Opening Up (by Rocker H.)

Summary:  A story in which Detective Sergeant Starsky’s mother relives a parent’s worst nightmare in hopes of getting her own life back in order. (This story, in journal form, takes place several months after Sweet Revenge.)
Category:   Starsky and Hutch
Genre: Police/Crime
Rated: PG
Word Count: 11,100


December 16, 1979

It’s been seven months since I answered Ken Hutchinson’s call in May. Many things have returned to normal, at least outwardly. Most importantly, David is healing and feeling stronger everyday. I am back home in New York. I have found a job with an after-school program teaching music and drama. And I am surrounded by good and loving friends.

But there is a dream that just keeps coming back to terrorize me. Several times a week the same disturbing dream wakes me and the memory of it keeps me up the rest of the night. That definitely can’t be good.

At the suggestion…insistence, really, of a dear friend, I stared down my fear and decided to get some help, because this, apparently, is a problem that is not going away by itself. The thought of seeking out a complete stranger to help me wrangle this literal nightmare was not something I ever thought I would do. I am a problem solver! I am an adult, a mom and a teacher, it’s what I do.

Opening up about this problem is one of the hardest things I have ever been called on to do and, mercifully, Doctor Tyler recognized this. So rather than push me off the pier too early, the she suggested it might be easier for me to write, in journal form, what has brought me to this point. That idea appealed to me as it is something I am very familiar with. I kept a journal for years and only quit when I got married. It puts me in mind, too, of a way I found to cope with a very similar problem nearly twenty years ago.

The term “post traumatic stress” is what she is using to describe what I am experiencing . (Isn’t that something soldiers experience?) I am hesitant to start using the medications she is suggesting, so I will give this writing therapy my best attention. At various intervals throughout this journey she will ask to read what I write and we will proceed from there So here goes nothing. What follows

It is my best recollection of what happened to turn my world upside down in May of 1979. Better late than never, right?

*****

December 17, 1979

There is a song I know by a band called the Eagles. They are a favorite of David’s and he made me listen to this song, originally, because he said it reminded him of an old cowboy song. I have always been a big fan of cowboy music and and we used to take the kids to see Gene Autry and John Wayne movies frequently at the picture show. Weird for a New Yorker, but there you have it. Anyway, it is called Desperado and the lines that keep running through my head are from that song.

The sky won’t snow
And the sun won’t shine
It’s hard to tell the night time from the day
You’re losing all your high and lows
Ain’t it funny how the feeling goes away…

Desperado, The Eagles, 1973 (Glenn Frey and Don Henley)

That is where I find myself a lot these days. Just sort of stuck in a gray no man’s land. So maybe, getting my feelings out of my head and on to paper might help.

*****

December 19, 1979

There are neon colored days that leap out in a parent’s life. Some are bright sunny yellow. You know that color I mean. The days when being a mom is really all you ever wanted. The kids are good, the husband’s good, life’s good. They are days filled with birthday parties, baby’s firsts, vacations, bed time chats, baseball games, backyard picnics, hard won graduations, first loves and first heartbreaks.

Then, there are days that hit you in the face like day glo orange. We all know that color too. You see it barreling at you, screaming its warning, but there is nothing you can do to get out of its way. It hits you hard, knocks the breath right out of you and leaves you reeling. That warm, sunny day this past May was one of those. I just felt out of sorts all day, I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong, but there was something. Of course there was another day I felt like that too. One of those day glo orange warning days…

My boys were 9 and 13. I can pull that day up in my mind, like it was yesterday. The memory still sneaks up and knocks my legs out without a warning. March 24,1960 was an unusually warm and sunny Thursday, it was also the day my husband, Police Sergeant Michael Starsky was gunned down on the street. He and his partner had been working on bringing in a high level gangland criminal, when a hired gunman drew up alongside their car and murdered them both. I was suddenly left without my beloved husband, and my boys without their wonderful Pop. Just how is a mother supposed to explain such a thing to her children when she can make no sense of it herself? I remember the words coming out of my mouth, but it was like I was looking down seeing and hearing someone else deliver that horrible message. Time can never blunt the memory of David and Nicky’s reaction to this “world turned upside down” moment. So different….so telling. David stared at me in bewilderment and anguish, his face went soft then the tears began to pool. He tried to hold them back and choke down the sobs but the dam broke so violently, it looked like it physically hurt him. Even now when his deepest emotions force themselves to the surface, it can be surprisingly explosive.

Nicky, my youngest, is so very different. You would never know they were raised in the same house. He has always had a flash point temper that he can never quite control. He has a swagger and a sense of bravado that makes people stand up and pay attention until they realize it is mostly a facade. That day Nicky probably didn’t even really understand what I was telling them. His sweet little face turned straight to David, gauging his reaction. He and David are nothing alike, but he worshipped the ground his older brother walked on then. After watching David, his face took on a stony expression and his mouth hardened. He stared through both us, like we were responsible and bolted out the door. It was at that very moment, I witnessed my David grow into the man of the house.

He wiped his tear streaked face with the back of his hand, stood up straight, squared his shoulders and told me,“ Ma, I’ll bring him back, he’s just really sad. Pop wouldn’t want me to let anything happen to you or Nicky.” Our home was on a street bordering two rival gangs and both were already trying to recruit David. At that time he would have nothing to do with them and that left a bad taste in their mouths. (In a couple of years the story changed directions and I felt no choice but to send him to California to live with his aunt and uncle.) He wasn’t safe out on the street, but that didn’t stop him. He, told me then, like he tells me now, “Ma, Nicky’s cute, I’m careful.”

So while I made the necessary funeral arrangements, David scoured the streets, alleys, holes and sewers looking for his little brother. It took him until almost midnight to locate Nicky. Every couple hours he would come back to check on me. That Starsky smile would shine through his dirty face as he tried to assure me everything was going to be terrific.(Even though I could still see the tears rimming his beautiful, intelligent eyes—his father’s eyes). That was the first time I felt that icy pin prick of fear. He was going to follow in his father’s steps, and there was nothing I could do about it.

