A Paramedic's story
Want some feedback to the beginning of a memoir/non-fiction I'm writing about being a Paramedic & burning out
I am standing in front of a narrow mirror. I want to crane my neck towards the smoke and dive into the sensation of the smoldering air that winds around my naked chest. The artist tells me to hold my head straight so she can measure me here, in the small room, with black walls, lit by thick crimson light. Thin smells of sandalwood incense fill the void.
She instructs me and I rotate and relax my shoulders and hang my arms by my side. My muscles seem strong with the hard shadows. I don’t recognize this man; seemingly covered in red paint, standing in the mirror with the heavy light, the thin fingers of incense rising in front of a reflection, and spinning just in front of his face. The smoke rises from a grotesque, mocking, pop art depiction of a white plaster Greek deity at my reflection’s feet.
The artist tells me to relax, and she presses a cold film against my skin between my shoulder blades. She lightly draws her finger against the long, deep scar on my back and I wince with the excessively sensitive, intimate touch.
“Where did you get that?”
“I got stabbed.”
“I thought you said you were a Paramedic?”
Her hands run firmly against the paper as she presses the surface ink into my skin, tracing the outline of numbers across my spine and shoulder blades. Everything is covered in gleaming cellophane, and the woman behind me is reflected in the body length mirror that is propped against another tattoo chair. Her dyed red hair hangs stiffly around her face, framing deep purple mascara and bright turquoise eye shadow. An unlit cigarette is pressed between her lips, and the deep light gives the black room gravity. She carefully draws the tissue paper off my skin, stands back and studies me, touching my skin.
“Take a look”
She holds a small hand mirror with a thin light blue border behind my back and I see the numbers across my shoulder blades and spine.
“I’m gonna have a smoke. You want to join me and take a shot?”
“Yeah I’ll come out.”
“Leave your shirt off, don’t want the ink to smudge.”
We step out into the warm night in a busy street part of town, at sunset, with gravel covering the sidewalk and shards of bottles in the gutters and cigarette butts in the street which has a faded, fragmented, double yellow line that’s almost indistinguishable between the lanes. The flickering white streetlight is startling as it plays against the textures of the coarse red brick of the buildings surrounding us. It smells like claustrophobic city and the drone of traffic and whoosh of passing cars punctuates the slapping sound of the artist snapping the cigarettes into place in the carton. She hands me one, and then a red lighter, and a worn shot glass of whiskey that she brought from inside.
The door closes with the clinking of thin bells dangling from the smooth worn steel door handle. I shoot the cheap whiskey, tasting the gasoline smoothness as it rips down my throat. I light the cigarette and pull the dark smoke into my lungs and taste the whiskey and tobacco that reminds me of her. I close my eyes and think back to a time when I was a god. We stand there, together, myself with the thin, red hair dyed woman, pulling smoke into our mouths and watching the passing of the world. She turns to me and smiles.
I nod and throw the smoldering butt to the ground and grind it into brown and white shreds of garbage and we return to the red bathed room.
Nestling my chest into the sticky, sweaty vinyl I feel my head spinning from the tobacco and the whisky. She swipes my back with a cold alcohol bath and pulls on blue nitrile gloves that look black in the light, staring with a cocked head at the design. It looks almost apocalyptic, her behind me, glancing sideways, framed by the full length mirror, all of us bathed in thick red light. The deep shadows under her eyes detail her thin features and the hard tits that poke out of her shirt. The black wall behind her is painted with a white Pentateuch in thick, dripping brush strokes, framing her like a halo. Her black skin tight jeans and her white t-shirt. The stickiness of the sweaty plastic on my chest. The plastic wrap that covers everything she will touch. The monstrous device in her hand is filled with needles and black color that buzzes.
I ask for her to put on a playlist of haunting music that reminds me of love and of death and the insane. She plugs in my phone and turns up the stereo. The music raises the hair on my arms as I lean forwards, in the dark light, with the tastes and smells and sounds on my lips and in the hollow of my face, as she leans forwards, bracing her hand against my back, as I feel the sharp of the needles pound into my flesh. I close my eyes as I just remember, everything, as the numbers are pulled and drawn and pressed.