I tried to find a picture of three large men in a bathroom – one wearing a johnny and a tracheostomy tube, while the other two held him up and shaved his head. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find any on the internet. The closest thing I found was a clip of the Three Stooges shaving in kitchen. Not close enough. Especially since the Stooges slapped each other in the the throat on purpose. When Steve was accidentally hit in the throat, he started coughing. Then laughing. The bathroom is too small, his brothers are too big, he can’t stand alone and his hair is growing sparsely. Despite being shot in the face, this situation was ridiculously funny to him.
We’ve established that Steve’s sense of humor hasn’t changed. Good thing. If it had, things could have turned ugly for the girl at the card store. Two months after the shooting, still wearing a trach tube, Steve was buying his wife a Valentine’s Day card. The cashier, who happened to be an artist, told Steve that his “necklace is the most interesting thing I have ever seen”. She’s obviously never been to nursing school.
So what has changed for Steve? Although he has a short list, I suspect it’s longer than he lets on. No one survives what he did without being profoundly changed forever. He admits he can’t play his Xbox anymore, this is pretty typical of people involved in shootings, it’s too stressful and triggers subconscious fears. Drinking is also out, Steve knows that even the best of people can go down a dark road when their emotions are weakened by booze. Each time he looks in the mirror, he will be reminded of that day. He has a new normal, a new level of acceptance. He also has a new level of patience, appreciation and love for those closest to him. We all know life is fleeting, but until we feel how quickly it can be taken from us, we take it for granted.
Until the shooting, Steve thought he was a “tactically sound guy”, now he emphasizes the importance of training. Every officer should slow down, pay attention and prepare themselves as thoroughly as possible. Every single situation is different and every one of them can go horribly wrong. At the same time, officers can’t think “this could be the one” – if they did, they would go crazy. Now that he’s a Training Coordinator, he’s free to preach to his subjects about safety and training all day. Sometimes they wonder how much more they’ll have to hear, for Steve it’s never enough. You can never be too prepared.
I will be able to concentrate on the my true belief, training to save lives. If one life can be saved by what I write or what I teach, then I have done my job. Hopefully, I can reach the masses rather than the few; only time will tell. To me this is the good life, this is an opportunity to provide those who desire a skill set to save lives with their opportunity to learn. If you think about it, it was really the next evolution of my rebranding, so to speak, the continuation of the change which will be with me for the rest of my days, as it has been with so many before me and many more after.
Enough about Steve the cop, I was more interested in Steve the regular guy. Frankly, I didn’t think he was a regular guy. I was excited for our call, I felt like I was calling some sort of celebrity. He’s no George Clooney, but it was close enough for me. Here was a guy out defending the public, upholding the law, in one of the most admirable professions and he was going to talk to me about his shooting. Even though I don’t believe in heroes, he was something of a legend to me. He nearly sacrificed himself for the greater good. Now you want to call him, don’t you?
Don’t bother, he’ll tell you he was just doing his job. And you know what? I believe him. Steve is like many other law enforcement officers – just trying to get through the day without getting injured, so they can go home to their families. Danger comes with the job. They all know it. When people call Steve a bad-ass or a hero, he shakes his head. He had no way of knowing that a man would burst outside, a gun in each hand, and start shooting. He didn’t intentionally run to the line of fire, he was simply serving a warrant and the situation went south. He wasn’t fighting to recover so he could go back out on the street, he was fighting to get home to his wife and son.
Although he doesn’t like to be referred to as a hero, there’s something he likes even less and he likened it to a scene in Band of Brothers. Captain Lewis Nixon was standing aside a jeep talking when a stray bullet grazed his helmet and knocked him down. After getting up and realizing he was okay, he said “Don’t look at me like that.” Steve doesn’t want people to look at him like that, the look of death. The look that says you are going to die or you came pretty close to it.
Suppose you run into Steve at the local grocery store and haven’t seen him since the shooting, what do you do? Steve wants you to treat him just like everyone else. Don’t exaggerate his shooting, don’t tell him you can’t believe he’s alive and don’t follow him if he tries to get the hell away from you. You’re probably giving the poor guy a panic attack and treating him like some sort of anomaly. No one wants to be treated that way.
You know what’s even creepier? Walking up to him, giving him a bear hug and saying “I love you, man” when you’ve never really been friends. If it takes getting shot in the face for you to notice someone, you’ve got a problem. Keep on walking. That whole man-hug thing is reserved for his partner and close friends. In this type of situation a good rule of thumb is “Would I care if his johnny flapped open in front of me?” If you said yes, don’t hug him. You’re not good friends.
So what’s next for Steve? The awards are over, he’s found a role he loves as a Training Coordinator, his wife is happy he’s off the street and his son is too young to know what happened. He continues to be invited as a guest speaker at law enforcement conferences, he’s getting the hang of blogging (check him out) and he’s adjusting. Every day he will adjust.
Being in law enforcement requires daily adjustment, you don’t know what you will see. Will it be a dead baby? A suicide victim? A charred body in a car accident? A victim of a drug overdose? Or will you have to make the biggest adjustment ever? Adjusting to the aftermath of gunfire? Regardless of what their day brings, they keep coming back for more.
For Steve, and every single man and women that put on the uniform day in and day out, remind yourselves that you are doing a great thing. You may very well be the most disliked group in uniform, but you are also the most respected. Love is silent. Hate is loud. When you are in need, you’ll hear our love.