He was talking ‘fore I knew it and as he grew
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you, dad, 
You know I’m gonna be like you…”

Cat’s In the Cradle, Harry Chapin 1974

Since then, there have been more day glo orange days, in both of my boys lives, than I care to remember. Following his service in Viet Nam, David returned to California to help his Uncle Al and entered the Police Academy in Los Angeles. He graduated near the top of his class, with his eye on becoming a detective with his new found best friend, Ken Hutchinson.

It was his dream come true and he had worked so hard to make it happen. I smiled and wished him well. What else could I do?

He has had many close calls within the line of duty since then, but this last one was clearly the most heart rending because of its severity and immediacy. On other occasions I didn’t hear about his injuries and close calls until he was out of danger. His idea, I am sure, because he could never stand soapy scenes. He is so much like his father.

The call came in around 10:30 PM, just as I was getting ready for bed. Every parent knows what call I am talking about. It’s something about the time; the ring of the phone; the dead air on the other end, followed by the unexpected voice:

“Umm, Mrs. Starsky, …Mom? This is Ken,” I could barely recognize his voice, there was so much sadness leaking through. “Starsk, …D-David needs you, he’s been shot.” I have you booked on the 5AM TWA flight to Bay City.”

That’s all he said. It was enough.

Sleep was an impossibility, so after trying unsuccessfully to reach Nicky, I packed and took a cab for the airport. There was nothing else I could do.

*****

December 22, 1979

 

All alone in the universe Sometimes that how its seems
I get lost in the sadness and the screams

John Denver/ Looking For Space/ 1976

Rehashing all this just hurts. It’s not as if I haven’t thought about it everyday since Ken’s call, but it still feels like picking at a scab. The wound is too fresh to have healed completely and I might just be making the scarring process that much worse. Anyway, I have told my doctor this and she assures me that by putting all this down it will help to get the nightmares out of my mind and let me deal with them in a more useful way. Not seeing that just yet…

Thankfully, Ken did make all my travel arrangements.( I really hate that word.) As distracted as I was, if left to my own devices, I could have ended up in Siberia. As it was, I couldn’t begin to tell you how I made the 3000 miles from New York to Bay City, California. I remember precious little about it, except the black feeling of despair that enshrouded me.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I landed, but from the overwhelming pain I heard in Ken’s voice, I fully expected for my sweet boy to be gone.

I was greeted at the gate by a lanky young man sporting a brown velour jumpsuit with an abundance of zippers. He introduced himself as a friend of Davey’s and told me his name was Huggy Bear. So this was the inestimable Mr. Brown I had heard so much about. He was one of the kindest young men I have ever had the privilege to meet. He gently guided me to the nearest concourse coffee shop, sat me down, and broke the news I was dreading to hear.

My boy had been gunned down in the police headquarters parking lot by two gunmen driving a stolen police car. He didn’t even have the chance to draw his gun. It was his father all over again! But David survived! God knows how or why, but he survived three bullets to the back. Damn cowards! In a ten hour surgery, the doctors managed to extract the bullets and repair some of the damage. My heart broke, along with any sense of bravado I had mustered for the flight, when Huggy told me that David had actually gone into cardiac arrest this morning. (To know that my boy effectively died before I got a chance to hold him one more time shattered my soul). However, the incredible doctors and nurses resuscitated him. David was in a coma, but his vital signs had returned to an acceptable range. Huggy said it was a “righteous” miracle and with each tick of the clock, his chances got better. I knew better, but was thankful for his exuberant confidence.

David must have been raised right because he ended up with some wonderfully loyal and loving friends. Ken Hutchinson is the best pal he has in the world. (We all should be so lucky to have a friendship like theirs.) He is also Davey’s partner. The trust between police partners is something that cannot be overstated. Davey’s guardian angel must have taken a special interest in him because he and Ken are inseparable soul mates. They are closer than brothers. I call them my twin sons from different mothers because they are just that in sync with each other. Although I have only met Ken a few times in person, we frequently talk on the phone, probably more that David would ever suspect. That boy of mine is notorious for burying his feelings and is sometimes hard to figure out. Ken likes to use me as his inside source and sounding board. A couple years back when Terry, David’s fiancé, was murdered, Ken and I agonized for hours over the phone to figure out how to keep David from spinning out of control. That was such a hard time for all of us. I was ready to hop the next flight to California. However, Ken convinced me that maybe David needed a friend (who knew exactly what happened and loved Terry as well) to lean on, instead of a parent. He probably thought I would be too easy on him. Of course, Ken was right. They have their own way with dealing with all the troubles life throws at them and I can’t argue with success.

Also, I get the impression Ken is not particularly close with his parents. I guess a ‘nother mother comes in handy when you just want to talk.

And what can I say about Mr. Huggy Bear Brown? In the police business you meet all kinds of people. And Huggy is definitely that. While not entirely sure what Huggy Bear does when not running his bar, I am so grateful he is a such an integral part of David’s life. He seems to have the kind of humor that could get anyone out of a funk, and fix them a stiff drink besides. He is so charismatic and has clearly never met a stranger. That is exactly the kind of person I needed after that nightmare of a flight.

Huggy could see I was thoroughly beat and offered to take me to David’s place. I wasn’t sure about that, but once I saw all the effort he put in to making it my home for the foreseeable future, I didn’t have the heart to turn him down. So after seeing me in and making sure I was comfortable, fed and watered, he left. But not before assuring me that another one of David’s police friends, Minnie, would pick me up in a couple hours to take me to the hospital. Of course, I wanted to get there as soon as possible, but I was no good to anyone in the state I was in. A nap wasn’t wanted but it was definitely needed.

*****

December 27, 1979

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I Heard the Bells, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1863

Well, Christmas ‘79 has come and gone. Not one of the better holiday seasons I remember. It was a debilitating year for me emotionally, and holidays kind of drive that message home. Don’t I sound like a bitter old lady? And I truly don’t mean it that way. I have everything in the world to be grateful for. My doctor has given me some ideas to navigate me through these blasts of helplessness and depression. Trying to follow her recommended steps will be my resolution for the New Year. But for now I will keep writing.

