The Garbage Truck

Dirk is a former Navy Corpsman who served in Iraq during the early stages of our involvement there. Corpsmen are medics who often serve with the Marines, so Dirk saw a lot of action, much of it tragic.
But he’s a positive-spirited guy and upon return to the states he settled back into a more typical life with a young bride, and became his funny endearing personality again, without evidence of post-traumatic stress or the like. He even continued with the same line of work, becoming a civilian paramedic.
He bought his dream home on the east side of Capitol Hill. It had a large yard for his dog and future kids, and a porch for summer evenings and an amazing cook’s kitchen for his wife, a chef at a local restaurant.
Indeed, the whole picture might have been as rosy as a fairy tale, except for one thing.
The garbage truck.
For whatever reason, whether the rumbling of its approach, or the clanging of the cans, or a combination of the two, the truck jolted him out of bed in a combat-ready panic every Friday morning at 7 AM. (He said the sounds resembled the rolling of tanks and the clashes of war).
It really was a panic too, for he was a deep sleeper, and there were some Fridays when he momentarily forgot where he was and started to look for the enemy behind the shower curtain or under the bed. It became very disturbing for the couple.
After several weeks of this they simply set the alarm for an earlier time so everyone was prepared, and even though he worked odd hours and 7 AM was usually the middle of the night for him, this arrangement seemed to solve the problem. He’d get up at 6:45, wait out the battle, and return to bed at 7:15.
Life was good again.
But it was short-lived.
Responding to a serious auto accident involving children, Dirk too hastily darted from his ambulance and into the path of an oncoming car. The impact catapulted him off the road where he landed head-first on a curb.
While sparing him visible gruesome injuries often associated with accidents, the head injury was extremely dangerous, and within 12 hours the swelling had become so bad the doctors induced a coma.
Dirk had survived three years in the heart of Baghdad during the most violent period in that episode, and here he was laid out like a cadaver at the University of Washington Hospital.
The swelling retreated over a few days, and, eventually, while Dirk remained in the coma, all of the brain scans and other diagnostic tests seemed to show little to no permanent damage. The doctors weren’t terribly flummoxed; comas are often a black hole of unanswered questions. We’ve all heard stories about people in comas for decades, and hopeful anecdotes about some who wake up after all those years.
Dirk’s family did have hope, he was young and strong and they were devout. Most days his mother would spend sitting alongside him, knitting or reading. In the evenings his father and wife would join them. They were vigilant and rarely missed a day.
After 4 months the family had settled money and insurance matters and decided to take Dirk home, where he’d be under constant private care. There was also the popular theory that familiarity of sights, sounds etc. sometimes bring the comatose back around.
So, oddly, in a spirit of near-celebration, Dirk was returned to his favorite place, and his favorite room, the bedroom that looked out over the yard and garden. His wife set up a daybed alongside him, and the family settled into a period they’d accepted could be years.
Of course, they needn’t have worried. This was on a Thursday and the garbage truck was due the next day.
But how would anybody know that would make a difference? The family had tried all of the usual things, from playing much-loved songs quietly by his bed, to having faraway friends’ voices on YouTube videos, to filling the hospital room with smells of favorite foods.
Yet sure enough, at 7 AM the following morning, the garbage truck roared down the alley towards the house, and Dirk sprung from his coma in a panic, tripping over the IV and stumbling into the bathroom with his under-used legs. He ripped open the shower curtain to check for insurgents, and when satisfied, caught the image of his crying wife.
With a final clash of the cans the garbage truck rolled away and left the two of them in an epic embrace, filled with silence.


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