Dec 13 2013

The here and why

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A month ago, I wrote a blog post that detailed my reason for writing. Why do I write?

But why did I write this story?

First, I have to say, it is a novel. It is a work of fiction. And yet, it was birthed out of a period of time in our lives. Painful experiences worth sharing.

When I married my husband, I had no idea what it meant to become a part of the “law enforcement family.” I was aware that there would be holiday craziness on those days he had to work, but beyond that? I didn’t get it.

We got married. I changed my name. But so much more changed. And of course, marriage is an adjustment. And without trying to sound over the top, marriage in the world of first responders is an even bigger adjustment.

There is a reason they call themselves a family. They get each other. They understand the stress and the expectations. They rely upon each other day in and day out, for camaraderie and for safety. They will always have each other’s backs. Like family.

It’s difficult to describe or explain a dynamic like that. They are knit together by a thin, often blue, line. A line invisible to those who don’t walk it everyday. A line that becomes increasingly recognizable in the course of every day life with a first responder.

Case in point, there have been nights, dinner is minutes away from ready, the kids have worn mommy’s patience down to a mere nub and the phone would ring. Don’t wait to have dinner because of…an accident, a fatal, a shooting, a car chase, or at the hospital with another officer.

You answer the phone and hold your breath until you hear their voice. And then you hold your breath again until you can determine that they are okay. It isn’t the phone calls that are difficult. It’s the stress they create. And stress like that is next to impossible to translate. But it is nothing compared to the stress of death and destruction bombarding every one of your five senses. It’s one thing to see death on TV or in movies. It’s an entirely different thing to see it, smell it, hear it, feel it and even taste it.

After phone calls like that, I would serve dinner and get the kids into the bath. I would pray for David’s safety and my sanity. But all the while, something had been set in motion that I didn’t recognize. An invisible force that had far more power in my home than I could ever have imagined. The past.

Memories are tremendous. They connect us to happier moments and remind us of people and events. They link us to those we love. But their power doesn’t end there. They also hold the potential to forever tie you to tragedy and trauma. To haunt and torment and link you to a past event that is nothing short of horrific.

As a country, we have come a long way in understanding and treating PTSD as it relates to our military. But it would appear to me that we are decades behind in our treatment and recognition of PTSD in our first responders.

So why did I write Distressed?

Two reasons. 1. To authentically show the world of the first responder and those closest to him and 2. To bring awareness to the realities of PTSD as it pertains to first responders.

It is our story in part. But it had to be more than just our story. It has to be bigger than that. Because I know, there are a number of other first responders and their families who are currently suffering in silence.

It has to be about them too.

 


Nov 9 2013

Why do I write?

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To paint a picture. A picture that gives real perspective. A perspective that goes beyond our Sunday best and drives us into the heart of others.

For the last several years, since I started taking this writing journey seriously, I’ve asked myself this question often.Whatever you may think the writing life looks like, you’re probably wrong. No disrespect. Just saying.

Writers stare at the screen and wrestle. We wrestle with words. With plots and characters. And we wrestle with self-doubt. Which is perhaps the greatest understatement of the century. Self-doubt sounds like something you find in a Disney movie. But what I’m talking about is the kind of crippling uncertainty that renders a person slightly unstable.

So why do it?

I’ve heard responses that are close to the mark. “I’m ruined to do anything else.” “I love to write so much I can’t not write.”

But I stumbled today on my reason. An epiphany of sorts. I’ve danced around the idea for a couple years but it hit me square between the eyes today.

David and I finished watching a movie this morning. End of Watch. I still have tears streaming down my face. A movie about two LAPD officers who are ambushed. One of the partners is killed. We watched the graphic portrayal of his end of watch. The scenes are heart wrenching and the cop sitting next to me kept saying, “That’s so real.”

You can take the man out of the uniform but you can’t take the uniform out of the man. We sat and watched pieces of our reality play out on screen. It was more than a movie. It was a realistic portrayal of the life of a cop.

So why do I write?

