The Year We Disappeared (6 page)

BOOK: The Year We Disappeared
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“They couldn’t come,” Uncle Joe explained. It was very strange for him to be here without Aunt Kate and without Lauren and Cassie. Why was he here anyhow?

“Are we still going to the beach?” I asked, trying to eat the soggy cereal.

“You guys are coming to Boston with me, and we’ll go see your dad,” Uncle Joe said. He was tapping his pack of cigarettes on the table, then took out another one and lit it.

“Is he going to be at your house?” Eric asked, confused.

“I think they’ll still be at the hospital,” Uncle Joe said.

“You’re coming too?” I asked Kelly.

“I’ll be there later. Lucky’s coming to pick me up,” she explained. Lucky was her older brother, one of our favorite cousins, who lived up in Maine. I wondered why he would drive all the way down here to pick her up when she could just go with us in Uncle Joe’s car.

“When you’re done eating, you need to go pack,” she added, looking at my brothers. “You need to take your sleeping bags.”

“We’re staying over?” I asked. I loved having a sleepover at my cousins’ house. Lauren, who was a year and a half older than me, was really pretty and always had expensive clothes that she gave me as hand-me-downs. Cassie was three years younger than I was, so she was the baby of the family but still fun to hang out with.

“You’re going to stay over.” Uncle Joe took another sip of his coffee.

“When are we going?” Eric asked, putting his cereal bowl into the sink.

“As soon as you can get dressed and packed,” Uncle Joe said. He gave me a weak smile, but his eyes didn’t get all crinkled up like they did when he was really happy or laughing. I put my cereal bowl into the sink and ran some water into it like mom always made us do. I wondered when she would wash the dishes, when we would come back home. When I broke my arm the summer before, it took forever to get the cast put on at the emergency room—X-rays and doctors and waiting. We were there all day and into the night before we could go home. I wondered if Dad was getting a cast put on, how long it might take. Then I went into my room and started to pack.

I took out the new dark red corduroys that Mom had bought me for school; they still had the tags on them. Kelly came into the room and sat on the bottom bunk. “Should I take these?” I asked her, holding up the pants. I had never worn them, but I
wanted to show them to my cousin with the new sweater my mom had also picked out. Lauren would think they were so cool.

“I don’t know,” Kelly said. I laid the pants on the bed and Kelly touched the price tag gently with her fingers. “You still wear a size slim?” she asked, looking me up and down. “Jesus.” She shook her head. I didn’t know what to say.

I opened my drawers and took out a bathing suit. Uncle Joe and Aunt Kate had a pool. They were rich. I put in some shorts, a couple of halter tops, then I looked at my suitcase. It looked really empty, so I put in my other bathing suit, too. “When are we coming back?” I asked Kelly.

“I’m not sure.” She folded the cords up carefully and laid them in the suitcase on top of everything else. “Maybe you should take these,” she said quietly.

I loved staying at my aunt and uncle’s house, except for the food. Aunt Kate liked to cook “gourmet,” which Mom thought was so amazing. She had all kinds of beautiful pots and pans and an expensive Cuisinart that Mom was sort of jealous of. Whenever we went to visit, Aunt Kate would try out new recipes and spend hours in the kitchen cooking things like chicken breast stuffed with blue cheese or a huge roast with some weird orange sauce. It was disgusting, and I usually ended up eating nothing for dinner when we were there. I know it used to make my aunt unhappy that I wouldn’t try some of her dishes, especially since she worked so hard on them and everyone else loved her cooking, but most of it was just too gross for me.

“Let’s go, gang,” Uncle Joe said. I picked up my suitcase and took it outside.

“I’m starving. What do you guys say we go to McDonald’s?” he asked as he loaded our sleeping bags into the car. We had just eaten cereal, but we weren’t about to turn down a trip to McDonald’s.

Shawn nodded and I realized that I hadn’t heard him speak all morning. His brown eyes were big; he looked really scared. I got into the front seat before my brothers could call it. But they just climbed in the backseat without a word.

“I like your new car,” I told Uncle Joe as he got into the driver’s seat. “It’s really nice.” The seats were soft and clean, and the radio was pretty fancy.

