Bedtime Stories, a guest post by Vanessa L. Torres
CONTENT WARNING: This post discusses working as a firefighter/paramedic and includes reference to a call about a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
We all have it in us to tell a story. Yes, some more than others, but really, everyone has one or two—or hundreds to share. One of my favorite things about being a writer is hearing other people’s stories. I’m talking the verbal kind, when the teller is so into it and animated, I’m following them around the room, laughing myself silly, or crying my eyes dry. I am transported. I am captivated. And I think about the tale long after the surprise ending is revealed.
Sounds a lot like reading a good book, doesn’t it?
Years before I started writing young adult novels, I became a firefighter/paramedic. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret. You want to hear some stellar storytelling? Get yourself to a firehouse, preferably in the morning at shift change.
We are a family, my brothers and sisters at the fire department. We work twenty-four-hour shifts, which means we spend one-third of our lives in each other’s presence.
We eat together. Train together. Trust each other. We argue like siblings, razz one other—and laugh a lot.
Firefighters are creatures of habit and routine. Visit any random firehouse at the start of the day and you will find the on and off-going crews, gathering with their cups of coffee in hand and exchanging tales.
“Tell me a story, V. Cuz we know you’ve got one.” This is the greeting I get every time I arrive for my shift. And of course, I oblige. Because stringing an audience along for the big finish is a total high, I must admit.
In a job like firefighting, these little moments are a necessity. First responders need to laugh. We need reminders there is more to our world than what we experience on the job. Because I’m telling you, after a tough shift, it’s difficult to remember this. Sometimes, we just need a distraction, because dwelling on the bad can leave a lot to unpack.
This is especially true during the night hours, when the darkness sets the mood. When the day timers have gone to sleep, feeling alone in the aftermath of a terrible call is real.
Some would say first responders are in the business of saving lives. When really, my brothers and sisters at the firehouse—our shared stories sometimes mean we save each other.
It was two A.M. My partner Dan and I were crashed out after a busy day of calls and training.
The tones woke us up in an instant: Medic response, shotgun wound/self-inflicted. Family at the home. CPR instructions being refused. Law enforcement enroute.
On the way to the call, Dan and I discussed our plan. Immediate CPR if needed. But if the patient was still alive, Dan would focus on the airway. Bleeding control and IVs would be my responsibility.
We arrived alongside the police. The scene was chaotic. When we entered the back bedroom, we found the patient’s wound to be what we call, “incompatible with life.”
Our efforts turned towards the family, who were understandably in serious distress. Dan made coffee and phone calls at the request of the patient’s mother. I gathered information leading up to the incident, interviewing his wife as best I could.
Later, arriving back at the station, Dan and I trudged to the dorm room and tried to get some sleep. My mind was whirling with flashes from the scene—the patient’s wife pleading with me for answers—his kids waking up in the next room.
I tried to think about other things. Mundane stuff, like the laundry waiting for me at home, or the list of Christmas gifts I still had to buy. When that didn’t work, I considered calling my husband, who was also in the middle of his shift at a different fire department. Just as I’d settled on this, Dan broke the silence.
“Hey,” he said. “You awake?”
“Yep,” I said, turning over.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Do you think it’s weird, that we go out to a scene like that, and then come back here and go to sleep?”
Dan’s question was a scary one. Because what did it say about me if I had no problem doing just that? Would I become that person one day? Would all of us? The patient’s kids were the same ages as Dan’s. Would I ever sleep again if I were in the same situation?
“Yeah,” I said. “It feels a little weird. But no one says we have to go to sleep, right? And if you did, that’s okay too, I hope.”
Dan fell silent again, and I thought he’d finally dozed off.
Then he said, “Tell me a story, V. Cuz I know you’ve got one.”
The quiver in his voice about took me down. But then I rolled over to my back and propped a pillow behind my knees, my back sore from the previous day of hard training.
“This one time,” I began.
Dan sniffled and grabbed a tissue from his nightstand, already chuckling before I finished my sentence.
Meet the author
Vanessa L. Torres has been a firefighter/paramedic for twenty-six years. She has always been a storyteller, but she attributes most of her skills to the men and women who lay their lives on the line, those first responders who gather to listen, anytime she’s got a good “This one time,” to share.
She is an author of books for young readers. She loves to read anything with a vivid setting, but there’s a special place in her heart for urban tales. She was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and now lives in Olympia, Washington with her husband and daughter. She is a proud member of Las Musas, the first writer/illustrator collective of Latinx women and otherwise marginalized people whose gender identity aligns with femininity.
When she’s not writing, she balances her time between anything outdoors, and her other job as a firefighter/paramedic. And when the snow hits, you might catch a glimpse of her ski patrolling on the mountain.
About The Turning Pointe
A bold and emotionally gripping novel about a teenage Latinx girl finding freedom through dance and breaking expectations in 1980s Minnesota.
When sixteen-year-old Rosa Dominguez pirouettes, she is poetry in pointe shoes. And as the daughter of a tyrant ballet Master, Rosa seems destined to become the star principal dancer of her studio. But Rosa would do anything for one hour in the dance studio upstairs where Prince, the Purple One himself, is in the house.
After her father announces their upcoming auditions for a concert with Prince, Rosa is more determined than ever to succeed. Then Nikki—the cross-dressing, funky boy who works in the dance shop—leaps into her life. Weighed down by family expectations, Rosa is at a crossroads, desperate to escape so she can show everyone what she can do when freed of her pointe shoes. Now is her chance to break away from a life in tulle, grooving to that unmistakable Minneapolis sound reverberating through every bone in her body.
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 02/22/2022
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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