Usually, once I meet someone new, and they find out my husband is a police officer, I have to field the questions:
"How do you do that? Don't you worry?"
I have heard it so many times over the years that I have my standard response, and yes, I have occasionally uttered it with a smug tone; along the lines of how-can-you-ask-me-that-don't-be-so-unimaginative:
"I don't worry. I have faith in him, and in his training, and in his fellow officers."
It's little leaps of faith that get an officer's wife through the day. Those little leaps of faith that you know he's out there doing a job he loves, that he's doing it as safely as possible, that he has a brotherhood of officers watching his back.
On the homefront, you have your little talismans, rituals you perform, perhaps subconsciously, that you feel hollow without: you always kiss him goodbye, he pats all the kids on the head, he always hears you tell him to be careful, and you let whatever angry remark you might have been ready to utter die on your lips, lest it be the last words he hears you say to him. And sometimes, the first real deep breath you take for the rest of his shift happens when you hear him come back into the house at the end of it.
Case closed, we've got this covered. It goes on like this, for days, months, years, and then the harsh reality of what your husband really does for a living hits you. Suddenly, those little talismans, those rituals you cling to and the faith you have is called into question. Because although you can control the homefront, you can wish him well and tell him, genuinely, to have a good day, you cannot control the unpredictable. You can't control the bad guys, you can't control the sequences of events that could potentially lead to catastrophe, you can't will someone not to get behind the wheel when they shouldn't.
Once upon a time, back when Ben was a baby, my husband came to me and told me he wanted to be a bicycle cop. At night. Primarily assigned to an area of town that I thought was too dark and too dangerous. I was not pleased, but he sold me on it when he said he would have a partner. To me, he was still new to the entire police profession, even though by this point he'd been on the force for a couple of years; I loved the idea that he'd have someone along with him every night.
His partner, Rob, turned out to be someone that I ultimately came to just adore. I can't really tell you why, I knew him, I'd met him a few times, Mr W brought him home for dinner once or twice--but it wasn't like we were together enough that I could recall entire conversations with him alone. I think it was like anything else between a husband and wife, it was through the stories Mr W told me about him that I got to know him, much in the way that I first got to know Remo.
All I know is, and it surprised me that Mr W remembered this enough to recount it in front of a roomful of people tonight--is that in the end, I was not just happy that he had a partner, but I was happy that the partner was Rob. I can honestly say that as long as they were riding together, I never worried about my husband. That's not to say that I don't feel that way now, about his coworkers, it's just that at the time, having two small children and just learning the cop-wife ropes, I felt better, knowing that someone as formidable as Rob would be with my husband each night. Because I knew, that come hell or high water, he would do everything he could so that the scales would be tipped in their favor.
My husband rode with him for two years, and then they went their separate ways within the department. But our agency was still small enough, and Rob's personality was big enough, that I still heard the occasional tale or two.
Later, Mr W knew how to sell it to me, when he was going to be trying to get on with the motors--he told me Rob was testing, too. But that's another story, for another time.
Yeah, Rob might have occasionally rubbed people the wrong way, in that way that outspoken, opinionated people do, but I never had a problem with him.
Last weekend, my husband received a call that an officer was down and he was to go to the hospital. I wasn't there at the time he took the call, and he was gone before I got back. As I called him to find out what was up, I had so many scenarios running through my head that I almost didn't hear him say hello.
When he told me it was Rob, and later relayed to me that it was a bad accident, I started to worry. All that "I don't worry" out the window before we hung up the phone.
I worried for Rob, I worried for his wife of ten months, I worried for all the police officers I knew that would be lining the halls of the hospital. It was one of those rollercoaster nights, where each report Mr W gave me was different. Better, worse, we don't know. Don't call me, I'll call you. I was optimistic, hopeful...I mean, someone who gives off that kind of larger-than-life air is certainly invincible, right? Yet as the night wore on, I started to fear the worst, and I fought it as hard as I've ever fought a feeling in my entire life.
Mr W called me around 12:30 am or so, I forget what time it was, and he told me that things were very touch and go, but Rob appeared to be stable and he'd be coming home soon. I must've nodded off, because the next thing I know, I felt Mr W in the house, I heard him in our room, I looked at the clock and it was 3 am. As he started to change, I tried to shake out of my sleep fog, and even in that state, I could tell by the look on his face that he didn't have good news. Later, he told me he was trying to sneak into the house, hoping he could find the words to tell me that this person that he knew I cared about so much was gone.
I just remember sitting up and saying "no" every time he said it, protesting, insisting that it couldn't be true. I watched the news coverage of the incident and each time hoped that this would be the broadcast where it wouldn't be shown, and it would turn out that maybe I dreamt Mr W's late entrance into our room.
Of course not. Instead, I watched and in horror, I realized that the motorcycle was imbedded in the front of the vehicle thathit him, and charred to the point that I could barely make it out. In disbelief, I heard about how the people who hit him were drunk, and ran from the scene. And later, I was pissed off when I heard that the driver was not only underage, but he had a bunch of prior DUI related offenses.
I feel so much for his wife, for his family, for all of us who will be missing such an extraordinary person.
It's been a week of going through the motions. We've managed to keep the kids days the same, but they know what's happened, and why we're not exactly the most patient people as of late.
I vacillate between sadness, disbelief, anger, and surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, fatigue. I'm tired, as I've never been before.
My heart, man, it just really hurts.
Although I still maintain my faith in Mr W, his training, and his fellow officers, I find myself wondering if it's enough. The rituals, we still perform them, but now I feel doubly superstitious about it, and I don't like that.
And here we all are, going through preparations for the services on Friday. Boots being polished, uniforms ironed, ducks in a row.
It's true what they say about the police community. They are a tight bunch, and they circle the wagons around all of us. It's comforting, on many levels, to know that you aren't alone in this, and unfortunate, in that 'too-bad-it's-under-these-circumstances' way.
On Friday, I will sit with my husband and I will hold his hand. I will seek out Remo and his wife in the crowd of people I know will be there, because, well, just because. Because I'm afraid. Because I'm sad. Because I have a special place in my heart for them, too.
And I will offer consolations to a family, when I really feel I should be offering them thanks.
Thanks for a life well done, for a person that I know I won't easily, if ever, forget.