Before resting, I tried once more to reach Nick. Sometimes I don’t know about that son of mine. He worries me. He goes for weeks at a time without a word then shows up at the house without any explanation or excuse. To hear him carry on, he is always just “this close” to hitting it big with some great scheme or plan. I know he has his heart in the right place, most of the time, but he needs to grow up! He should be settled in a real job, not sliding from one shifty gig to the next. He is 29 years old for heaven’s sake and I know his irresponsible behavior has put him at odds with David!

Well, this had been one of those spells when he was out of touch. I called his apartment right after I talked to Ken, but no answer. I called from Chicago, when I changed planes; no answer. I even left a message, to contact Captain Dobey, taped to my front door in case he were to come by the house.

I finally reached him but his reaction was not at all what I expected. I gave him all the information learned from Huggy. On the other end of the line, there was silence. I waited, still there was silence. “Nicholas Marvin Starsky,” I demanded, “get yourself on the next flight out here! David is in extremely critical condition! Do you hear me? He needs his family! Do you understand?” I kind of lost control of my anger. “He saved your hide, or did you forget about that! Yes, I know what happened on your visit. Your brother put his life in danger to save you from your own stupidity and you can’t be bothered to get on a plane and be at his side now?” Yeah, maybe I should not have said that but I was feeling a bit skittish. However, it did seem to jar Nick loose and he began to cry.

“Ma, I just can’t face him! Not this way, not after all that just happened between us. Please tell him I love him, but I just can’t come out there right now!. I just can’t!” and he hung up.

Not one of my proudest mama moments to be sure. There was no resting after that episode, so I just freshened up and waited for David’s friend, Minnie, to take me to the hospital. I was a wreck. The trauma of the last 14 hours, jet lag, and now Nicky’s outburst had left me thoroughly depleted. Too tired to sleep but not too tired to worry. A nasty combination that is begging for trouble.

David’s friend from the police department, Officer Minnie Kaplan came by to take me to the hospital around 2:30 PM. This petite dynamo of a woman did her best to set my mind at rest. She told me David’s condition was stable and he wanted for nothing. She said the boys’ Captain had even moved his office to the hospital to be be there …just in case. The colorful and funny anecdotes she told me about David and Ken kept me laughing. It was probably my fatigue as well, but the thought that she cared enough to keep me distracted warmed my heart.

My boy has certainly surrounded himself with the right kind of people. In his line of work, only the really special ones stick around.

Captain Dobey met me at the hospital entrance where Minnie dropped me off. Harold and I had talked several times, usually following an incident where David ended up in the hospital. I had heard many Captain Dobey stories over the past seven years, so I was very surprised to to encounter such a warm and empathetic gentleman. I could tell instantly that he saw David as a son, not just someone who answered to him. His feelings for Davey were evident from the start. As we walked up to the ICU, he tried to prepare me concerning David’s condition. I should have paid more heed to the man.

Whatever I thought I was going to see, the reality was so much harsher. However much I thought I had steeled my nerves to withstand this day glo orange moment, it wan’t enough. I had never fainted before in my life, but the sight of David enveloped in tubes, wires and machinery dropped me faster than a Muhammad Ali punch. When I came to, a few minutes later, I knew it all had to be a dream…a nightmare. I opened my eyes to my own bizarre version of the characters from the Wizard of Oz. There was, Ken, Captain Dobey, Huggy Bear and a couple uniformed policemen all staring down at me on the floor. Guess I caught them by surprise too. An officious nurse brought me some juice and the men assisted me to a near by chair. Well, Davey always says I know how to make an entrance.

*****

January 2, 1980

 It’s been a while since I have written anything . But reliving that day described above was torture. I close my eyes and I can still hear those machines whirring humming and beeping . I still see David laying motionless in that sterile room. He is never ever still! The bandage swaddled young man lying in that bed couldn’t have been my Duracell Bunny. (He always hates it when I call him that.)

Once my brain settled on where I was and why, Ken had Huggy and Captain Dobey go off in search of food. Of course, I knew it was a decoy move. Ken could not have been more solicitous and loving, if I were his own mother. I could tell he was just as bone weary as I was. The expressiveness in his eyes spoke volumes. David always tells me that he and Ken communicate with looks better than most people do with words. I could see that first hand now. We sat for nearly ten minutes, saying nothing, just trying to gather some strength for what was ahead. Finally Ken broke the silence. “Mom, I let him down.” he whispered wretchedly. I will never forget that. The poor man was blaming himself for David’s condition. It had to be his exhaustion talking, but it truly broke my heart. His street-hardened cop disguise melted as he laid his head on my shoulder and cried. We must have looked a sight but it was what we needed to clear the air and our heads.

A short time later, David’s surgeon came over to introduce herself. Doctor Cannon aptly observed that David must have been born under a very lucky star to have gathered so much love, loyalty, strength and friendship in his 32 years. Then she continued with the bitter medicine. “He is going to need everyone’s strength to draw on for the foreseeable future.”

*****

January 5, 1980

David and Nicky laugh at me for watching TV westerns. Not what a proper big city mother was supposed to spend her time doing, I guess. Can’t help it, I always wanted to be a cowboy when I grew up and I hated soaps operas.

Scene from TVs Lancer (Season 1,1968 Chase a Wild Horse) Johnny Lancer:(after breaking a beautiful but dangerous stallion to saddle)

Now you’re just another horse.

Stable owner: Yeah, but now he’s of some use.

Maybe I have had my “broke to saddle” moment, because I am not having to force myself to sit and write today. It’s not easy to recall those painful days but it is beginning to sting less and I have managed a night or two of mostly uninterrupted sleep. Maybe, now, I can start to be of use.

Dr. Cannon was kind enough to let me visit privately with David before laying out all the bad news. I felt like it had been an eternity since Ken’s call. (Had it really only been last night?)

