THE VIEW FROM UNION SQUARE
Roxanne Bailey saw the death without realizing what she'd seen. Christopher Brown walked by without looking. Amy Ellis, who came through that part of the park at that exact time every day after purchasing a candy bar from the newsstand, had just this morning started her diet and, with an ache that seemed so much greater than the longing for chocolate, was well past the bench when the stranger died. Thomas Alexander Fitzhugh III, only eight months old at the time, slept peacefully in a stroller pushed by his Dominican nanny. The nanny, Sonia Vargas, was busy with her cell phone, calling to tell her own son, grown now and living with a girlfriend, that, no, he could not move back home every time the two of them broke up.
On the bench opposite, Samuel Cross ate the chicken out of a sandwich he'd found in the trash, pulling apart the bread to throw to some birds. His companion, Lee Porter, had too much pride to ask for the discarded crusts and, ignoring his growing hunger, looked off towards the well-dressed stranger slumped on a bench across the way, deciding that he too might take a nap shortly—bask in the afternoon sun. Anthony Short, seated on yet another bench, glanced up from his paper to contemplate the atrocities in Africa, and while he noticed the presence of others around him, he did not come far enough out of his own thoughts to register their faces or sense the change.
It was several minutes before Caitlin McDonald stopped to sit next to the stranger, and even from a foot away, she could not tell he was anything other than asleep. Not until her boyfriend, Dan Baker, who had come to meet her, tried to make room for himself by jostling the stranger, was the death discovered. Several passersby heard his exclamation of "Shit!" but only Sarah Klein saw the awkward way the stranger toppled onto his side, heavy and limp.
Jack Ingersol called the ambulance. Greg Abbott called his shrink. Paul Murphy considered administering CPR, but decided against it, unsure of this stranger's identity, medical history, or sexual proclivities. Michael Rosenblatt did not move any closer, but neither did he move away. Philip Hodges stopped to look just because those around him had stopped, taking several moments to realize just what was going on.
Beatrice Pauley was surprised at herself for not feeling more in this particular moment, and searched her psyche for the absent emotions of fear, sadness, or impermanence. Cole Hawkins used his cell phone camera to take a picture that he would later post on a website devoted solely to the telling of his daily encounters. Bob Munson approached the back of the gathering crowd, asking strangers, "What is it, what happened?"
"An accident, I think, or a hoax," replied Dawn Sinclair.
"It's an overdose," said Jason Dow, from a few rows closer, twisting around to inform those behind him.
"It's a heart attack," said Shaquila Scott, quietly but with authority.
"Did anyone call the cops?" asked Justin Derosier.
"Could it have been a suicide?" asked Sandra McPhee.
"Move back, give him air," said Mark Perkins.
James Harris wondered if he was the only one here who felt a sense of monumental importance at witnessing something so primal, so basic as death, raw and unmitigated. Samantha Edwards was sure the stranger must still be alive, and that all he needed was the proper medical attention. Elizabeth Dupree began composing the poem she would later write about the event, a sloppy soliloquy that had more to do with her ex-boyfriend, the drummer, and the slut he'd dumped her for, than it did with this moment right now.
Jane Crenshaw, Tim Sloane, and John Mitchell all called 911, each thrilled by the act of bearing witness, and proud of their unique ability to take action in a time of crisis, each equally disappointed when the operators told them that an ambulance had already been dispatched, and that they were not, in fact, the saviors of this day.
Ed Knightly, jogging past, did not hear the siren over the din of his headphones, neither did he notice the people gathered by the body on the bench. Adam Palmer, in his third floor apartment overlooking the park, closed his windows, hoping the noise had not awakened the baby. Suzanne Reams heard the sirens but assumed they were merely passing by, taking no heed until she was deafened by their nearness and forced to step aside. Kyle Sexton got off his skateboard and watched the ambulance drive up over the curb and into the middle of the park to where the crowd had gathered.
"Look out," said Matt Dabney, though the people had parted of their own accord, making way for the paramedics who'd climbed down, gurney in hand.
"Over here," said Kelly Snyder, waving and pointing as they made their way to the bench and the man lying there dead.
"Is he going to be all right?" asked Jess Garcia.
"I saw the whole thing," said Nick Fletcher.
Chuck Stevenson shook his head sympathetically. Barbara Danes sighed for the inevitable. Diana Collins-Cook burst into tears, remembering her mother, only three weeks gone.
"It just goes to show you," said Walter Ballantine to the woman next to him. Though she waited for him to finish, he never completed the sentence, and Karen Stone wondered just what he thought it showed.
Tom Ritter heard the second siren, the police this time, and backed away, suddenly aware of the joint in his pocket. Laura Leonard asked what had happened, and the tale was told again.
"Stand back, there's nothing to see," said Officer Steven Cox, having left the cruiser at the edge of the park rather than driving in.
"Who here witnessed the attack?" asked his partner, Officer Terrence Daniels, surveying the crowd for suspicious characters, maniacs, or drug dealers.