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My first novel, “Distressed” which releases soon, is a story about what a cop life can do to a marriage. To a family.

More than anything, I want the world to see. To see and smell and feel what it might be like to walk in another person’s reality. We have all been taught to walk a mile in another person’s shoes but how often do we actually take the time to do that?

What if you could read a book that put you in another person’s shoes? What if you could read a story and really see and feel the life of someone else? The characters and plot may not be reality but the emotion is. And it’s universal.

So why do I write?

I write to move people from their comfortable into the hurting world. Anyone can sympathize, or imagine what someone else might be feeling. But the well of humanity is much deeper than that.

Sympathy wipes a tear, but empathy embraces.

I write because I want to feel what others are feeling. And I write because I hope others want the same thing.

 


Sep 21 2013

A day of soccer and thank you’s

Thank a police officer

A few weeks ago, my twelve year old son started soccer in a fifteen and under division. Not only is he a rookie, but he is also at least a foot shorter than most of the other players. At a game last night, our team started the last quarter ahead by two. The goalie had done a great job but was tired of being in the line of fire. He took off the bright orange jersey and the gloves and tried to pass them off. No takers, until he got to my son.

My heart stopped as I saw Isaac pull the larger-than-life jersey over his head and push his hands into the gloves. I was reminded of what he looked like so many years ago as he would follow his dad around the house, helping with repairs. He tried to fill boots that were too big and wear gloves that continually succumbed to the pull of gravity and headed for the ground.

The game continued and the last quarter seemed to last a lifetime. The other team attacked our goal. Maybe they smelled blood. They were determined. Shot after shot. Those of us on the sidelines held our breath for minutes at a time.

The whistle blew. Although our opponents had managed to get two goals past my son, he had thwarted another five or so attempts. The game was over and we had won.

On the way home, I asked him if he volunteered to be goalie. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “No one else seemed to want to do it. And someone has to.” He had played goalie before. He knew the pressure. He understood that he would be standing alone. Protecting a large area and taking the heat first from his opponents and secondly from his teammates, should he fail.

Today is a national day, set aside to say “Thank you” to a police officer. Life isn’t a game. But I can’t help but see some similarities. Everyday, police officers put on a different color. A color that set’s them apart from their opponents and from their community. They may not wear gloves but they wear a band of tools around their middle that remind them of the gravity of their position.

They stand, often alone, between those who wish to score. And if they fail, they receive criticism and flak from their community.

It is easy to forget that we are on the same team. That someone has to put on the bright orange shirt and gloves and stand against the opponents of liberty and freedom.

Gratitude doesn’t mean we always agree with their decisions. Gratitude means we acknowledge the place they choose to stand. Say thank you to another human being who attempts to fill the shoes of men like Superman and Spiderman. They may not be superheroes but they are heroes none-the-less. And don’t be surprised if your “Thank you” is met with a similar response to the one my son gave.

A shrug of shoulders and a reply, “Someone has to do it.”

 


Dec 14 2012

Today’s news in Connecticut

Yesterday, I started to write this blog. It was totally different. I was going to take a break. Let you know that I would be back after the holidays.

And then I saw the news today.

That in itself is a miracle. Since I live in the middle of nowhere we have no television. But today was a town day. We stopped for lunch and watched the events in play-back on the television above our table.

Horrific. Nauseating. Overwhelming.

Then, during one of the news clips of various shots of the scene, I saw a uniform. Several in fact.

Another day at work.

And my heart broke again.

They will write their reports. Possibly have a debriefing about the horror they saw. And they will go home. Their wives could possibly have also had a stressful day. Sick children. Broken appliances. The stress of knowing her husband was on scene.

But regardless of what it may look like on the outside. Life does not just go back to normal.

Being married to a law enforcement officer is like being handed a bucket. Every incident and trauma that your spouse witnesses becomes a brick in your bucket. Even if they don’t tell you about it. There is something you can see in their eyes. In the way they hug their children. In the way they bark security measures. What changes them, changes you.

