When I contacted Jeff for his interview, he was reserved and a bit on the dry side. Despite my attempts to make him adore me like everyone else, he had a barrier around him. I was a bit disappointed because I thought by some cosmic connection, he would immediately sense who I was and warm up to me. He didn’t.
I wanted to say, “Do you know who I am? I am the wife waiting to fall asleep until she hears her husband’s truck pull into the driveway. I am the mother who tucks her children in and has had to answer questions such as ‘Are the bad guys going to kill Papa tonight?’. I am the person in front of you that purchased your meal or coffee because I can see your uniform in my rear-view mirror. I am the person in the crowd who wants to tell you that you are doing a great thing. I am the one won’t turn on the news because she is tired of seeing you crucified. I am the voice that says you aren’t a murderer or bigot or dickhead, you are a good man. I am the one who respects the soldier and the law enforcement officer above all others. I am your friend.”
Eh, I’ll tell him another time. After all, why would he believe me anyway? I could turn on a dime. He’s seen that happen. He has a right to have a wall around him. He has a right to be afraid.
Here’s the problem as I see it, everyone sees the flashing lights, the gun and the badge. Everyone reads the news. It’s all a flash in the pan and tomorrow is a new day, a new incident to question. For you and the press, perhaps. Not for the officers. Not for their wives, children, brothers, sisters, mothers and friends. It’s never over. Every time they watch the news, read a paper or listen to the radio. Their perceived shortcomings are reinforced; even worse, their trauma is relived.
People are injured and killed everyday. When Sally is killed in a drive by shooting, everyone mourns and society protests the murder of an innocent. Bob crashes his car into a tree while speeding, his family is consoled and a speed limit sign is erected. They get closure. When Diane is shot at a traffic stop, there is silence. When John is dragged by a motorist and dies as a result of his injuries. There is silence. The difference? Diane and John were wearing a blue uniform. It’s expected that they die.
Do they feel no less pain? Do they not need support? When a police officer is injured or killed, every officer and their family walks a little slower, holds a heavier burden. It’s another kink in the armor. It’s one less chance they will be today’s casualty but one more chance they will be tomorrow’s. For those that were close to the incident, they carry the burden of the survivor. That is Jeff’s burden now.
He was told it was a good night, they all got to go home. Did they? Not right away, not intact and certainly not the same men. It wasn’t a good night. Someone was shot. Something went wrong. If nothing else, something could be learned to prevent this from happening again.
When Jeff returned to work a week later, the desk across from him sat empty. Steve’s mug was no longer staring back at him the way it had for years. It was a constant, painful reminder. Had Steve not survived, Jeff would have handed in his badge. The burden would have been too heavy.
They say that it is more painful to see people you love in pain than it is to be in pain. For Jeff, this was the die in which he was cast. Jeff was angry that day, angry that he didn’t kill the shooter who nearly killed his friend. Angry that his friend was shot, it felt personal, why would someone shoot Steve? He was angry knowing that his family was disrupted forever. They were no longer safe, someone would have to tell their wives and kids. They were targets today. They probably will be again. Jeff can’t take that burden away from his family. They carry it now with him. Nothing could prepare them for that.
We all hear the term “aftermath”, but what does it really mean? For people like Jeff, it means that there are few who understand the world you now live in. You will draw closer to men and women who have been involved in a shooting, you will wonder if you can do it again. You will compartmentalize and you will come out on the other side. You will also wonder how your experience can help others, how can you prepare someone for a shooting or worse, a death. In Jeff’s case, a teaching opportunity was presented and he took it.
Not because he can’t carry a gun and serve warrants anymore, he can and he did. Since he was finishing his Master’s Degree and he had an opportunity to help other officers stay safe and cope, it was the right time. Jeff took a position with the Law Enforcement Academy and is using his experience to help fellow officers. Perhaps it’s a bit of therapy as well, knowing that he saved someone’s life may help ease the trauma of seeing Steve nearly die.
I keep saying “trauma”, there was plenty of PTSD to go around. Remember yesterday when I said Jeff had to drive to the Trauma Center alone while Steve was being life flighted? Imagine driving in your car alone, hitting some traffic and panicking, feeling an anxiety attack coming on. Why? Because your subconscious is replaying that car trip in your head without you even knowing it. Small things like that are a reminder of that day. Nightmares. Trouble sleeping. All of it. Policemen are not immune. Remember when I told you they are human? Still holds. You can turn off the news and assume they get up the next morning unscathed. They don’t.
Are you still with me? Good. Believe it or not, there is a little more to this story. I know, right? Attention seekers, the lot of them! You’re going to have to come back on Saturday for the Human of the Week and the rest of the story. See you then!