His heart is what drew me in, all those years ago. I saw a man determined to make a difference, I saw a man, willing to lend a hand or an ear to a friend in need. I saw someone dedicated to his family, someone who consistently put others above himself. I saw a man with humility and dignity. I saw compassion and integrity. And if I had known then what I know now, I think I would have had a whole other level of respect for him back then. It doesn’t work that way though. For it is in the learning and living this life of law enforcement that those of us who love them come to understand just exactly what they endure, and it is then that as one who loves them you truly begin to understand what kind of men and women they must be to be able to keep their hearts from hardening, despite all the badge brings to their lives.
It is a life of constant “Catch 22’s” for those who are compelled to protect and serve. The days have long since passed from a time when a Norman Rockwell painting of a Police Officer and a little boy at a soda fountain depicted the innocence of youth and the general consensus that in times of need, it is the peacekeepers who are there as the everyday heroes.
As National Police Week is once again upon us, another year and so many more names of the fallen etched on that wall, and it is clear the tides have turned. Back in those Norman Rockwell days we were aware that an Officer was willing to lay down his life in the line of duty. As we look at that wall today we know, the peacekeepers are in the midst of a war on American soil wherein more times than not, they themselves are the target, and to live that way, with a bulls eye on your back from those very people you are sworn to protect, well that is something which makes you fully aware of what those who protect and serve are dealing with.
As the spouse of a law enforcement officer, it is the knowledge of the truth which is my painful motivator. It is in knowing the judgment and animosity which is aimed at the love of my life, the father of my children, which compels me to be the rock which holds his foundation in place.
It is often said by those of us who love them, If you only knew what I know, if you could only see what I see, if you could only open your heart long enough to see past the brass on his chest, to the gold on his finger, and the love in his heart. Then, you might consider the man more than the badge.
What I know now about this man, and so many men and women like him is that badge does not represent a job, it represents a life. The badge may come off his chest at the end of his shift, however, he is still an officer, for there is no off switch.
What I know now is that an eight hour shift will become a ten hour shift because of a drunk driver crossing my husband’s path at seven hours and fifty three minutes into his eight hour shift. What I know now is that although it is against the law to drive drunk and endanger others, my husband must honor the rights of that drunk as it is my husband who is being filmed by his own dash cam and who will be called into court later and it is my husband who will have to defend his actions in arresting a citizen who was endangering the lives of others. What I know now is a drunk comes with two hours of paperwork which must be done before my husband can come home to me. What I know now is that twelve hours later when he finally makes it home his main concern will be showering the drunk off of him before he collapses out of exhaustion. What I now know is unlike what most who drink and drive think, the last thing my husband wanted was to cross paths with a drunk less than ten minutes before he could have come home to a hot meal, the game and his family.
What I know now is that dead bodies have a stench which an officer can smell in his dreams. What I know now is charred bodies have their own distinctive smell as well. What I know now is that in the winter time blood rises up as steam when it spills from a body onto the frozen street. What I know now is that flesh and brain matter and body parts can get stuck in the tread of an officer’s boots. What I know now is that a unit, in a driveway, with all four doors open, is not a sign of an irresponsible officer leaving his unit wide open, by the sure sign of an officer airing out a unit which he can’t get the smell of feces or vomit out of, despite his attempts to clean it.
What I know now is how much thirty three pounds weighs, as I lift his duty belt and his vest off the bed, after he has removed it from his waist after carrying it for twelve hours, after leaning on it, trying to sit in it, having to run in it, having to wrestle in it.
What I know now is that everyone has had two drinks, no one owns their own pants, everyone is driving their cousin’s car and no one knows anyone else’s real name.
What I know now is that although duty calls them to run towards danger, their human instinct tells them to run away, yet they make the conscious decision to run forward anyway. What I know now is they are fully aware that each and every time they run towards danger, that they may never return to their family again.
What I know now is that they are compelled to help those in need, but by offering that help there comes a price. What I know now is that a child who is found duct taped in a closet will return in an officer’s dreams for years. What I know now is that a teenager whose twisted body, entwined with the metal of a wreckage will make them think of their own teenager, and that sight will make them sick at their stomach, but they will control their human instinct in order to perform their duty.
What I know now is that most elderly people die on the toilet and are not found for days until an officer is called out on a welfare check. What I know now is that hoarders not only bury themselves in their own human waste, but they save dead animals as well.
What I know now is that taking a child from his own parents, even when those parents have beaten and bruised that child is extremely painful, and an officer will still be viewed as the bad man who took a child from the only world they have ever known. What I know now is how horrible an officer feels when he must leave that child in the care of the state, which has no room for that child either.
What I know now is that although citizens have every right to taunt my husband by filming him and egging him on and calling him a PIG and wishing him dead, regardless of ever meeting him or knowing him, or seeing the picture of him rocking his baby, there is no point in telling them otherwise. They live in America, and they have rights. The right to show compassion or understand what I know, is not on their agenda.
What I know now is that an officer can survive four tours of duty in Iraq, be hailed a hero, only to return to America, put on a badge, and instantly become the enemy. What I know now is that an officer will be disrespected by those very men and women he served with overseas. They will say “at least you get to come home”….. I will say “I hope to God he lives through what America has lined up for him”. What I know now is they will fly a flag for him when he is deployed, but they will say they pay his salary when he wears a badge at home.
What I know now is how hard it is to see my husband stand in honor of one who is lost. What I know now is what “Blue Family” means when it comes to an officer’s funeral. What I know now is exactly what the term “gut wrenching yet beautiful” means.
What I know now is why so many officers eat their own guns.
What I know now is what a bad day looks like on the face and body of my husband. What I know now is the toll the badge has taken on his life. I know how to wake him from the monsters which fill his sleep. I know why he constantly pays attention to his surroundings. I know why he has taught me to shoot a gun. I know why he doesn’t let our kids ride the school bus. I know why he never drives home the same way twice. I know why he stands up to eat when he makes it home for lunch. I know why some nights he is silent. I know why he takes his boots off before he brings his last call through the door to our home. I know why he doesn’t cry anymore. I know why his smiles are distracted. I know why he stares at me sometimes. I know why he stands alone in the hall, looking into our children’s rooms at night.
What I know now is how to fix a leaky sink, change my own oil, haul three kids to the doctor alone, explain to family why we can’t make it again. What I know now is that eight hours equal twelve, lunch time is after dark, breakfast is at lunch time and Monday is usually on Wednesday. I know now how to reheat meals up to three times without ruining them. I know how to load three kids in a car and get dinner to the back of the parking lot beside the rail road tracks in ten minutes flat. I know how to get blood out of anything. I know how to wrap broken fingers and disinfect bloody knuckles. I know when an eye is swollen enough to have it looked at. I know it’s a good thing when my husband’s voice is on the other end of the phone saying he’s hurt, because he can still speak and make a call. I know the panic will overcome me when I see a unit rolling up to my house when my husband isn’t home, but I know I am prepared for it.
What I know now that I didn’t know then is nothing is what I expected it to be. I expected this life to be hard on me, what I never anticipated is how hard it is on him. What I know now is a whole other level of respect for the duty that badge holds. What I know now is our truth….. that this man is the same man who stole my heart. Over 16 years behind the badge and his character hasn’t wavered. However, the character of America has. What I know now is that I still love him for who he is, but I love him so much more to make up for all who hate him. And yes, I would do it all again because this is who we are. My husband is a law enforcement officer, and I would gladly sign up to be his wife all over again.
Founder, The Police Wife Life ©TPWL