The bucket gets heavier. 

I refuse to use the word burden. It’s not that kind of bucket. But whatever name you give it, it’s presence is unavoidable.

I’ve carried that bucket. In some ways I still do. Life changes us. There is no going back.  But I want to share a secret I’ve learned. A message to the wives of those officers from Connecticut. And to anyone else who carries the bucket.

You love your husband. You gladly carry the bucket. A sign of solidarity. You think you are alone in that. Your friends can’t see the bucket and sometimes your family can’t either.

But you are not alone. 

If nothing else, you have sisters who also stand behind the Thin Blue Line. We see your bucket and we are praying for you and your family. We pray too for the families of those who lost someone, but we don’t forget the one’s called to serve and protect and the one’s who love them.

You are in our prayers. You are in our hearts. We see your bucket.

May our prayers lift your load and may we all look to the day when Peace rules.


Nov 21 2012

Thanksgiving Memory

“Are you ready?” He smiled at me as I climbed in and he shut the door.

“Uh-huh!” I glanced at him so that he wouldn’t see the terror in my eyes. Calm down! He’s not taking you to jail.

And he pulled the patrol car out of the driveway.

“I’m probably not going to write any tickets today. It’s Thanksgiving.”

My terror turned to disappointment. Reinforcing an underlying belief that I thought myself crazy. Apparently, I felt someone should go to jail. Just not me. A shining humanitarian moment.

“Oh. Okay.” Attempting to mask my neurosis.

He pointed the car toward his beat. That stretch of road that he was assigned to cover for the day. He parked on the shoulder of the freeway. Giving himself a view. And then he started a conversation.

It was challenging to follow. An unfamiliar female voice kept chanting all manner of numbers and letters and random words. She vied for attention but he continued to talk. Zebra and Mary and King. What is she trying to say?

“Um, feel free to stop and listen.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I’m listening.”

To who? Her or me?

But the conversation continued. My senses were a bit maxed but I tried to hang in there. Nodding where appropriate and still trying to act natural. The profuse sweating of my hands distracted me from the issue of what position to put them in.

“Darn it.” And the conversation stopped. He started the car and pulled out.

Remember Clark Kent? He would duck into a phone booth? (Remember phone booths?) Anyway, he would rip the front of his shirt and in seconds be transformed from journalist to superhero. I’ve seen something similar. David went from normal conversation to police officer in a fraction of a second.

I sat rigid in the passenger seat as he pursued an SUV barreling down the freeway. Lights flashing. An electricity charged the air. The conversation was gone. He was focused. Alert. And I was no longer a companion. I was a spectator.

I watched in amazement at this man I thought I knew. His composure and calm was mind boggling as he confronted the unknown. I became acutely aware of my lack. My lack of knowledge. My lack of authority. My lack of courage.

What would I do if the driver shot him right in front of me? Could I ever marry a man whose job required him to put himself in such a precarious position?

And then an amazing thing happened. I saw it. The razor sharp edge of the thin blue line. Sending him off to work meant endangering a part of my soul. He had my heart.

There would always be a part of him that I could not follow. I could give him my heart but I could never control where he took it. Or the possible dangerous positions he would put it in. That was just going to be part of the deal.

That was over fourteen years ago. (Difficult to believe based on the above photo. That’s not really me by the way and that’s not the really the car. Just in case there is any confusion.) My first and I think only ride along. A lot has changed since then. Children, moving, and now retirement. Oh, and moving out of state. That’s a rather big change. But one thing is the same.

He still has my heart. And on this Thanksgiving, I’m truly thankful.

What are you thankful for?

 

 

 


Nov 15 2012

Back the Badge

 

I’ve written about being a part of the thin blue line. Joining the prestigious family of law enforcement as the spouse of an officer.

In those early years, I learned a great deal. Don’t leave the garage door open all day. Don’t answer the door during the middle of the day. Give my husband some room after work to decompress.

I also learned a few codes. The important ones.

