Officer Alex meditates on things saved and why
I held a chilled crystal glass in my left hand while my right index finger traced the spines of a dozen books on a shelf just above my head, and I smiled to myself. H. Rider Haggard to J.D. Salinger, John Grisham to Douglas Adams…a cop with a personal library. Who the hell would believe such a thing? The smile persisted because I knew the answer: Only another cop. (We were “just cops” to everyone else of course, a barely civilized group of racist thugs with chips on our shoulders trying to overcompensate for a lack of brains, blah blah blah.)
It was more than a few walls of book. It was a history museum of sorts, but the pieces in this collection had meaning to only one. Mementos no one else would understand or care about but me, interspersed between volumes of books and neon signs.
A shard of glass and a rusty piece of metal from a prison cell on Alcatraz Island. An oblong whitish-grey stone from a Mayan temple on the shores of Tulum. Another small pebble the diameter of a dime, slightly polished, from the grave of The King (God rest his soul).
A cheap gold-plated pocket watch…a World War II era bayonet…These held places among a lifetime’s collection of books (two, actually, if you considered my grandfather’s submissions), lit by the cerulean hues of beer neon, the only light source in the room. Water droplets condensed on the glass and dripped onto my bare foot, bringing me back to the present.
I turned and something caught my eye next to a set of rusty hammers and an ice pick (a story for another time), and my eyes settled on a small, yellow three-volt battery. The cemetery shooting.
I’d actually witnessed a man successfully negotiate a death wish while standing atop his own father’s grave, a man who also died by suicide, as was this gentleman’s intention once he charged us with a handgun after much deliberation (and our valiant attempts at negotiation). The standoff and talks lasted for hours in near-freezing temperatures. Our high-powered cop lights were fading by the dozen in that pre-LED world, and there were nearly as many dead battery cells as there were shell casings before it was over.
The battery wasn’t a trophy; it was just a memento. Why did I keep it? Why in the world would I want a trigger for a memory I’d just as soon not possess? Honestly, I don’t know.
An event of significance, even tragic, was still an event of significance, I supposed. I deserved that memory, good or bad, and unlike so many other things from our past (and history at large), here was tangible evidence that it ever occurred. It was not a dream or a borrowed thought, it was mine, and this was my totem. My trigger.
I eased into a bamboo rocker that existed for just these moments at the base of this collection...for digesting thoughts, be they my own or those of an author. Despite all the trinkets in the room, I stared at nothing in particular, and absently guided the chilled crystal in my hand to my lips. Why the mementos? Why the need to have physical reminders?
And I laughed, because how could I forget? For the ghosts. I paused, and took another sip with smiling lips.
I’d always felt this town was full of ghosts. Not sheeted churchyard specters, but memories, if not traces of the very lives that changed at specific spots, changed and blended into the landscape where they now sleep and are forgotten, except for a select few. They deserved to be remembered. I’m not sure if it was guilt or respect, but those are cousins as far as I’m concerned, so I suppose it doesn’t matter.
I leaned my head back and placed the glass on the ground beside me so I could grip the tubular curved arms of the chair and push it back as far as its springs would allow, and enjoyed the rarest of silences in my mind, and again I smiled.
Cops are so often the final witnesses. So yes. Remember out of respect. We are accused of not having hearts, but I say differently. For most of us, our hearts are repositories for the dead, and it’s there they can continue to live.
I relaxed my grip and sleep took me, my conscience clear and uncluttered. The battery dropped from my limp right hand…but the smile did not fade.