescue Co 1 and Captain of Rescue Co. 5.