THE ALARM WENT OFF WITH a harsh “buzz,” awakening the Captain the way it did every morning for the past few years. Its effect was the same as someone firing up a chainsaw next to the bed, and he was fully awake within micro-seconds. He stabbed at the electronic nuisance with his hand to shut it off before it woke Maura. He hit the “off” button out of habit, and as usual, he knocked the alarm off of the nightstand. He’d pick it up later when he got home tonight, after working in Campbell. This was his last shift at the prison, and he had decided, after thirty-five years, to call it quits. After today, he could probably sleep in until at least seven or eight!
In the three years since he’d had his throat cut at the prison, he’d tried to keep his life as normal as possible. He was still a husband, still a father, and though he relived the event in his mind every day, he returned to the prison. He could have taken an early retirement, but in his mind, that wasn’t an option. He wanted to return to work at the joint: He NEEDED to return to work at the joint. He needed his life to return to the routine it had been before four people lost their lives in the disaster of a single day. Even though, in his mind, he knew life would never be the same. He knew that time would eventually erase the guilt, but the memory of that horrible day would stick with him forever. It was something he thought about every day, and something he dealt with every day. It was the first thing he thought of every morning as he arose, and the last thing he thought of every night before he drifted off to a troubled sleep.
He could never forget Leon’s head exploding next to his as the sniper’s shot hit its mark, covering him with a mist of blood and brain matter. He could still feel Leon’s body falling towards him and pushing him down, and he’d never forget the horror of the blood running down his throat as Leon, in his last conscious effort, tried to kill him by running the edge of a prison shank across his throat. His left hand bore a ragged scar across the knuckles from when he grabbed Leon’s shiv, an ugly blade made from scraping a piece of flat metal against the concrete wall in the barracks. It had stopped the rusty shank from penetrating very far into his neck, and had saved his life by stopping the blade Leon had used to try to sever his throat. He’d never forget the frantic ride in the ambulance, while two strangers fought to save his life, and Lt. Gaines sitting next to him, holding his right hand, reassuring him that he wasn’t going to die. His only thought during the ride to the hospital was that he’d never see his wife and daughters again. He was filled with sadness and despair as he realized that he may never see his daughters graduate from high school, college, get married, or have children. The ride to the hospital seemed an eternity. Waiting at the city limits, was an escort of squad cars to take the ambulance to the hospital unimpeded. No sooner had the ambulance pulled to a stop in the emergency bay than Lieut. Gaines jumped out and ran over by the Capt.’s wife and kids. The Capt. would never forget the joy and calm that spread over him as he saw his wife Maura, and daughters Leanne and Marie in the E.R. as they wheeled him through. He thought he’d never see them again, and seeing them then, if perhaps for the last time, had given him comfort as he faded into unconsciousness.
He awoke a day later. His entire body hurt, from the black eyes, the broken nose and ribs, all of the way to the cut on his hand and throat. Looking around he saw tubes connected to each of his arms and heard the steady “beep-beep-beep” of a monitor. His eyes slowly focused and he saw his family, their backs to him, looking out of the window, watching the first snow fall of the season as it covered the earth in a pristine blanket of white. He too saw the snow, and he thought of the maple leaves he hadn’t had time to rake. “At least I have an excuse this time,” he thought to himself.
The change in the rhythm of the monitors alerted the nurses’ station, and the three ICU nurses sprinted to his room. Maura, Leann and Marie turned to see the Captain staring at them as tears of joy filled his eyes. As they watched, the nurses frantically worked, adjusting the tubes and monitors. He tried to speak, but couldn’t. His throat felt dry and as the nurses removed the feeding tube, the sudden rush of air down his raw throat made him gasp in pain and relief. The next hours…days even, passed in a blur. He was in the hospital for over a month and when he was released he wasn’t allowed to go back to work until he was declared fully fit for duty. He went through a battery of psychological and physical tests. After six months he was cleared to return.
He spent the first few weeks at home, reliving the horrible day in his mind, staring out of the back picture window which overlooked the snow covered river and woods. For the first couple of days, every waking second of every day was a replay of what had happened. He began to question why he did, what he did. “Maybe,” he thought to himself, “I should’ve turned and ran for the door before I yelled. Maybe then, Dave still would’ve still made it out, and I wouldn’t have been taken.” He knew though, deep down inside, that had he taken that way out, and had Dave been taken hostage instead of him, he would be suffering guilt far worse than he now had.
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