51-50. Crazy person. I felt it was important to learn this one should it ever creep up during an argument. If he was going to call me crazy, I was at least going to know about it.

The other one I learned early on was 11-99. Officer needs help.

But last Saturday, after almost 14 years, I learned something new.

There is strength in numbers.

A fellow law enforcement wife, Rae Johnsen, felt it was time to bring law enforcement wives together and she was right. Spouses from many different law enforcement agencies came together, under one roof. She called us to Back the Badge.

Women came locally, from a hundred miles away and everything in between. A group of strong, independent women who support their law enforcement husbands.

It’s easy to tear a single piece of paper. It’s far more difficult to tear a phone book.

Over a hundred women gathered and put their pages together. We laughed and cried. And an amazing thing happened.

We didn’t stage a coup. Or start a crusade. We didn’t design our own flag. We didn’t talk politics or promotions.

We discovered common ground. 

And I learned I wasn’t alone. I am not the only woman who has learned and is learning to live in the in-between. That place where the stress of the law enforcement life and the isolation of the law enforcement life collide.

On those days when the stress is bearing down and the fear of the unmentionable looms large, all I have to do is remember that day. The smiles, the hugs, the knowing nods. I’m not alone. And even better, I’m not crazy. There are a whole group of women who get me and get a part of my journey.

A group of women who have been taught not to trust others, found each other. And we discovered there is strength in numbers. If you haven’t discovered that feeling yet, you should. And although there isn’t another Back the Badge event scheduled (yet), there are other ways to get connected.

Here are some options to check out:

Back the Badge (on Facebook)

Wives Behind the Badge (www.wivesbehindthebadge.org)

You have your spouse’s back, but maybe someone should have yours.

Have you found strength in numbers?


Nov 8 2012

The Invisible Blue Line

There isn’t a gold star pinned to my chest or a gun at my hip. I don’t carry handcuffs with me (although I have thought about it. Having three kids and all.) No one has ever died in my arms. I have never had to pick up a detached limb off the freeway.

But, I am part of the thin blue line.

The invisible part.

I am proud of my husband and the career he chose. He demonstrates honor and courage and compassion. But it’s not just him. Being married to a first responder means that I am called to demonstrate the same.

I am part of the thin blue line.

The invisible part.

I listen to stories. Comedic and tragic. I wipe tears and return smiles. I am a confidant, a cheerleader and a counselor. A partner.

I am part of the thin blue line.

The invisible part.

I don’t wear the uniform and I don’t see what he sees. But I am not numb to what he feels. The burden of the fatal he dealt with is shared. I’m not pretending to have experienced it. Not in entirety. But I do feel it.

I am part of the thin blue line.

The invisible part.

In a few weeks, my husband steps away from the thin blue line. But one cannot escape thirty years of experience. It is impossible to step away from the memories and the events. Those are the things that define him. He will still be courageous and full of honor and compassion. It has never just been about the job. Regardless of the uniform he wears or the title he carries, those are all parts of who he is. Parts that make up the whole.

And what will I do? I will continue to listen. To wipe tears and share smiles. I look forward to still being a confidant, a cheerleader, and a counselor.

I will always be a partner.

He will no longer be a police officer. The uniform will be retired. But the thin blue line cannot be erased fromour history or from our hearts. It will forever be a part of who we are. Only it will now be…

the invisible part.

 


Oct 11 2012

The Thin Blue Line — Frayed

The Thin Blue Line -- Frayed

Art by Isaac Qualls

 

The thin blue line is a symbol of solidarity with law enforcement.

But sometimes, the thin blue line gets frayed.

My husband came home the other day with an interesting story. He was in a meeting with some of the management of his agency and the topic of PTSD came up. Sniggers and huffs floated above the table like a cloud of skepticism. Imagine. On that day, in that moment, the thin blue line unraveled a little.

Solidarity. Like-mindedness. Mutual support.