David looked like such a little boy lying in that sterile hospital room. There were two empty beds along with his and so many life sustaining machines. Machines all hooked up to my boy to keep him alive just a little longer. Captain Dobey had the nurse close the curtain across the observation window, and I was grateful for that bit of privacy. I let my guard down, and I cried. I wept for David. I wept for me. I wept for all Davey’s dear and wonderful friends that had rallied to support him. And I wept for Nicky who might never get to see his older brother again.

David was so fragile, I was almost afraid to touch him. But those unruly dark curls were begging to be ruffled…I had forgotten how soft his hair is. Once a boy gets to be a certain age he doesn’t want his Ma touching his hair, you know. But there were no complaints this time.

I must have sat there alone with him for nearly two hours. A good portion of that time was spent in chastising a God I hadn’t spoken to since my husband was so cruelly taken from his family twenty years ago. It was hard because I was so scared, angry and utterly without hope. How could a just God allow me to lose a husband and a son in the same cruel way, while their killers went free? I figure, now, God must be a little extra tolerant of fear- crazed mothers because some of the things I said to Him were enough to get me thrown out of most organized religions.

*****

January 9, 1980

Thanks to Doctor Tyler, I am beginning to recognize and deal with what I was experiencing in that hospital room. It was a fear of helplessness. There is not a more crippling feeling in the world. It weighs you down and makes you feel like you can’t take another step. All other fears manifest from that one and just feed on each other.

Of course, back then I just felt alone, scared and unequal to the enormous mountain I had to help David climb.

David passed a very quiet night, thankfully. I probably should have taken Captain Dobey’s kind offer of a ride back to David’s place, but given everything that had happened in the last twenty four hours, I opted to just stay at the hospital. I didn’t get much sleep but I was at my son’s side should he need me. The doctor’s and nurses kept up a steady parade in and out of the room. Seems that boy of mine was already pretty famous in this hospital circle. Everyone had a kind word to say concerning his cheerful and upbeat manner during his previous stays. (Apparently there were some I didn’t even know about.) They were very optimistic that if anyone could make it to the other side of this horrific situation, it would be Detective Sergeant David Michael Starsky.

Ken came by the hospital the next morning on his way to the precinct station, and looked a bit better than last night. He told me he did get some sleep, which I was glad to hear. While I wandered off to find some coffee and something to eat, he was able to sit with David. It was very important that Ken have some time to stay with him. There is a reason they called them them the Corsican Brothers at the police academy. They give and receive strength from each other. If one is hurting, they both are. I know that sounds melodramatic. And had I not heard Ken and David talk about it separately and in all seriousness, I probably would have not believed it either.

Before my arrival, the hospital staff was adamant about not sharing information with Ken, or even letting him stay with David, since he was not family. Well, I set them straight on that front, this family is not dependent on blood ties. For David to recover from this, Ken must play a key role.

*****

January 10, 1980

Ken, Harold, Minnie and Huggy kept up an around the clock vigil at the hospital, which allowed me to go back to Davey’s apartment and catch up on some rest. I don’t know what I would have done without them.

It felt so intrusive being at David’s place. Although he is my child, I was a stranger in his home. It took me several days before I even felt ok with moving off the couch and into his bedroom.

His apartment is actually quite homey and so very much him… thirty two (thirty three now) going on thirteen. The furniture was an eclectic mix of pieces I had given him plus some modern touches, and a couple pieces I feel certain he found in someone’s trash.

I was especially glad to see our old pie safe behind his couch, now filled with board games, ridiculous toys and what was left of his purloined Playboy collection. The pie safe had been my grandmother’s and I wasn’t sure if that was something a hip California detective would want to keep around. It also did my heart good to see that he had rediscovered his artistic side. Several window shades bore his distinctive paintings and even a water cooler had not escaped his touch. This was the home of a man who loved life and his place in it.

The nightmare started once I moved from the couch into David’s room to sleep, oddly enough, probably because I was more comfortable. I had just put my head to pillow when I was completely overtaken by weariness. Sleep was coming whether I was ready or not. I woke up at 3:58 AM drenched in sweat and bawling like a two year old. I am not normally one to remember dreams but this one packed a wallop and I will never forget it.

I am driving home from somewhere with Nicky when I look up and see smoke coming from my neighborhood. The closer I get I begin to realize that a house on my street has gone up in blazes. It is our house! The neighbors won’t let me get near the house and block my way. It is then I realize that David and his father are trapped inside, pounding on the attic window to get my attention. I start screaming and fighting the faceless people that are keeping me from getting into the house to rescue my family. Every time I break loose from someone, somebody else takes hold. I can only look on as my home falls in on itself and is consumed by flames. When I look around Nicky and I are alone on the street. That is when I wake up.

At the time I contributed it to total exhaustion and the fear I felt for my son’s life. But seven months later, this dream has not changed or gone away. It has to mean more than its face value. David is safe and mending. But why won’t this dream go away?

Someone once told me that “Confession is good for the soul, except in my case”. I have always tried to keep a tight rein on my emotions. I generally can navigate my feelings without having to bother any one else or rely on them either. (Sounds a lot like David, now that I think on it.) But maybe it is time to open up and let some of these feelings out. Apparently that was what my doctor had in mind when she instructed me to start this journal.

*****

January 12, 1980

 

Won’t you look down upon me Jesus
You’ve got gotta help me make a stand
You’ve just got to see me through another day
My body’s aching and my time is at hand
And I won’t make it any other way

James Taylor, Fire and Rain, 1970

I remember thinking more than once, “I wish I drank…a lot.” The next several days at the hospital were the worst days I could ever remember. Even worse than the days following Michael’s death because then, at least, I had the boys to think about.

This time I could just stand by and watch my son’s daily fight to keep death at bay.

An ever changing procession of doctors and nurses rotated in and out of the room charged with a different life sustaining duties. Some would draw blood, some to change bandages, some to take temperatures, some to read the various machines, some to bathe … Everyone had a hand in taking care of my son, but me! I could do nothing, contribute nothing. It left me feeling wholly inadequate and useless. Helpless.

