April 17

World Hemophilia Day

 

“All dead.  Just like at the meeting house.”

Det. Darrell Crawford covered his nose and mouth with his hand, to mask the slaughterhouse odor.  Bodies lay all over the gymnasium floor, fresh pools of blood surrounding each victim.

“No weapon in sight.”  His partner, Det. Judith Bartram, stooped to examine the closest body — a young man dressed in a green running suit.  His limbs were twisted in odd angles, like a suicide victim who’d jumped from a great height, his bones crushed and blood expelled from his body.

The guy hadn’t fallen from a great height.  But he was definitely a suicide victim.

Wearing latex gloves, she rolled up one sleeve of his half-zip running shirt.  Large bruises covered his forearm.  Opening his closed fist, she found familiar half-moon indentations in the palm.

Crawford looked over her shoulder.  “Who needs a weapon, when you’ve got fingernails?”  He turned his attention to the rest of the auditorium, dreading the examination of the other bodies.  There were over two dozen.  Enough for two full sports teams, plus alternates.

The guy his partner examined…his face was frozen in the expression of a player who just scored the winning goal.  “Why do they do it?” Crawford said, not really expecting a response.

“If you’d known my sister, you might understand,” Bartram said.  She gently lowered the dead man’s arm to the floor — as if she still needed to worry about bruising him internally, or scratching him by accident.  “Sara was born with hemophilia.  You know, back when it was a rare and treatable condition.  Back when most people could play on a basketball court like this, unconcerned they’d fall and skin their knees, start bleeding and not be able to stop.”

“You’ve mentioned her before.  I never realized…”

“She didn’t like people to know, and I respected that.  Otherwise, people seemed to be walking on eggshells around her.  Like she was breakable.”

“But she wasn’t,” Crawford said.  “She had clotting factor.  She had a cure…unlike the rest of us.”  He ran his fingers along his own forearm, his nails clipped close and filed to avoid jagged edges.  Sometimes he thought he could see his pulse beat in the veins of his arms…but he was never tempted to puncture them.

Bartram nodded.  “You wanna know why people would hurt themselves on purpose.”  His partner searched the room, and Crawford wondered if she imagined her sister here among the fallen.  Here, in the room formerly reserved for friendly competition…now outlawed because contact sports had become too dangerous.  “Sara told me about that awful threat of bleeding.  She faced it every day, every minute.  At some point, she simply couldn’t take it anymore.  The world was just too sharp for her.”

The euphoria on the young man’s face.  Crawford knew he’d see the same euphoria on all the others, the ones who had raced towards each other, fingernails dug into their own palms or reaching for a thin layer of skin on the opposing team, laughing as they crashed into and ricocheted off each other, abandoned to carefree play in those brutal, blissful moments before their deaths.

 

[in loving memory of Sean Prentiss, my baby brother, who died from hemophilia at 2 years old]