It is difficult to explain to those outside this law enforcement community what it’s actually like to live in the law enforcement community. I understand their uncertainty or blank stares when our children start pointing out other vehicles that are violating the law and deserving of a ticket. They have been indoctrinated into this code and so have I. It’s difficult for outsiders to understand. But what about insiders? What about the brotherhood?

Solidarity. Likemindedness. Mutual support.

When my husband shared this experience with me, the “Joan of Arc” in me started waving the war flag and crying out for followers. “Who will fight with me against this injustice?” It was difficult to believe that men and women within a law enforcement agency thought a claim of PTSD was a load of malarky.

Solidarity. Likemindedness. Mutual support.

When an officer is tragically lost in the line of duty, the brotherhood wears a black band around their badge to grieve and show their support. But what happens when a law enforcement brother comes forward and mentions PTSD? What happens when an officer raises her hand and asks for help? Unfortunately, sometimes, the thin blue line frays.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have any degrees or acronyms behind my name to offer any clinical credibility. Just my experience. But, my experience tells me that those who suffer from PTSD live under a menacing cloud. Images and smells and sounds are engraved into their memories and then set loose to haunt and torture.

The journey through the dark and murky waters of PTSD is a frightening and often lonely one. Even behind the thin blue line. My goal is not to become the poster family for PTSD. I’m not trying to wear the victim badge. In fact, my husband retires in less than two months and I would like to move on. But I believe in the thin blue line.

Solidarity. Likemindedness. Mutual support.

Maybe a family needs to hear they are not alone is this battle. Maybe an officer needs to be encouraged to raise his hand and say, “I need help.” Sometimes the thin blue line gets frayed. But we can fix it. All it takes is…

Solidarity. Likemindedness. Mutual support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Oct 4 2012

The thinnest part of the blue line

Not being one to take things at face value, I looked up the “thin blue line.” Generally accepted as a symbol used to show solidarity with law enforcement, there is a fair amount of controversy associated with the symbol. Controversy? Related to law enforcement?

Perhaps the most current controversy involving law enforcement is whether they should continue to be compensated for the work they do whether in wages or retirement benefits. But don’t be deceived. There seems to have been a hazy cloud of controversy surrounding the shiny badge for some time. And to prove my point, I give you two words, Wyatt Earp. A law man of the wild-west and best known for his part in the shoot out at the OK Corral, his past is hardly exemplary.

Controversy. 

It has become a standard part of our culture. When asked what he does, my husband never says, “I’m a police officer.” Can you guess why? What follows is typically a story of unjust ticketing or “speed traps” or a whiny interlude about the total jerk officer that pulled them over last week. The Andy Griffith mentality has faded out like black and white television and in it’s place is high def.

Controversy.

My husbands professional experience has been dealing with people who break the law, snotty and rude people, and some who would rather see him bleeding out on the sidewalk. For him, life is measured in potential threats and worse case scenarios. It changes the way he views the world. That’s his training. And his training and experience do not shut off the moment he walks through the door at home. His badge is off, but his vigilance is not. And such a condition means that he will ask me to do things that seem strange to outsiders. And guess what comes from that?

Controversy.

Even being married to a police officer opens the door for some dissension. A law enforcement family, or any first responder family, seem to have a unique set of rules. And there are instances where this causes controversy among friends and family members.

There are times when the rules that govern our home are challenged. “Why would he ask you to call him before you are on your way home? Don’t you think that’s a tad controlling?” Or, “Really? You aren’t allowed to open the front door in the middle of the day?” I could list the different customs that keep the peace in our home and that “normal” people deem crazy. I have plenty of fodder. But that’s not the point. The point is this–stop the controversy.

We all have a degree of crazy. Superstitions. Habits. Traditions. The difference is, most of us don’t wear our crazy on a clean pressed uniform, marked by a shiny star on our chest. By following a few “rules” around the house, I help put my husband’s mind at ease so that he can focus on his job and come home safe. Seems like a fair enough trade to me.

The thinnest part of the “thin blue line” is where crazy seems unnecessary and pointless. But sometimes the crazy is necessary. Then we call it something different.

Heroism.