My heart told me that was not the case, but my brain was stuck in overdrive. My heart told me I was helping him the best way possible by being there by his side. My brain was screaming it wasn’t enough. He seemed to be slipping away. I know enough to realize that the longer a person stays in a coma the less likely they are to fight their way to the other side of it. The coma can become too comfortable to fight.

There had to be something more I could do!

*****

January 13, 1980

There was another time when I felt unequal to the test presented me. I felt petrified and helpless in the face of Michael’s sudden death. There were so many things I needed him for and he wasn’t there! He left me to raise two boys alone and I hadn’t the first notion how to go about it. I was so angry at him and terrified of facing life without him. To cope with this, I fell into the habit of slipping away into his closet. It was cool and dark, and the perfect place for a serious cry or just to let out my anger. His uniform still hung there and it carried enough of his scent to let me imagine he was there with me. (he was an Aqua Velva man) I spent many hours in that dark cramped little hide away baring my soul to a NYPD uniform. My closet time helped me carry on, and some serious decisions were made during those one sided conversations.

An ill timed discovery of my escape closet , by David, forced me take take a different tack. I began writing letters to Michael. Love letters. Hate letters. Informational letters. Parental letters….any kind of letter that would keep him connected to his family. He had a quiet kind of smart about him and there were so many days that I needed his help and calm reassurance. Letters helped to fill that need as I learned to navigate my Michael-less world..

I hadn’t thought about that closet or those letters in years. However, once I began writing this journal those memories came flooding back. I was reminded by my doctor that although I may have felt completely overwhelmed and terrified during the days following Michael’s death, I did move forward; taking care of my children and carving out a new life for us. I wasn’t helpless after all. So maybe I did a better job with David during his hospital stay than I originally gave myself credit for. I did formulate a plan to keep my son tethered to this world. As long as you have a plan, you are never helpless.

*****

January 14, 1980

I had been in Bay City for about a week and a half when I happened in on Ken carrying on a very heated and serious conversation with David. Only David was still comatose. At first Ken was terribly embarrassed. He awkwardly explained that he had been doing this all week, more for his sake than David’s, of course. He went on to say that talking through his theories of who nearly killed Davey and why, helped him process what happened. It helped him formulate some sort of plan to find the monster. By talking it out with David, the two of them were still a functioning team. They were still partners against crime. Ken felt very strongly that even though Dave was in a coma, he could hear and understand.

I liked that idea.

*****

January 15, 1980

I wanted David to feel connected to us and what was happening around him. I felt it was important that all of us talked while taking our turns watching over him. Where as the doctors were not sure it would help, they didn’t try to dissuade us.

Huggy would regale him with fascinating facts and bits of trivia. He kept a Guinness Book of World Records on Davey’s bedside table to wile away the time. It would make Ken so angry, that we all just had to laugh. Apparently Huggy and David regularly share trivia, much to Ken’s despair.

When Captain Dobey could get a free couple of minutes, he would catch David up on sports scores from around the country. Baseball was getting into full swing and they were both big fans. David is a avid Dodgers follower since childhood. I think Harold follows the Giants. Hearing Captain Dobey go on about the Giants had to penetrate Davey’s subconscious to some degree. He hates the Giants! Captain Dobey’s children wrote daily notes to David that he would share as well. Such sweet and thoughtful kiddos. Some of Rosie’s drawings decorated David’s room. Lovely spots of color in a very colorless environment.

That sweet, sweet Minnie kept him up to date on office gossip and police theory. She is so animated and delightful that I enjoyed her conversations as well. I think she was using her time with David as a way to sound out her theories on getting more women into more important police roles. They sounded good to me and you could tell she had given her ideas a lot of thought. The more time I spent with her, the more I liked her. She was a firecracker!

Besides myself, Ken spent the most time with David. This came as no surprise to anyone. At first it was all business, as though he was afraid to experience what would happen if he let down his guard. I believe he still held himself somewhat responsible for what happened. We all tried to dissuade him of this, but he just couldn’t let it go. I keep thinking of that first night I was at the hospital when he cried on my shoulder and bitterly cursed himself for not recognizing the danger quick enough. Ken is a very deliberate and resolute thinker. He will not let go of an idea until he is ready. That is what makes him and David such a good team. David for the broad picture and Ken for the details… until they switch. A good partnership is dynamic and fluid, and they are the best, according to Captain Dobey. I allowed myself a proud mama moment when he told me this.

Anyway, Ken finally began to loosen up. His conversations would range from crime solving to what they would do when David was well enough to leave the hospital and everything in between. Apparently the boys had an inside joke about joining a Canadian Football team or going to Bolivia to rob banks. I loved the Butch Cassidy reference, of course, but not sure how Canada got into the picture. It was good to see Ken relax a little. But he still looked just weary and emotionally drained. The investigation into David’s shooting was not progressing as quickly as he would have liked.

Me? Well I spent many many hours just talking and sharing music on the cassette player I bought to keep in his room. We chatted about what we could do to keep him sane while being confined to the hospital . Carried on about how humiliating to the human psyche a prolonged hospital stay can be. Addressed his need to get back East more.ItalkedabouthowproudIamofhimasamanandason. Ilethimknowhow proud his father would have been of him and his career choice. We spent hours re- reading some of our favorite books. There was never a time that he didn’t love a good story. When Minnie would stop by, we forced David to be party to some pretty serious “girl talk.” I don’t think he minded at all.

We also spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was happening with his kid brother. Some conversations were more satisfying than others, I’ll have to admit.

But regardless of the topic, I really felt it was so important to let him know by touch, talk and music that he was still connected to life. It was important that he knew he was surrounded by people that loved and cared for him.

