Saturday, May 23, 2009

I am Sam.

One of my oldest friends (I'll refer to him as "Sam," because of the job he does) was up here in Rochester these past few days as a lecturer to a conference of police hostage negotiators. Sam and I grew up in the Bronx together, met in high school, and have been friends for over 30 years. We have a lot of shared history between us, and though we do communicate somewhat frequently via e-mail, Facebook, etc, we haven't seen each other in a while due to the distance from here to back home in NYC.

Sam is a NYPD detective, which if I were to get into a time machine and look back 30 years on, would have been the most unlikely job that I would have expected him to be involved with. We (meaning friends of his) used to make jokes at his expense along the lines of "They're going to let you carry a gun?" As the years have passed, it seems obvious that Sam chose the right path for himself.

I still remember where we met; We were part of the running crew of "Fiddler On The Roof," which was being staged during our junior year of high school. He was brash, bombastic, outspoken, and knew what he was doing, from a technical standpoint. We became good friends pretty quickly, and he introduced me to the wonders of CB (citizen's band) radio, where I was acquainted with an entirely different circle of people that I would become friendly with. We both joined the local citizen's patrol team, and he joined the local volunteer ambulance corps. I was not to keen on that idea, riding on an ambulance, until the summer of 1976, when I saw an elderly woman get struck and killed by a city bus. I felt helpless, not knowing what to do, and it was Sam that prodded me to take a first-aid course with the corps. Little did I know at the time that it would be my gateway into my 22-year career in emergency medical services.

Sam and I were rambunctious, especially when it came to women. It was the 70's, the age of experimentation of all sorts. We shared many things, including jobs, drugs (nothing too heavy), and girlfriends. I remember his brown, 1974 Grand Torino. I especially remember the backseat on many a night in the parking lot at Orchard Beach. If that backseat could talk...though Sam kept himself occupied with his girlfriend in the front seat as well.

I remember the time we "borrowed" one of our volunteer squad's ambulances, drove it to Orchard Beach around midnight, and pulled up behind a van - very quietly - all lights off. We got close enough to the rear doors, turned on the emergency lights, and yelled over the PA system, "WHERE'S MY DAUGHTER?!!!"

It was fun watching the bodies fly up and down in the back of the van while we peeled away. Nope, we didn't get caught.

Sam became a cop in 1987, the same year I started working in Brooklyn. He had been in the medical field for a time, and was even in physician's assistant school. It was however, not to be. A series of events, including a woman that was psychologically abusing him, dashed those hopes.

Sam made his mark with NYPD, first as a patrol officer, then plainclothes, and then his fascination with communications came back to help him, as he got involved first with the Office Of Emergency Management, as a communications tech supporting multiple specialty police units. The big test of his skills came in on Feb. 26th, 1993, when a bomb was detonated underneath the North Tower of the World Trade Center. This was the scene:
Sam was in the middle of all of it, trying to coordinate all the various agencies that responded to this disaster. One of the problems was that there was not one single frequency that they all could communicate on. It was all a bit chaotic, but Sam was directly responsible for getting everyone involved in understanding each other. It was because of his work this day, he was promoted to detective investigator. He became in demand as a speaker worldwide, and then in 1998, he became part of TARU (Technical Assistance Response Unit), which backs up the Hostage Negotiation Team. (NYPD has the oldest such team in the world.)

Through all this, he has survived divorce, amongst other personal disasters, and then came 9/11. Sam survivied both towers coming down, but spent 12 days in that pit, photographing bodies for identification as they were pulled from the wreckage. It was that event, amongst some other ones that brings us up to today.

The Sam I saw here in Rochester is a shell of the man I knew even just a few years ago. The bombastic, supremely confident (sometimes overly so) over-the-top guy was gone. There were flashes of it when he was lecturing to his fellow officers, and when he would be talking amongst them at the after lecture party, but away from them, with me, he retreated into a shell that I never saw him have at any point in his life.

