Ladder 45


At a young age, Jackie was already doing things that seemed crazy to many of her friends from the neighborhood. One of her earliest memories was of her father taping thin bundles of marijuana to her legs and belly, and then sending her onto an airplane headed to Florida. She was only 12 years old. Back then the airlines didn’t even bother putting children through security. Maybe it was this need for adventure that drove her to become a paramedic. She wanted to make a difference, that’s for sure. She wanted to help. But she also didn’t really want to be bored and alone with her thoughts. Maybe that’s why, even if she wasn’t using, she didn’t let herself get too safe, too far away from danger.

Jackie drove her ambulance carefully across the intersection of Allegheny Avenue and Cedar Street. There wasn’t much traffic and the reflections of the street lights glared back at her against the damp black asphalt. Her partner, Raul, turned off the ambulance lights and sirens as she came to a stop behind a light blue Buick parked on the corner, next to the auto tag shop.

Raul and Jackie jumped out of the ambulance and approached the Buick, one of them on each side of the car. Jackie could see two white women, one of whom was slumped over and leaning against the door of the car, unconscious. The other woman was texting, the light emanating from another world illuminating her face. She was completely oblivious to the situation her friend was in. Jackie knocked on the window and pulled her out of the virtual world, directly back into the very real world of Allegheny Avenue.

Startled, the woman jumped up and opened the car door. “I didn’t do shit, this got nothing to do with me!,” she shouted, and then bolted down Cedar street.

Jackie and Raul looked at each other, almost shocked. So much for loyalty.

It wasn’t their job to chase the woman, but it was their job to try to save her friend. Jackie moved to the other side of the car. Raul was already pulling the unconscious woman out of the car, her arms flailing and head hanging loosely from her body like a rag doll. A needle was stuck into her arm, stubbornly attached like a pine needle in an animal’s coat.

“Are you gonna fucking help me or what?” Raul cursed. He looked back at Jackie. She was frozen, wide-eyed, staring at the woman.

“Yeah, yeah, sorry…” she apologized, springing into action. “Let’s get her into the back of the ambulance.”

Raul and Jackie checked her vital signs and lifted the woman up onto a stretcher. It was clear that she had OD’d. Luckily, she was still breathing.

As soon as she was in the ambulance, Jackie reached into a small Tupperware container. The word Naloxone was writtenon its side in blue permanent marker. Jackie pulled a small white and orange syringe out of the container. She pulled off the wrapper and the red safety tab, then jabbed the needle into the woman’s thigh. Instantly, the woman shot bolt upright like Lazarus rising from the grave. She looked at Jackie and Raul, her eyes full of astonishment, and then fear. Jackie undid the straps that were holding her in place, but the woman jumped out of the ambulance with incredible agility and took off down Cedar street, following the same path that her friend took minutes earlier.

“Well, that’s another one for the books,” Raul said dryly.

“Yeah, another one,” Jackie said.

A small group of neighbors had gathered to watch the excitement. One walked up to Jackie as she sat in the cab of the ambulance and filled out a report.

“Why do you even bother with these junkies, bringin’ em back to life? Just let ‘em die, who gives a shit about ‘em,” he said.

“Get away from my vehicle, can’t you see I’m working?” Jackie scolded.

The man skulked away, walking back to join the group of people gawking at the scene. A few moments later the police arrived to sort out the situation with the abandoned blue Buick. Jackie and Raul were free to leave.

“Let’s get something to eat,” Raul suggested.

They drove west on Allegheny avenue and pulled into a drive- of Church’s Fried Chicken. They ate their food in the desolate parking lot next door.

The night was humid and warm, and a light mist hung over the city. “Hopefully that mist will keep things calm for the rest of the night,” Jackie thought.

“So what happened to you back there? You froze on me,” Raul said.

Jackie was visibly shaken. “The girl that OD’d. Her name was Tina Berkery. We went to high-school at Little Flower together. That was the first time I’ve seen her in 14 years.”

“Fuck,” was all that Raul could muster.

“She was so normal. A cheerleader, even. Almost stereotypically normal. She was on the honor roll and sang in church on Sundays. What the fuck could have happened to her?”

“Dope is crazy, man. It doesn’t care how smart you think you are,” Raul replied.