Amelia Cooper, who'd arrived only minutes before, stepped forward to recount her third-hand version of events. Shawn Lewis, who'd been there from the beginning, sunk deeper into the crowd, hoping that someone else would tell the story, and save him the trouble of bearing witness. Bonnie St. Cyr called her sister in Minnesota and described in detail the stranger's slack face, his pudgy hands, his rumpled suit. Deborah, the sister, paused in her washing to repeat her oft-stated opinion that the city was no place for a person of sense to live.
Morgan Bell lost interest and moved away, assuming she'd see the rest on the evening news. Jason Ward and Molly Kim inched closer in the space she left behind.
Josh Woods took detailed notes in his pocket pad, planning to use the event as inspiration for the memoir he'd someday write, comparing the lifting of the body onto the stretcher with the weight of infinity, or something he considered equally profound.
Ben Turner heard the paramedics talking about a heart attack, and was disappointed to think that the story was that mundane, that this stranger might have died of natural causes. David Grayson craned his neck, hoping to catch sight of those electric paddles he'd seen so often on TV, wondering if the body would buck when shocked. Howard Kingston would have liked to help carry the stretcher that looked too big for two paramedics to manage alone. Harriet Green waited by the open door of the ambulance, knowing that she would get a better look at the body when they lifted it in.
Propelled by his fear of being late to work again this week, Alan Hazledon skirted past the mass of people and cut across the park. Nancy Reed pushed through, more annoyed than curious, while Timothy Wright told an incomplete version of the story to anyone who would listen.
Holly Carter lost interest when the ambulance doors slammed. Greg Parker remembered he had homework to do back at the dorm. Don Whitfield found the spot where he would stand for the next half hour, reveling in the excitement and absorbing the drama long after the sirens had faded and the crowd dispersed.
In the back of the ambulance, Julio Martinez compressed the chest while his partner pumped air into the stranger's mouth, administering the synchronized series of palpitations, breaths, and defibrillations that comprised standard procedure on a call such as this, even if the patient was gone, even if there was no hope of revival, because the two of them were not doctors, not high enough up the chain of command to declare a person dead this soon, to stray from procedure, or give up when there was still hope to be had.
George Fry, his partner, did not think about the life in his hands, giving in to the familiar routine even as his mind wandered to a similar day in late June when he'd made love to his first wife on their living room couch, waiting as she hovered over him before taking him inside her, her hair dangling, loose and light around that quiet face, a face that would later change, harden to him with cold disdain over nothing as specific as infidelity or the loss of a child, but merely the slow resentment that grew between two people when they'd been together that long; but he was also the driver, and after a pre-calculated amount of attempted resuscitation, he moved to the front seat, and returned to the busy road, to weave in and out of traffic, among buses and taxi cabs, commuters and messenger bikes, punching the siren in an arrhythmic pattern that he'd developed over the years to keep city drivers aware of his presence, so inured were they to the constant drone of disaster.
All the while, Mikey Mercer waited at the emergency room entrance, trying to calm himself for the call, one of his first as an intern here, by reciting the Latin terms for each bone in the human body, from the auditory ossicles to the distal phalanges. The pulsing of the siren brought Doctor Alex Vaughn to the entrance as it had so many times before, and she stepped in front of the cowering intern to open the back of the ambulance, get the update on her patient, and lead him through the swinging doors to the ER.
She called for a clean table, and Nurse Kerry Tillman rushed ahead to ready one. Sophie Peck, who'd been sitting in the waiting room for three hours, cursed this new patient who would probably be treated before her. Eric Horne, who'd been waiting since morning, hardly noticed the arrival, as all the sounds and commotion had begun to blend together in the long afternoon. Max Terrell, on intake, followed the gurney to the ER, digging into the stranger's pockets for information with which to start a chart, pulling out a wallet, a cell phone, and a set of keys.
William Einman said the license, Eyes: brown, Height: 5'11", Weight: 210 lbs.
DOA said the tag that the orderly, Rick Smith, tied to his toe after 10 more minutes of fruitless resuscitation.
"We're not home right now," said the answering machine.
"Please call Beth Israel Urgent Care," said Martha Coe in reply, unable to leave any more information on a recorded message.
John Wagner was paged to take the body downstairs, and the others moved on to fresh cases—a woman with a broken arm, a man who'd passed out on the subway, a child with third degree burns. Saul Bergen, new cast on his leg and prescription in hand, walked right by the body on his way to check out, paying no attention to the thing shoved off against a wall, covered in a sheet. Doctor Joel Donahue almost bumped into the gurney while doing his rounds and shouted for someone to, "Get this guy out of here before someone gets hurt."
Even though she was more than busy, and this was not part of her job description, Nurse Anne Reynolds wheeled the body to the elevator and rode down one floor, to the basement, to the morgue.
Larson Tate lifted his eyes from a pile of paperwork, directed the nurse to an open corner, and pulled back the foot end of the sheet to check the toe tag, not yet bothering with the other end, the face.
And for the next few hours, as bodies came and went through that cool, sterile room, bodies of people both dead and alive, William Einman, Will, Billy, Bill, lay alone, unheeded, until the time when his wife would come home from her job at the bank, listen to the message, and find out what had become of him.
I wanted to tell this story from 100 points of view, but finished in 81 (82 if you count Einman.)