Bracing yourself for the cold winter air is easy, you’ve done it before, you know what to expect and you know how many layers to wear. You also know that no matter how well you prepare, a chill will seep through and you’ll feel it in your bones. It’s with that feeling you set out on a Sunday morning, knowing that you should be bracing yourself for something but not quite knowing what it is. Fearing that if you aren’t prepared, it will seep into your heart.
It’s easy to feel at home with a family you know intimately but hardly at all. While you eat and drink, you talk about the incident, how you’re going to change things and what needs to change. You study the man before you, watching his behavior to identify the before and after in his personality. Some are easier to spot than others. You share an intimate conversation with his wife, things you’d share with very few people for fear they wouldn’t understand. You realize you stand on a more common ground than is comfortable to admit.
Eventually, you’ll have to enter his office, the one you know will be hard to see. The walls are covered with awards and accolades beginning years before he was shot. It’s a testament to a full and devoted career. If you stand silently and close your eyes, you may be able to feel the love and pride that came with each award. You will know that a small piece of that man is frozen in each moment in time. You’ll hold a bullet in your hand, hoping that you can’t feel the pain that comes with it. “Do you feel how heavy that is? I carried that in my body for years.”
When it’s time to leave, a feeling of sadness will overcome you. You’re not quite sure how to leave. So you start with the children. The 8-year-old is in a room alone, you shake his hand, thank him for having you and tell him it was so nice to meet him. As you turn toward the door he’ll say, “How many books did you write?”
Turning you see his big beautiful eyes and earnest face, the face that sees his father struggle with physical and emotional pain. “Two.”
“I can’t read the books you write. I don’t want to.”
Stifling a sigh, you gently say the first thing that comes to mind. “Yeah, I have a hard time writing them.”
“Then why do you do it?”
“Because, sometimes it’s the right thing to do.”
“I hope you come over again.”
The 4-year-old pretend pukes again and you pretend to eat it (again), he’s the easy one.
As you pull away and see the couple on the porch, you know what’s beneath the surface, you want to go back and be their buffer. Tomorrow is the five-year anniversary of the shooting. You want to somehow shield them from the day, from the emotion that is sure to come. As your children chatter happily about their visit, you realize what you had shielded yourself from all day – the knowledge this family, and others like them, carry the weight of the bullets that tear through more than flesh. Each officer handles it differently; they can educate, deny, accept, bury themselves in a bottle, or advocate for others. Each officer handles it the same; they carry a weight they can never put down. They bear it every single day. It’s more than just the hospital visits, the emotional therapy and the physical scars. It’s a loss of everything they once knew. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you wish, you can’t carry it for them for even a moment. But you can find a way to make others understand.