Those days start like all of the other days. Alarm clocks. Jobs. Get the kids to school.
Is there gas in the car? Is there food in the fridge? Did the water bill get paid? When was the last time I called my mother?
It moves quickly from the minute the alarm goes off – we tap his side of the bed to make sure he’s there. He is. You can’t really remember what time he came home, but you heard the sound of the Velcro just before you went back to sleep.
The morning is a full melody of mommy nagging, with a recurring chorus of “ssshhhhh! Your dad’s asleep.” You trip over his big black boots and curse him under your breath for leaving them out again. You glance into the laundry room and see his uniform in a black bag. Your inquisitive side wants to peek inside — your experience tells you to wait until he wakes up to ask about it.
When he gets up to leave for work, you stay out of his way. You know he has a routine that can’t be disrupted to get himself in his “zone.” When he pulls from the driveway you go through the secret hand motions that are part “I love you” and part blown kisses. As you close the garage door, sometimes the thought creeps into your thoughts… “Was that it? Was that the last time I’ll see him?”
But you push the thought back down, because if you let it live on the surface – it would control your every action today. Not today, we convince ourselves.
We subscribe to text message alerts from radio stations and push notifications on our phones from the local news channels. Police situations are always “breaking news.” We’ll get a heads-up if something goes south, right? When the phone buzzes or dings – we grab for it immediately. Does the scrolling message say anything about an officer-involved-anything? If so, we click on it desperate to see what they’re reporting. We park ourselves in front of the television waiting to see what it is. The new wives listen to the reporters and believe what they’re saying. The experienced wives read the scene, the officers, the speed of the ambulance and the looks on the officers’ faces in the hospital shots. We know almost immediately if the situation is grave.
But we still hope and pray that we’re reading it wrong. That through a miracle he’s really going to be OK. The phone rings, the texts buzz, the information finding frenzy begins.
Who was it? Where did he get shot? Was he awake when they got to him? Does his wife use an alias online? Is she one of us?
We listen to what the reporters have to say, but we gauge our reactions on the chief’s words, then the mayor’s. Is their face saying what their mouths are? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. Did they slip and use the word “was” when telling us he’s fighting for his life? But deep down, we already know.
Our officers come home in a much different place. They are broken, but trying not to look it. One of their own got gunned down today because of his badge. Not his actions or his words, but because of his badge. That badge got really heavy on their chests today. They talk about it excessively with their squad mates at work, then they spend their home hours glued to a group text talking about the same stuff – with the television playing in the background. They try to analyze and see what went wrong. Could anything have been done differently? They are careful not to blame the officer for his own demise.
They don’t sleep tonight. Or the night after that. Or the night after that. Their moods range from angry to scared to sad and back to angry again. They hug us a little tighter. Or don’t hug us at all. They move to a dark place that we aren’t allowed to visit. We try our best to keep things normal – whatever that means today. And that will mean something else tomorrow.
Then come the fundraisers. Do we go? Do we stay away? We should go. We’ll just stay a little while. We end up staying the whole day. It’s a relief to see people lined up for miles to get their cars washed or buy a BBQ lunch. Or to just see people drop fists full of cash into the buckets. See? They don’t all really hate law enforcement officers, right?
As the funeral day ticks closer, the anxiety builds. Do we go? Will he volunteer to work traffic? Will I go with him? Will I go without him? Can I stomach another funeral? Another wife drag herself down the aisle in the church? Another slideshow of a life lost? Another riderless horse? Another missing man formation? Another chord of Taps? Another bagpipe? Another 21-gun salute? Another little kid asking his mommy about the folded flag as they place it on her lap? And please, not another last call. I just can’t.
As the officers stand in formation at his graveside, we’ll see resolve like we’ve never seen it. They can stand at full attention and sob without making a sound. The tears run down their faces like something foreign that doesn’t make that trip often. Their hearts break. And we can do nothing for them. Not a single thing. We stand behind them, but our sobs make a sound and our tears know the way.
And as the final officer removes his shroud and places it on the casket, they go. They go back to the street that killed him. To the people who hate his badge enough to kill him for it. Away from the wives, children, moms, dads and siblings that love them. They don’t go because they are arrogant and cocky. They go because they’re called.
And we go back to our homes. And our jobs. And our kids. And our choruses of silence. This time, we’re not so quick to curse him under our breath about his boots. We know that another wife – one of us who woke up in the same world we did that fateful day – doesn’t have boots to trip over.
Natalie Stahl is the wife of a police officer in Arizona and originally wrote this on her Facebook page.
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