It all started when Darryl nailed himself to the wall. Come to think of it, maybe it started when Tammy told him she’d found a new man and tried to kick him out. Could be it all started the moment he decided to have that second beer.
Either way the night had gone to hell and Darryl did the only thing a sensible man with limited options could do: he nailed himself to the wall.
I was trying to get dinner when we got the call. It always goes this way. I’m standing at a counter watching a fat woman slowly – so very, very slowly – make my sandwich when the dispatch comes in. For a second I stand there silently imploring this woman to hurry, knowing deep down it’s not gonna happen.
And so I answer.
The Dispatcher’s voice crackles over the air and I hear giggling in the background. ‘Two-ten you’re responding to a third party call of a person impaled. Nothing further.’
This, at least, is intriguing. Normally we’re interrupted by a call to an all-too-familiar address for an all-too-familiar complaint. Seizure at a homeless shelter. Suicidal thoughts from a caller at a payphone. But impalement? I’m on my way.
I consider, for the briefest of moments, alerting the sluggish and quite possibly dead woman behind the counter to the change in plans but decide it won’t matter. Hell, I can’t tell if she’s actually doing anything or just staring at the bread.
Instead we disappear into the night, a blur of emergency lights and screeching sirens.
I hate sirens. That fact doesn’t exactly make me unique among medics but the degree to which I hate them does. I can’t think when they’re on, can’t focus. But what they do to the general public is far worse. Drivers hear them and panic, skidding to the left, skidding to the right, speeding up, slamming on their brakes. It’s an absolute nightmare.
There is, however, racing through darkened streets, something to be said for the strobe lights. They flicker on and off, illuminating for the briefest of moments bars and big houses and skyscrapers and crack dens. For a second the strobes catch the city in a glaring white freeze frame before it all goes to black again. It’s a stop-motion view of the world and, truly, there’s nothing quite like it.
We pull up to the house, a duplex, and double-check the numbers. I always double-check the numbers. Years ago I heard a story about an over-eager medic called out to a person down. When no one answered after the second knock, he kicked in the front door only to find himself face-to-face with his patient’s pissed off neighbors.
I hear yelling out in the street but it’s not the sound of someone in distress. It’s angry, heart-broken, domestic dispute yelling. The most dangerous kind of all. ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ is not a concept feuding couples subscribe to. In fact, I’ve found quite the opposite to be true. A wife, even one beaten half-to-death, becomes a knife-wielding lunatic the second her husband is placed in custody.
We cross the lawn, stepping around piles of tossed out clothing, and climb the steps. I don’t wanna knock, in fact I don’t. Before I have the chance the door flies open and Tammy flings an armload of clothes out onto the lawn.
‘I already told you to get your ass out, Darryl!’
Darryl, deep inside the house, yells back. ‘But I love you, baby! And I ain’t leavin’!’
Tammy looks at us and hooks a thumb toward the house.
‘Jackass nailed hisself to the wall.’
I try hard not to laugh. But I can’t help it. It’s just a snicker, a smile. But it’s enough.
‘How’s that funny?’ Tammy asks, her jiggly belly still blocking the door.
I clear my throat. ‘Well, I guess maybe it’s not.’
She picks at the chipped paint on her thumbnail.
‘Can we, uh, come in? Take a peek?’
The place is not simply dirty. It’s filthy, though I imagine part of the problem is that Tammy’s been destroying everything Darryl owns. Probably all day. We pick our way around piles of faded jeans and muddy sneakers, tool belts and porno magazines – the grand total of Darryl’s existence – until we reach the bedroom.
And there, as promised, is Darryl. Nailed to the wall.
He instantly stops screaming at Tammy and focuses his attention on us.
‘Please sir, please. You gotta help me. Please.’
I’m not even sure where to begin. Darryl stands just inside the bedroom door, a single nail through his left elbow attaching him to the wall. There’s a nail gun at his feet. Tammy pokes her head in.
‘I already told you, Darryl. I don’t love you no more.’
As I convince Tammy to give us a little space to look things over, my partner inspects the arm. He makes sure Darryl still has a pulse in his wrist then taps the wall. He turns to me, stunned.
‘It’s through a stud.’
Darryl shakes his head. ‘Sir, can I talk to you? For a second, sir?’
Tammy is back to throwing Darryl’s belongings out on the front lawn and I use the relative quiet to sort things out.
Of course, ‘What’ is all I manage to say.
‘Okay, sir. Okay. I ain’t even gonna lie to you, sir. I ain’t even gonna lie. I been drinking. Had me two beers.’
Two beers, incidentally, is the magic number. Every staggering homeless man, every puke-covered lawyer, every passed out college girl, they all have one thing in common: They’ve all had exactly two drinks today.
‘It’s a weakness,’ Darryl tells me, ‘but I’m working on it. I been askin’ the Lord to help me out with it.’
And now Tammy’s back. ‘You better ask the Lord to help you get your stupid ass unnailed from that wall! Otherwise you’ll be stuck in there watchin’ me and Todd consummate my new life!’
My head is spinning. Darryl and Tammy are back to yelling at each other and my partner is just as clueless as I am. I briefly consider yanking his arm off the wall but nix the thought as soon as it comes to me.
‘Call the fire department?’ my partner asks. ‘Have them cut him out?’
I nod but Darryl is all shaking head and trembling voice.
‘No sir. No way in hell. You can’t cut this wall. This wall cannot be cut. This wall is like the bond of love and there ain’t nothin’ can cut through the bond of love.’
Twenty minutes later the fire department has cut through the wall and Darryl is free. Which causes other problems.
He’s walking around, drunk as hell, using his free hand to support the three-foot by three-foot section of sheetrock still nailed to his arm. I’m trying desperately to get him to settle down, to sit down on our stretcher so we can get him to the hospital and sort out the damages.
As I said, Darryl and Tammy live in a duplex and their neighbors have called the landlord. Now we have Tammy, Darryl and his sheetrock square, four firefighters, my partner and me, two cops and Darryl’s landlord all stomping around the trashed house.
And the landlord is pissed. That wall, he says, is his property. And now Darryl’s damaged it. The cops ask if he wants to press charges.
And out come the cuffs.
I could have predicted what would happen. I could have told you that any man who’s had two beers and a raging domestic dispute he tried to settle by nailing himself to the wall will, when threatened with incarceration, fight like a rabid squirrel. And, with just as much certainty, I could have told you his wife would have a change of heart.
Which is what happens.
Suddenly Tammy, the woman who had thrown all her husband’s stuff out on the lawn, the woman whose actions had led her drunk husband to nail himself to the wall, the woman who threatened to sleep with another man and force her nailed-to-the-wall-husband to watch, that very same Tammy, decides she once again loves Darryl.
And so she punches a cop.
When it’s all over with, when the screaming has stopped and the pepper spray cleared, Tammy is in the back of a cop car and Darryl – a three-foot by three-foot section of wall still nailed to his arm – is in the back of our ambulance.
Darryl is content now. He settles into the stretcher. He smiles, crosses his legs like he’s in a lounge chair instead of an ambulance, and shakes his head.
‘You got you a woman?’
I tell him I do.
‘Treat her right, man. Ain’t nothin’ in the world like a good woman. Not a damn thing. And I oughta know. Got me the best one there is.’
And so we start driving. Darryl, swimming in the depths of a two-beer binge, drifts off to sleep. I sit there, wondering how I’ll write this up, wondering if the woman at the sandwich shop is still staring at my bread. We hit a bump and Darryl howls as the sheetrock is jostled around.
I hold my breath until he’s asleep once again and start typing.
‘It all started when Darryl nailed himself to the wall...’