*****

January 15,1980

I can see why my doctor pushed for me to start writing and why I did it after Michael died. It is finally feeling like the tension and dread I have kept stored in my heart is beginning to diminish. The nightmare is still there, but daily life is beginning to take on some color again. I talk with David just about every Friday night. Our chats are more than obligatory now. Of course this experience has changed him too. His zest for life has grown exponentially. He sees new purpose in everyday and shares it with anyone who stands still long enough to catch his eye.

Finally, David came out of the coma! Oh my goodness, but that was a hard fought fight. I always knew that boy was a scrapper. I was not in the room at the time, Ken was. I suppose that is fitting. But I am pretty sure the whole hospital heard Ken’s reaction! I was down the hall at the nurse’s station and I sure did! His “war whoop” scared a year off my life! I flew down to the ICU to see Ken waltzing an obliging nurse around the room. He was crying and laughing at the same time. That was pretty much my reaction too. I got there just in time to see Davey’s beautiful blueberry eyes flutter open for just a couple seconds, but it meant everything to me and Ken. That sweet guileless face expressed a bit of bemusement and returned to sleep. Ken ran out of the room and bear hugged Huggy and Captain Dobey. It was heart warming to see the weight immediately evaporate from Ken’s shoulders and the relieved grins on the careworn faces of his friends. We all knew that the road to recovery would be long and full of daily set backs, but finally, we could begin to let ourselves believe David would successfully make this journey.

David’s friends and I allowed ourselves a small celebration that night. We all met at The Pits for dinner and it was the first time in a couple weeks that things seemed like they might just turn out OK. Doing something besides going back to David’s empty apartment did my soul a world of good.

I was a little worried about Ken though. He really did look lost. Huggy told me once David came in his place without Ken and had the same same distracted look about him. He told David that “A Starsky without a Hutch is like a pig without the pork.” The longer I stayed around Bay City the more I began to see how true that rather odd statement was.

Cap’n Dobey brought his wonderful wife, Edith, along to Huggy’s place. She knows all too well the life of a cop’s wife. It was so refreshing to be able to talk out those feelings with someone who knows. It was also so comforting to know that she is fully in David’s corner too. Meeting Edith also gave me the chance to thank her for all the wonderful food she had sent to David’s place so I wouldn’t have to worry about cooking while there. Between her and Huggy I put on a fair few pounds that is for sure.

I tried to corner Ken for a little mama/son talk but he just wouldn’t settle. The smile was there and he promised me he would come over to the apartment one night soon, but it felt like he was trying to get away from me. He was still very much haunted by David’s shooting. I could see it in his eyes, the man was hurting .

But for that night we shared some hope, joy, and laughter.

*****

January 17,1980

The first time David opened his eyes for me was something I will never forget. I could tell it took every bit of strength he had to focus and put together who I was, and why I was there. But when it registered, it was so special. His sweet face lost it’s strained expression and it was replaced with a lopsided grin. An ever so slight raise of his eyebrows let me know that my boy was back from his dark hell and we were in this next fight together.

Several days later after he was no longer intubated, he spoke his first words. They were raspy and quiet but I will forever hold them as music to my ears, “Ma, how do I look?” I just had to laugh.. To me he looked like every Christmas and birthday rolled into one.

Shortly after David woke up from his coma, Ken kind of disappeared. I just assumed he had gotten a break on their case and had to be away. Huggy confirmed that was partially true, but another part was Ken’s feeling of guilt. He can be mule stubborn sometimes. And as worried as I was for Ken, it was the toll his disappearance was taking on David that worried me more.

*****

January 18, 1980

Finally after a few days’ obfuscation he agreed to come over for a home cooked meal at David’s apartment. Knowing Ken’s fondness for things green, organic and disgustingly healthy, I prepared a meal accordingly. Well actually it was a pot roast but I did make a salad as well.

Things started none too promising. I could not get him to push beyond small talk, nor to look at me straight on. Finally I couldn’t take it any more and took the bull the horns, literally. I grabbed his face and swiveled it around to look me dead in the eye. To say he was surprised was an understatement. I told him I loved him like my own sons, and the time had come for us to be honest about this whole miserable situation. The time had come to let someone in on what his heart was feeling, not what his head was thinking.

There were a few feeble false starts, but I think he finally saw the need to let his defenses down. As i suspected, Ken still felt responsible for David’s situation. “Mom, I could have, should have done more. I had a split second lead time on seeing the car coming our way and the words froze in my throat. I couldn’t get the warning out quickly enough. Starsk didn’t even have a chance to draw his gun! Can you believe the one time he takes the time to lock the damn car door, this happens? I should have done more!”

I remember looking at his tear-filled blue eyes and asking, “What more could you have done? Name one thing that you could have done differently that would have changed anything.”

Of course there was nothing he could say to this. I knew it, and so did he. Starting to pace around the apartment, he continued, “But he almost died right there in my arms. I held him in that parking lot and could feel the life slowly leaving him, leaving me! I died a little bit that day too. Damn it, I couldn’t go on doing what I do if Starsky, wasn’t with me. I know what some people whisper about us behind our backs. That we have something more than friendship happening between us…”

I think he thought I would be shocked upon hearing that last part, because he stopped, blushed and kind of cringed. That storyline wasn’t new to me. David had mentioned it on more that one occasion over the years. In the beginning David was very uncomfortable about these whisperings, but over time began seeing it for what it was…jealousy.

He assessed my reaction and continued, “… Starsk would always just say they were jealous. But you know, in our profession the ability to trust your partner with your life and everything in it, is…is incalculable . I am smart enough to know what Dave and I have is something special. It is love! Of course it is, if you don’t love the person you spend nearly 80% of your life with, why the hell are you there? Anyway, the thought of my life going forward and his not, just blew a cannonball size hole in my heart. We have talked about it, and hell, we deal with it everyday but when faced with the reality of it…. It hasn’t been easy to think in those terms, you know.” He had literally backed himself into a corner of the kitchen.

BINGO! There it was. He finally admitted to the thing that was chafing a hole in his being. The thought of facing his life without David scared him to death and I don’t think that was something he was ready to face. David and I had covered that same topic a couple of years back when Ken was in the hospital recovering from the virus that nearly killed him. It is a very real and constant fear for both of them. Their fear of being helpless in the face of the other’s mortality.