“It’s not that new,” Uncle Joe said, like he was embarrassed. Still, it was the nicest car I’d ever been in. I felt small and dirty in the shorts I’d worn the day before. I probably should have dressed better to be sitting in this car, to be going to his house.

After we all had pancakes at McDonald’s, we started the drive to Boston, about an hour and a half from the Cape. Uncle Joe was quiet on the way there, and Eric and Shawn didn’t talk either. I played with the radio until I found some of our favorite songs. “Don’t Bring Me Down,” by ELO. And “Sad Eyes” by Robert John. The music sounded great on the radio in Uncle Joe’s car.

“I wish Dad would get the radio in his car fixed,” I said, but no one said anything. “Don’t you guys?” I said to my brothers in
the backseat. Shawn was looking out the window, and Eric just gave me a blank stare, so I gave him one back for a second, but he didn’t flinch.

When Uncle Joe was ready for another cigarette, he let me push in the special button in his car that heated the lighter. When the lighter popped back out, the end of it was fiery hot and glowing red, like coals in the barbecue. After he lit his cigarette, he cleared his throat. “Here’s the thing,” he finally said, turning down the volume on the radio. “Your dad is alive, and he’s going to make it. He’s a strong man.”

Uncle Joe was acting weird, so serious, so tired. I was used to him always joking around, so I didn’t like him like this. Maybe, I thought, I just don’t like him when Lauren and Cassie aren’t around.

We were quiet. No one wanted to ask any questions; we didn’t really want to know what he was talking about. “My dad died when I was a kid, when your mom was only nine years old,” Uncle Joe reminded us. “And we turned out okay. Just remember that.” He kept his eyes on the road. I kind of had to pee, but I didn’t want to tell my uncle. It seemed like he was in a bad mood. Besides, we would be there soon.

chapter 6

THE second time I regained consciousness, I was looking at an aluminum ceiling with thousands of tiny holes in it. I knew I’d been shot and I’d had surgery. I didn’t know what day it was. I couldn’t figure out why my stomach hurt so badly. Slowly I began tracing where the lines went from all the bottles and bags hanging around the bed. A few of them were smaller tubes—IVs with blood, water, meds. I found a big tube, about a half-inch in diameter, that went under the sheet. It looked like it had milk in it.

I inched the sheet down and saw that this tube ran into my stomach. I realized that they had inserted this tube to feed me since I had no mouth to eat with. A machine rumbling next to the bed was connected to hoses attached to my trachea tube—it was mixing the right amount of H
O vapor with the air I was breathing.

Polly was there and gave me a kiss on my forehead and welcomed me back into the land of the living. She held a pad of paper for me so I could write her a note. With all the needles and tape in my hand, it hurt to hold a pen, and my writing was shaky. I wrote that my stomach incision hurt, and that my throat where the trachea went in was burning. Polly, with her own nursing training, quickly figured out that the stuff the nurses were using to clean my incisions didn’t agree with me—she guessed I was probably allergic to it. Polly said she would make them use something else.

She told me that two MDC officers who were formerly on the Falmouth PD responded to Mass General the night before—Paul Stone and Mitch Morgan—and they stayed through the night so Craig could go home. Two officers would be stationed outside my hospital room around the clock. “Don’t worry about anything, it’s all taken care of,” she said. She also told me that Joe had picked up the kids, and that they were safe at his house; that my parents were here too. That I should rest. And I did.

She didn’t tell me what the doctors had said to her about my prognosis. That I might never talk again due to the damage to my larynx. That I would never be able to eat food, smell, or breathe through my mouth or nose. That I would probably need a permanent trachea tube.

When I opened my eyes again, it was another day. Sunday. The doctors needed me to do a breathing exercise, to cough
through the trachea hole in my throat. Polly explained that I needed to do this to clear the airway, keep my lungs clear, especially since I was immobile. But the coughing raised holy hell with the stomach incision. I found that by holding a pillow down hard against my abdomen, I could cough without pushing at the incision.

Next time I was conscious, Joe and his wife, Kate, were in the room. Kate was a surgical nurse at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. “He’s reached the maximum swelling now,” she said, looking at what was left of my face. “Now it will start to go down and we’ll see what we have here.”

