I come home from the gym on a Tuesday afternoon. The air is thick with pain. The TV is on but no one is watching. The news anchor is deploring the fate of something or another. In the kitchen my father is pacing. Pacing in tight circles around our small table. Softly I ask, “what’s wrong?”. He doesn’t hear my words, eyes are open but unseeing. I can tell he is lost in his thoughts. Confused, I attempt to figure out the cause of his odd behavior. Then the new anchor comes back from a commercial break and recaps all the day’s breaking news. One headline grabs my attention and shakes me. A baby boy was found in a recycling center. Instantly I know the reason for my dad’s strange actions.
Suddenly I’m 15 and my dad is driving with me riding shotgun. Somehow our conversation turns to sewage plants. He begins to tell me about the first and only time he ever went into a sewage treatment facility. He was a rookie cop, he had been on the job less than a month. He was 23 years old and still living at home. In many ways he was still a kid. Dispatch radioed him that they wanted him to go to a call at a sewage plant in town. They told him that he would have to go there alone because it was a low risk situation and they needed other officers in the field for more dangerous situations that might arise. He asked what the situation entailed, and dispatch just said he should ask the foreman when he arrived. He asked again, and they just reiterated that statement. He gave up.
Once at the sewage treatment plant the foreman is waiting outside for him. The foreman is jumpy and nervous, he waves for my dad to follow him into the building and they go to the first stage of the sewage treatment. The way it worked was raw sewage would be funneled onto a conveyor belt and water would be sprayed on top. The conveyor belt is a metal mesh so the sewage liquefies and drops below into a vat for the second stage of treatment. Anything that stays solid is usually some kind of other material metal, plastic, wood etc. The police get called to sewage treatment plants often, people flush (or toss down a sewer) guns, and knives all the time, so this what my dad thought he was walking into. The conveyor belt is stopped and the water off. There’s more literal shit than he’s ever seen in his life. The uneasy foreman points to the middle of the conveyor belt and says “there, look right there”. My dad must refocus his eyes before he even realizes what he’s looking at. Then in one awful second, he figures it out, there is the body of a one-month old baby boy laying there among all that filth. He immediately threw up and started to cry right there in front of the foreman. Eventually he composed himself enough and got the job done.
When he told me all those years ago in as we were driving around town, he had to pull over because he had begun to cry, and I had begun to throw up on the side of the road. Once we had composed ourselves he looked at me and said, “That baby boy has stayed with me all these years, I have never forgotten him.”
Today with the news screaming about this baby boy, I wonder if there will be a rookie cop to mourn him, every day for the next 45 years.