Breakfast, August 8, 2025, 0730
“Do you think she made it?”
“Who?” I said with a spoonful of oatmeal and berries on its way to my mouth, both elbows leaned into the table, my head inches over the bowl.
“The one from yesterday,” new guy looked at his food, leaned back in his chair and slowly spun to the side closest to the bathroom.
“The woman that we did CPR on.”
“The woman I did CPR on and you watched, or puked your guts out,” I took another bite. “I doubt it.”
I looked over at Cap to see him hold his side and laugh, but he didn’t. He kept his head down, staring at his eggs. “And that was like ten calls ago.”
New guy pushed his half-eaten plate of eggs and toast further away from him, took his phone out of his pocket, and started typing something.
“I used to look them up in the obituaries to see if I could find them there. That’s not closure. I mean, hell, you kneel over someone, feel their final warmth through your gloves, stare at their eyes while your hands press on their chest, even sweat on them. You try and try to bring them back, you get a little invested,” I put my spoon into my bowl and looked over at new guy while he still typed into his phone. “They were already dead. Sometimes there is nothing you can do. And that was yesterday and it’s better to just forget and move on, or tell yourself they did make it and focus on your job and the next warm body in front of you. Whatever works for you. You can’t keep dwelling on each call though. They will stack up and crush you,” I took another spoonful of oatmeal, the berries were gone, then followed it with a mouthful of coffee. I got up and walked into the kitchen to clean up the dishes.
New guy put his phone down and looked at Cap. Cap was already staring at him.
“This is a job. You are getting paid. In the good times when we are lights and sirens splitting intersections, mother’s hands over their child’s ears, dogs howling, people pausing their conversations, that’s when you pinch yourself like it is a dream, because it is. And smile for that money, because you are getting paid,” Cap put his right hand on his left side like he wanted to laugh, but smiled instead.
I stopped doing dishes and rested my right elbow on the counter, looking back at the table because I knew Cap wasn’t done.
“In the bad times, don’t pinch yourself. Leave your skin alone, go to your room, lie down, and close your eyes and be convinced it was only a nightmare, then open them again. You are safe and awake,” Cap paused. “And still getting paid,” he grabbed his side, laughed, and then grimaced. “It was just a fucking nightmare. You don’t have to be scared. You are awake and with us at the table having breakfast,” he got up, his right hand folded between his left arm and side, then winked at me.
“For now,” I smiled and winked back. “Until the next call.”
Ibe Liebenberg is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.