Polly joked that with my face so swollen and distorted, I looked like Chip and Dale, the cartoon chipmunks. I was glad to hear a joke, see a smile. Maybe things weren’t so bad after all. I had drainage tubes inserted in my face that the nurses changed every so often, and when they did, they kept shooting heparin into an IV lock, which I could taste. Polly and Kate explained that this was to keep the IV locks open so they wouldn’t clot and need to be changed, which would be extremely painful.

Even with people in the room whom I wanted to see, I got tired quickly and drifted in and out of consciousness. I hurt all over, but my face was the worst. The bone pain was excruciating—my jawbone had been pulverized, and there are so many nerves in the face, sometimes it just felt like I was on fire. I was on an IV of Demerol, a strong narcotic, for the pain, but the medication wore off every four hours. When the nurses came to
inject more Demerol, it would take about fifteen minutes to start working. I would break out into a cold sweat, followed by a warm tingling sensation all over. Then the pain would slip away, but so would I. I wasn’t sure what was really happening and what I was imagining.

A doctor came in to see me from the Harvard Maxillofacial clinic—Dr. David Keith. He had headed up the medical team that did my emergency surgery, but this was my first time meeting him. He told Polly that they needed to remove the metal from my nose and face—metal not from the bullets, but from the car’s roof. When the bullets went through the car’s frame, they were carrying some fragments that got embedded in my face.

So the next time I was awake, I was being wheeled to the Harvard Maxillofacial Unit at Mass General. Maybe they thought that since I was already on so many heavy painkillers, they didn’t need to use a local anesthesia for the procedure (and here’s when not having a mouth can be a real problem). As they started slicing into my nose and upper cheek to remove the pieces of metal, I could feel everything, but I had no way to tell them. I didn’t want to motion too much because they had a scalpel next to my face. So I just waited for it to be over. And besides, everything else hurt so much that on a scale of one to ten, this felt like a three. They stitched me up and sent me back to my room.

Afterward, Dr. Keith had some good news for Polly—that
maybe it wasn’t as bad as the other oral surgeons thought. “He’s lost a lot of blood, and his body needs to recover from the trauma, but he will recover,” Dr. Keith told her. He also said that he wanted to take on my case, and that he believed he could reconstruct my face with some other surgeons from Harvard Medical. He even thought that I would be able to talk and eat and breathe again. But, he warned her, it would take years of surgery and need to be done in steps. Polly was so happy to hear that I might have some semblance of a normal life that she didn’t care about the timeline. I was only thirty-six, what was a few years?

When I was wheeled back to my room after the surgery to remove the metal fragments, there was a visitor waiting for me. Sergeant Don Price. He was the first cop I rode with when I started on the Falmouth Police Department and a good friend.

Don was a spic-and-span, spit-and-polish officer. His voice was deep and gravelly and reminded me of James Coburn’s, an actor who was popular at the time. He was a little over six feet tall, two hundred pounds or so. He’d been on the force almost ten years when I met him and was studying to be a sergeant. We were assigned to the same cruiser, the so-called party car.

Falmouth was a beautiful town, on the tip of Cape Cod—long sandy beaches; a warm, calm oceanfront; great weather; lots of nice places to eat and drink. In the summer, when the weather was good, our shore town drew all types of tourists: kids on break from college, rich folks from Boston, New York, New
England. And, on occasion, some not so lovely folks from South Boston, looking to party and have fun. The town had passed a noise ordinance designed to keep those summer celebrations from getting out of control and to keep Falmouth from getting a reputation as a party town. The ordinance stated that any noise emitted from a dwelling or property that was harsh and/or objectionable at a distance of one hundred feet was in violation of the bylaw. Hence the “party” car—an unmarked Ford we used to roll around town and check out noise complaints.

The first night I met Don was in early July 1970, a few days before the Fourth—a major party week on the Cape. College-aged kids by the thousands would be pouring onto the beach for a good time. And youthful exuberance being what it is, we were going to be busy.

Polly and I hadn’t even bought our house on the Cape yet. I had been on duty only a few days or so. It was just starting to dawn on me how precarious my position as a cop was. I didn’t know how to do the job, couldn’t understand half of what the other cops were saying, where the streets were, who the bad guys were. And I didn’t know how long it was going to take me to learn these things, to get some confidence in the job.

BOOK: The Year We Disappeared
7.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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