As it would turn out, he told me that he had been battling depression for some time, and only recently started taking medication to combat it. He is also looking for a therapist to help him. He did battle this once before, while undergoing his divorce, which drove him to the point of putting his gun in his mouth and almost pulling trigger. What saved him, which he related to me back then, was thinking of his kids. He seemed to pull himself together after the divorce, as it was in many ways a weight lifted off his shoulders. As with Sysiphus however, the stone soon rolled back.

Looking into his eyes, I saw parts of myself, of my own battle with depression a few years back, of issues in my life that drove me into therapy, and how I vowed never to go down that rabbit hole for anything - or anyone - ever again. I mentioned that term to him, "rabbit hole," and he liked it a lot. He said that it perfectly described how he was feeling. It was the first time in a long time that we found a common connection in this way.

As I showed him around the city I have called home for the past 10 years, bringing him to my theatre, my house, and having him take myself and Mrs. N. out for breakfast before driving him to the airport, it occurred to me that I needed to keep closer tabs on my old friend.

I called a mutual friend in Long Island, who is still friends with another person that was part of our circle of friends from back in the day. That person is a therapist, and I'm going to see if I can get Sam in touch with her.

All I can do now, is hope.


Peter said...

"Life grades on a curve", someone once said, and your post reminded me about that quote.

I used to watch some of my friends grow older gracefully, but not all of us are so lucky to have that privilege.

In a way you're lucky to keep track of these old friendships - I've moved so much that most of these old friends from highschool have long faded into the background.

Maybe it's a cultural issue (Belgians pretty much tend to keep a distance), but when I met a highschool friend last month in Antwerp (I hadn't seen him since the early 90s), he was ever so polite but seemed to have forgotten the great times we had when we were 18.

Sistertex said...

You put it all out there for us. Perfect time absolutely, but anytime is good too. You know, you feel, and you care. Now I do too. I hope Sam can again find peace within himself, old friends can certainly be the path. It is wonderful Sam has friends like you, and of course, you, him. I hope you will write more about Sam and let us know how he is doing. Thank you both for your years dedicated to helping others. World would be a much harder place without you.

RuneE said...

It is like my own experience - nobody is safe from anything. Some act as if they were, but they are not. Luckily most thing can be cured, or at least made to live with these days. And good friends help a lot.

PS The Hedgehog is quite a different animal from what you describe. It looks like a pincushion on the run is loved by one and all. The largest problem is that it can carry diseases like salmonella and that they tend to get run over by cars. They may end up on the endangered species list.

The FrogBlogger said...

Moving story, thanks for putting it into words so thoughtfully. Yes depression can creep up on you slowly, imperceptibly, then before you know it there seems to be no way back. Don't know about a rabbit hole, sometimes it can seem as if you've taken up residence in an entire warren. All the other rabbits have left, and a family of ferrets have moved in.

Good therapy, supportive friends are the way back, but it doesn't get any easier as the years roll by.

Retiredandcrazy said...

I do hope that you are able to get Same help. Depressions is such a terrible thing. I have been lucky not to have been affected myself, but I have close family that do and it's a terrible, terrible thing. It is when a person is at their most unlovable that they need the most love.

Jay said...

It sounds almost as if he might be suffering from burn-out after all these years of giving so much of himself in service to others. Has he had a really decent holiday lately? Does he make time for just himself?

Good idea to keep closer tabs on him. I'm sure he'll appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

To "Retiredandcrazy", on behalf of those of whose who have to fight the 'black dog', THANK-YOU. Your attitude makes a refreshing change from the usual pull yourself together, cheer up it may never happen, you're crazy, it's all in your head (well d'oh!), stop feeling sorry for yourself etc that we get even from our nearest & supposedly dearest.

david mcmahon said...

Great post. Wonderful writing style. There is always a way to lift the barriers that impede not just us, but others as well.

Mr. Nighttime said...

Peter - Stuart is one of the few friendships I have from back then, and the fact that we were in high school together is actually inconsequential. It is everything else we experienced together. But yeah, it's amazing we have stayed close all these years.

