The song starts simply, with drums, double bass, and acoustic guitar. Gordon Sumner’s beautiful tenor joins the music at the 15-second mark. “Every breath you take” was a huge hit for The Police, winning in the category ‘Best Song’ at the 1983 Grammy Awards. Consequently, it is on the radio a lot, even now, twenty years after it was first produced.
We are headed to Cape Cod; the minivan is filled with inflatables, towels, a bursting cooler, and three tired boys. My husband is driving. We have been fielding the classic question, ‘are we there yet?’ from the kids for the past half-hour. The FM dial is tuned to a classic rock station. Sting’s familiar melody plays with the pulsing of alternating beats on the middle tom-tom and snare. The upright bass throbs with a double count. It is toe-tapping stuff.
The words are primal — breath, move, bond, step, vow, smile, claim. Straight-forward language expresses the pain of a lost love. He wants to possess his ex, to continue to surveil her wherever she goes. An innocent enough desire felt in the aftermath of a broken heart. But the lyrics undo me, every single time I hear them.
In the front passenger seat, I turn toward the window and close my eyes. There is no avoiding the images.
It also was a hot summer day. The morgue was humid and the plastic protective gear was suffocating. We had a small portable radio that was a solace when autopsies became tiresome. Cases could last eight hours if they were suspicious deaths or homicides. Music lightened the mood; it helped to ease the tension. Not on this day though.
She lay on my gurney, still bloody from the attack. Stabs and slices were concentrated on her head, neck, and upper chest. Her naturally black skin lightened by the loss of all of her blood. Her face wore a surprised look. Even though it was just a postmortem change, I felt haunted. My hands trembled writing notes on my clipboard.
Her ex-husband had been stalking her for weeks. She had gone to the police station and gotten an order of protection against him. He phoned her at her job and threatened her on the day of her death. The cops couldn’t help her. The man wasn’t physically at her workplace; they were powerless according to the law.
Her former spouse watched her from the street and then came into the nursing home where she worked. He pushed past the receptionist, nurses, assistants, and patients. In a communal living room, he grabbed her from behind. She was a big woman but no match for his larger, more muscular frame and adrenalin-fueled passion. Screaming, kicking, punching, she struggled to flee. Co-workers threw heavy office furniture at him as he stabbed her with a butcher knife. One chair broke as it hit his back. A male attendant tried desperately to grasp the man’s pant legs. The attacker wielded the blade in a wide swath preventing anyone from drawing near. Someone dialed 911. The air was full of anguished screams and sobbing.
When I went to the scene of the crime as part of the investigation, the body had not yet been moved. Dried and liquid red gore surrounded the dead woman. Her white aide’s uniform was crimson. It was a massacre, seeming like more than just one death. Chaotic footprints were everywhere. The six-inch long murder weapon was across the room, kicked there when the police finally arrived.
At the morgue, I counted 103 sharp wounds; this didn’t include the dozens of bruises from her attempt to fight him off. There were superficial cuts on her hands and forearms as she tried to cover her head as well. The yellow underpinning of fatty tissue was exposed on her scalp with deep slashes down to the skull, black hair matted in the wounds. A trail of open lesions started in front of her right ear extending to her shoulder as the knife was thrust and removed in staccato fashion. Almost every injury by itself would have been survivable. There was a deep one on the chest, though, one-inch in length. It was right below the middle of the collarbone. The underlying artery was severed. If someone had been able to get close enough to apply pressure…
In the midst of my examination, there was an announcement on the radio. “And now, an oldie but a goodie, produced 15 years ago, and one of the top 100 songs of the twentieth century.” Then I heard Sting’s signature song.
Her ex-lover was watching her, and then, I was. Ironically, I always will be.
The boys have gotten very quiet. My husband reaches over and takes my hand. His right thumb gently rubs my left one. He doesn’t know why I’m crying, just that I am. He turns the radio off.