I could see there was a lot happening in that head of his and some of the things David had talked to me about over the last few months were starting to make sense. Davey knew there was something going on that really had upset the Hutchinson applecart. And when David was out of the woods, I would gladly help Ken sort through what was ailing him, but not now.

*****

January 21, 1980

The day after Ken and I had our talk, David took a turn for the worse. Bacterial pneumonia . His fever spiked to a frightening 105 and he became delirious. In order to keep from hurting himself, the doctors thought it best to keep him sedated and put back on a ventilator. I knew it was the best thing for him, but it seemed like any forward progress we had made was erased with that decision. I was scared to death…again. I knew there would be set backs, but knowing something and believing it are not always the same things. I hoped maybe he would be strong enough…lucky enough…

It is just so unfair that he had to endure all of this!

Ken relieved me after dinner and made me promise to go straight home and then to bed. I didn’t have the heart to argue with him. I was beat to a pulp and needed to keep up my strength, if I was going to be of use to David in the coming days.

My head was buzzing, so after a hot bath and a soothing cup of tea I fell exhausted into bed. Then, at 3:58 AM, like clockwork (well it was clockwork) the nightmare plowed into my brain again. I woke up crying and it took nearly two more hours before I could get back to sleep again. This thing was just wearing me out.

*****

January 22, 1980

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on Walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone

Rogers and Hammerstein II/ You’ll Never Walk Alone/ Carousel

A couple of days later David showed some signs of responding to the antibiotics administered to him. The doctors took him off the ventilator and although he was still registering a fever, it wasn’t nearly as high as it was. There were some very grateful prayers sent up from a lot of people, I can tell you.

Ken came in with some wonderful news of his own about this time as well. He had fit all the pieces together and was finally on a solid trail that would lead to the man responsible for David’s murderous attack. The looks that registered on all our faces at his announcement showed just what a massive hornet’s nest my boys had taken a bat to. Ken had deduced that the man responsible for the murder attempt was none other than James Marshal Gunther, one of the world’s leading business magnates. That was a name known to everyone anywhere in the country. As Ken said, Gunther was a man who turned down the presidency because it was a step down in power. A month or so before the shooting David told that they had tied into some serious problems that lead him and Ken to quit the police force. Now I knew what that problem was and I wish they would have quit permanently.

*****

January 23, 1980

My doctor and I have gone over my journal entries together. She doesn’t seem too surprised that I am having nightmares given all that has happened this year. In fact, once she realized who Ken and David were, she was gobsmacked. She was following the Gunther case in the paper and had not, until now, realized the connection.

However, she pointed out that I am not responsible for taking care of Ken’s problems. On the surface, that may be right, but then again she must have missed the Corsican Brothers reference. Ken may not be blood, but he is family.

I do trust Doctor Tyler to give me useful advice, and I know things won’t get better on their own but giving over the reins is never easy for me. I have always handled my own problems….so…

For now, I will keep writing.

*****

January 25, 1980

Oh If you need a friend, I’m sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind

Paul Simon/ Bridge Over Troubled Water/ 1970

The resolution and drive I witnessed in Ken’s icy blue stare was enough to give me goose bumps. If Gunther’s actual arrest packed anywhere near the punch I read in his eyes, Gunther was lucky to be brought in in one piece. He had clearly never read the Police Handbook where the first rule is “NEVER pick on a man’s partner.” I know the paper trail alone in this investigation will take months to sort through. Gunther will not go down easy, but neither will Ken and David. They proved that.

Following the arrest, David’s recovery finally made a turn for the better. He was moved to a private room and out of the Intensive Care Unit. God love that hospital crew! The doctors and nurses and anyone else who was around lined the hall and cheered as Huggy and Hutch escorted that crazy boy of mine to his new room. He was allowed out of bed for brief periods and, alleluia, his restless spirit was starting to resurface. That boy was never one to lie around if there was ANYTHING else to do.

Huggy kept up his daily visits and did a world of good for David and me. The things he managed to get away with leave me baffled to this day. His chief skill seemed to be an uncanny ability to get into David’s room at any hour of the night or day, by passing himself off as Dr. Bear. It always kind of worried me that no one ever seemed to catch on. But he did get David laughing and I certainly was not going to find fault with that.

Minnie made several stops a week to check up on her “trashy boy,” as she loved to call him. She is such a delight and Davey really seemed to look forward to her visits. Sometimes it is nice to get a female perspective on shop talk and on life.

Captain Dobey moved his office back to the precinct station once David was out of Intensive Care but his daily visits never flagged. I knew David was out of the woods when I walked in on Harold thundering at him about filling out some forms in triplicate needed for Gunther’s case.

Ken, however, was his rock. He was there for every kind of therapy session. David’s PT was so much harder on him than we could have ever realized. The cruel damage done by the three bullets left him gasping and in pain after just a few short minutes. As physically fit as he was, it was no match for weeks of coma, pneumonia and injury. Ken kept David motivated and focused on the end result. I know it was extremely hard on both of them. David’s frustration and anger found its target on Ken and me more times than I can count. I have to say, Ken took it much better than I. But using that crazy communication system they share, he was able to corral David’s vexation and keep him on task.

*****

January 26, 1980

I mentioned earlier, that prior to this trip, I had only met Ken, in person, a couple of times. So that meant I had never really seen the Corsican Brothers in action. It was fascinating to watch. Their dynamic with each other is something of a dream come true for a psychiatrist, I would surmise.

If there is a living example of the axiom “opposites attract,” David and Ken are it. From their looks to their mannerisms they are totally different: Ken, tall, blonde, surfer boy looks, with a penchant for self doubt and biting sarcasm. David, darker complexion, dark curly hair with an open guileless face that can darken in a flash and backed by a wicked sense of humor. Whatever connected the two in the Academy, it was the real deal. Over the span of their partnership they developed, what I had always heard of with twins,… a non-verbal way of connecting that was all their own.

