"It's all good"
"I'll get a Red Bull or some coffee, I'm good"
"It's just four extra hours, we need the money"
"We can open presents on my lunch break, it's holiday pay"
Overtime, grant shifts, off duty security..... it's the way many officers pay their mortgages and buy groceries. For those who literally find a way to live with extra jobs, it is mind blowing that there are so many departments that don't allow officers to work off duty security. Those are the officers with completely separate jobs on the side. They have lawn services, pest control services, construction jobs....whatever it takes to pay the bills. We are no different.
We went from a two income household to one. Within a year we went from doing pretty great after 15 years in with two incomes to struggling to avoid foreclosure on our newly built home after a diagnosis of autism, dysphagia, apraxia and seizures in our son. Medical bills piled up, I couldn't keep my job because of all the therapy and specialist appointments... co-pays after insurance jumped quickly to over $600.00 a month... we lost over $4,000 a month in income with me staying home. It didn't take long for it to hit us like a brick.
So, he does what he does. My husband, the police officer, heads off to his normal 40 hours per week, which never remains just 40 hours.... he picks up every DUI and seat belt enforcement grant shift he can, every estate sale, school dance, football game, pharmacy security, church security, funeral escort....you name it.... if he can work it, he will sign up for it. Because we need the money and he will do whatever it takes to provide for his family.
7:00 a.m., he leaves for regular shift. 4:00 p.m. he comes home to inhale whatever I've made, or he doesn't come home and grabs something on the way to whatever he's working. 11:00 p.m. he drags in, gets in the shower and falls in bed. "I'm fine. I missed you. Don't tell me you feel bad for me. I'll do anything to take care of you and my son". The teenager's car breaks down..... the other teenager needs help with a car payment.... "Don't worry, I'll find a way". We owe my mom money... "I'm trying to sell the old fridge in the garage and I have a divorce property division job on Saturday, we'll be alright". "Babe... I'm working the OU game Saturday and I need to help with a charity event Sunday....don't look at me like that....I'm good... babe... I'm good".
Change the names, change the circumstances, insert your life here. We all know too well just how many officers live this way.
It's like a form of forced denial. I've always done it. I've done it before. It's just one more night. I can do it. I'll be alright. It's night shift....I'll be so busy I won't have time to be tired. Baby....it's a school dance...c'mon, please. That's easy money. Sound familiar?
Seventeen years...... it's never changed. He's always been who he is. He's always done what he does. He's always been "just fine". He's always pushed through it.
Until he didn't.
The noise ringing in my ears.......the smell of gunpowder. The panic.... where is our son?!? OMG, where is our son?! Where did it hit?! WHERE IS THE ROUND?! The neighbors! OMG....you have to run check on the neighbors! They're outside with their babies! Our son.... our autistic son, stimming...rocking back and forth with his hands over his ears.... his service dog growling at me as if to say "how dare you do this to him, how could you?!"
Exhaustion. Pure, complete exhaustion. Too many hours, too little sleep. Bad judgment. Honest, but potentially dreadful error. What if? What if?
Relief. All is well. No one hurt. No one even noticed really... no one but us. We more than noticed. It meant much more than what actually happened. It changes everything.
How many times? How many times have we been in bed together, reading Facebook, looking at stories about "accidental discharge"...... pssshhhhhtt..... there's no such thing as an "accidental" discharge. An idiotic discharge, yes.... accidental....no. That was us. Time and time again. Gun safety in this house was as real as a Catholic's religion. My husband wouldn't even take a pee break without locking his duty weapon in the safe. Autism brings a whole new meaning to "gun safety". The precautions we took made many laugh..... "a little over the top, no?" Umm...no. Our son has autism. You want to give Rain Man a thought and see where he takes it?? I didn't think so. He's soooo smart. He loves guns. He knows they're here. He has autism. Enough said. Well....almost enough.
All it took was one too tired night. All it took was "decompression" gone wrong. No one was hurt. Our son wasn't even near the chaos.... it doesn't matter though. It happened. An "accidental" discharge of my husband's personal weapon, inside the house. He was off duty. It was not his service weapon. That doesn't change it personally for us.
It is one of those humbling moments..... not the best option either. It comes in many forms. Our LEO's push themselves too hard, too much. They wear that "S" on the chest because it is what they do. It is not just physical draining, it is emotional.
Whether internal political upper brass comes into play, or emotional fallout from bad calls or critical incidents wears on them, or the chaos of home is brought to work.....nothing good can come from it.
There is "THAT" kind of officer......family man, friend, confidant, helper, saver, fixer, perfectionist....SUPERMAN/WOMAN. You know who you are. You know exactly what I'm talking about.
I have news for you...
YOU ARE NOT SUPERMAN. PERIOD. YOU ARE NOT.
You are a human being. You NEED rest. Your body REQUIRES rest. Your heart, soul, emotional well being CRAVES restoration. And you continually ignore it. We know why you ignore it. It is because of us. It is because of your family, your friends, your brothers and sisters. It is because you are desperately trying to keep your nose clean at work. You want that promotion. You want things a little easier on your family. Hell, you just want to stay out of trouble! Even in your stress you're thinking about us. We get it.
You are our superman. You are our Superwoman. You are our Superheroes.
You've forgotten yourself.
You are able to be there for us for only so long. It will catch up with you. It will greet you at the worst time. You will have to answer to it. Or.... you can prevent it.
I love my husband with every fiber of my being. He is the best husband and father I could ever comprehend. He is overly cautious with us, it is part of what is so appealing. He is always in protective mode. There is nothing that man wouldn't do for his family. Tonight he is asking himself how he would live with himself if something else had happened.
We share this not because it's a joy....but because it might be a needed wake up call to just one other person.
Exhaustion breeds complacency. Complacency breeds errors. Errors are deadly.
We need all our families to be safe.
If you are a LEO, PLEASE, PLEASE ask yourself....do you need a break? If the answer is yes, find a way. If you are a LEO spouse, ask yourself....have you checked in lately? Have you seriously asked your loved one how they are? Do it. If you know they need a break, ask. Plan. Take measures in your own hands (easier said than done, how I know). Take care of yourselves!
Blessings and prayers for safety to all our first responders tonight.
Melisa Littles, Founder
The Police Wife LIfe