Tex - Thank you so much, I appreciate your kind words and I will try to update folks on Sam when I can. Wait, that sounds too much like Dr. Seuss... ;-)

RunE - yep, I know about hedgehogs as well, though you don't really see them around here. Woodchucks often end up with the same fate though - as roadkill.

Frog - Yeah, doesn't it seem that way though? The stuff that can invade your head during those moments is truly awful

RnC - Never have truer words been spoken. the effects that it can have on a marriage can be horrific, especially since that is the person that you most need.

Jay - A good observation, and yeah, I tend to be in agreement. Yes, he does take time for himself, but not as much as he should. He focuses a lot of his attention on his kids, which is understandable, as he doesn't have them living with him, and sees them every other week.

The last big trip he took was a cruise last year - with his kids - and another family and one friend. I think he would be better served with some vacation time all by himself.

David - Thank you so much for the kind words. As a freelance writer trying to build my own business, it's always nice to be recognized by a peer. I am hoping that I can help Sam lift those barriers, but at the end of the day, a lot falls on his shoulders. As my own therapist pointed out on many an occasion, we need to give ourselves permission to be happy.

Bina said...

Oh wow. My emotions jumped all over in this post, from laughing at the ambulance sirens behind the van to being impressed that he is a detective to shock at the 9/11 experience and to almost crying how you described him now.

that poor man. I cna't even imagine how those images from 9/11 haunt him every single day, and not just in his sleep, but I'm sure in his waking life, too. This is so very sad and I pray that he can find his way back. I hope your friend is able to help him.

Gaston Studio said...

Congrats on POTD, which is how I found you. Excellent post and I hope your friend gets checked for possible chemical imbalance; this is a whole 'nother ballgame than just being depressed from outside causes and needs meds and a psychiatrist to monitor.

PurestGreen said...

What a wonderful, heartfelt post of a complex character. I wish "Sam" would write. Write it all down, even if you don't think anyone will read it. There is a purge that needs to happen. Writing might help.

Daryl said...

Over from David's to say congrats on the sharing of the top spot on the POTD ..

Ah you brought back memories with this post .. I hung out at Orchard Beach, section 10 by the pole, but not too often at night ... ;-)

This is a wonderful post and you are a good friend .. I hope Sam gets the help he needs and reclaims his former self

Mr. Nighttime said...

Gaston = Thank you so much for stopping on by and commenting. I am still reeling from the idea that I won post of the day.

Sam actually is on medication now, and it's just a matter of getting him to a good therapist, whether it be a psychiatrist or a psychologist, he will get the help he needs. Even he admitted to me that he knows he needs it.

Perfect Green - I don't think Sam is type of guy that writes things down like that, though I agree with you that it might help. He is more of a verbal kind of guy, and I think if anything, once he has healed to a degree, he might turn it into a lecture of some sort.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and please do so again.

Mr. Nighttime said...

Daryl - Was that you in that van? *wink* Thanks for stopping in and the kind words.

Moannie said...

Congratulatons on making Post of the Day and to David for pointing us in your direction and thank you for telling us the story of your friend Sam. I do hope that he gets the help he needs and sticks with it.

katherine. said...

also came by way of david...and congrats on the post of the day!

not only well written, but an engaging story of your friendship.

Cheffie-Mom said...

Hi, I came over from David's authorblog. Great post! Congrats on the Post of the Day Award!

Suldog said...

Came here from David McMahon's place. Hell of a good post, nice writing. God bless you and your pal!

AnneDroid said...

Very moving. I cannot think of a worse job than photographing bodies pulled out of the 9/11 wreckage. Just unimaginable - I'm sure no one would be unscathed by that even if he'd never had any other troubles at all. Glad he has you for a friend.

Anonymous said...

Sounds so familiar sometimes when we look in to the faces of another soul's story. :) Well written, as always. Poignant.

xox Claudia