All of David’s doctors strongly suggested that he participate in psychotherapy sessions to help him with any lingering psychological trauma he might be suffering. Early on they advised me to be on the look out for any change of personality he might experience as a result of being so badly injured. Honestly, other than the frustration he experienced at physical therapy, occupational therapy and cabin fever, I had not noticed any changes to speak of.

Davey later told me that he did give these sessions a couple of tries. He willingly confided in me what was talked about, “Ma, he asked me about how I felt about going back to my job. The doc seemed surprised when I said I felt terrific about it. What was I supposed to say? It’s not like being shot came as a big surprise or anything. I knew that was a distinct probability from day one at the academy. Heck. I knew that since I was thirteen. Hutch and I have had this conversation a dozen times over the years!

The doctor was nice and all, but to him these were just routine questions. He didn’t know me at all, and he sure didn’t know what being a cop is about. I think I will leave the rest of those brain therapy sessions to a trained professional, Hutch.

I was not surprised at his impression of the mental health services (Sorry Doctor Tyler) offered at the hospital. Why should he have any inclination to talk to a stranger, when he and Ken can and do talk to each other about everything? His feelings towards returning to active police duty, when he was able, did sort of catch me off guard though. I felt that same icy pin prick in my heart as I did when Dave left the house to search for Nicky the day their father was murdered.

“Speaking of Hutch,” David continued, almost conspiratorially, “Does he seem ok to you?”

I remember searching his eyes to read where he might be going with this line of inquiry. “Well, you would know that better than anyone, wouldn’t you? What do you mean?”

Davey went on to reiterate some of the ground we had covered before the shooting took place. He found it hard to understand Ken’s apparent mean streak that had manifested over the months prior to the shooting. Frankly, I did too. David isn’t one to suffer fools gladly but it seems he had put up with a fair share of foolishness from Ken in the months leading up to their assassination attempt. Their Code of Me and Thee had been severely put to the test.

The shooting seemed to refocus their loyalty, but I think Ken may still have some lingering guilt.

*****

January 27, 1980

After a nearly 10 week hospital stay, Dr. Cannon was ready to discharge David. This wonderful announcement came a few short hours after some mysterious predawn disturbance near David’s hospital room. I never could get the whole story from him or anyone, but it seemed to involve some drunken rowdies and a room sprinkler system accidentally discharging.

I didn’t really care, David was going home!!

*****

January 28, 1980

It was a bit more complicated than that. For now “home” meant a 2 bedroom first floor apartment, not too far from David’s flat. He wasn’t quite ready to be living on his own nor was he able to negotiate steps safely. Ken volunteered to move in with Dave and was more than willing to arrange a leave of absence from the BCPD. It did sound like the perfect arrangement, but I confess, I was feeling a bit selfish and wanted David to myself for a while. In the end we worked out a compromise. I would “babysit” my boy during the day while Ken went to work. In the evenings I would go back to David’s real apartment and Ken would stay with David. That worked really well.

EXCEPT…

My nightmare continued to wake me regularly. I didn’t want to bother David with it, as he, certainly, had enough on his plate. I was there to help him, not whine about my bad dreams.

*****

February 1, 1980

David’s recovery was remarkable. Through the help of continued physical and occupational therapy he was fairly self-sufficient in a few weeks. Of course, he was no where near the warp speed he was used to doing things but bit by bit his strength and stamina were returning.

There wasn’t a night that I didn’t throw a hallelujah up to the heavens before going to sleep.

After six weeks in the apartment, David was ready to move back home, and that was my cue to return to New York.

What a remarkable journey my time in Bay City was. There was excruciating pain and sorrow, but it was also so enlightening. I have never felt such dark despair or witnessed such all encompassing love. Harold, Huggy, Minnie, all the officers at the precinct, and of course, Ken, refused to let Davey go. They kept him alive with their prayers, their love, and their fierce loyalty. We should all be so lucky to have such friends in our orbits.

*****

February 2, 1980

Following a long talk with Dr. Tyler today, I think I may have gotten to the root of my dream. And, it has been staring at me from the beginning of this ramble.

Although she isn’t one to put a lot of credence in dream interpretation, she did point out that burning houses sometimes represent unresolved conflicts in a person’s life. At first I couldn’t figure out what she could have been referring to, I am not one to over think a situation or carry a grudge. Then we went back over what I had written.

Several times through out this journal I mention Michael’s death and my deep reluctance in accepting David’s choice to follow in his father’s footsteps. Is this what could be triggering this nightmare? I guess it makes sense that David’s near fatal shooting could stir up those feelings I had to push to the side when Michael was killed. I told myself, then, that I had my boys to think of and didn’t have time to wallow in self pity. By focusing on getting the boys through their father’s death, I didn’t have to come to terms with my own feelings of loss.

Of course I was scared when David joined the force. How could I not picture the same thing happening to him? But, I never talked to Davey about my feelings, not then, not now. Isn’t a mother supposed to support their children’s decisions? Wouldn’t giving voice to my fears be tantamount to saying “I don’t trust you to make the right choices”?

But clearly all those feelings were still buried in my heart and my dreams of burning houses gave a narrative to them. Seeing the house collapse with David and Michael inside has to mean I have not processed Michaels’s death thoroughly. I know it is something I will never completely “get over.” But maybe by acknowledging that grief is ok, whenever it comes, I can put this dream to sleep. (As it were.)

As far as David goes, well, I can address that in person. He promised me a visit in the next couple weeks, as soon as he can swing a few days off from work. This journal will be a good place to start.

Then I look in the center
Suddenly everything clear.
I find myself in the sunshine and my dreams

John Denver/ Looking for Space/1976

***The End***

Return to Rocker H’s home page

 

2 thoughts on “Opening Up (by Rocker H.)

  1. Thank you for this special story. It is nice to see what Starsky’s mother thinks and how she reacts to the situation.

    Like

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. I thought that was a perspective that didn’t get coverage and I felt Starsky was fairly close to his mother.

      Like

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