When my husband became a police officer, we both knew that sometime early in his career I would be going with him to work to do a ride along. It was important to both of us; for me to see what he did each day, how work "worked", and to remove some of the fear of the unknown that can intrude in your thoughts when you are the wife of a cop. Those fears are often unfounded, but having the experience of seeing the inside of the squad room, riding in the car, meeting the team and having a visual experience of the "office" allows spouses to have some visualization of where their loved one goes each day, even though it is a small part of the day.
Most of the day is spent on the streets, talking to people, and that is the unpredictable scary part of their job - no one ever knows what will happen outside of the department walls.
For our family, we wanted to give Frank some time to acclimate to his department before spending that road time together. Life, as it tends to do, got really busy, and Christmas of 2011, we decided that we really needed to have our ride along soon. I distinctly remember thinking to myself that maybe in the Spring, when it warms up, and the city wakes up a bit - that way, I won't freeze to death and it won't be so boring. I really wanted to see him in action.
But that never happened. Instead, January 2, 2012 happened, ending that chance to do a ride along forever.
Immediately after the crash, I spent a lot of time in squad cars - traveling to the hospital, the police department, parades and other events. I never gave it much thought that I had not been on a true ride along because I was engaged so heavily with law enforcement, and I almost forgot.
Recently while attending a training in Kansas City with the Executive team of my new non-profit, we were chatting about training, departments, and requirements for individuals within our program, one of which is a ride along. Without thinking, I stated "Yeah, I have never been on an actual ride along." This statement was met with astonished looks and "Are you kidding?" I remember laughing to myself and realizing how funny that sounded. With all the time I spend engaged in law enforcement and with departments, I have never been on a ride along.
For a moment, I was sucked back into the small but potent sadness that lingers in my soul - that place that reminds me, even still, about the huge loss that exists in our world. I distinctly felt the acute pain of sadness and grief; the heartache of knowing why I had not done a ride along took my breath away.
I quickly recovered myself, and moved on that day, but the thought still lingered. Why? Why not? I can't change the past, but my future requires me to continue my education and understanding of law enforcement, why not? Why not go on a ride along, you certainly know enough people to make that happen?
I let those emotions linger for a while, and as we all know, emotions that linger tend to transform and settle at the root of what we feel. My emotions settled on the hurt of loss, and knowing that this was something that I could never do with Frank, and I allowed that grief to unfold itself for just a little bit. I feel that to honor our life, and the hard work we have put into maintaining our life, I had to acknowledge that loss, before I could move on.
The sadness did not overwhelm me, but coated me like a thin blanket for a while. I am conscious of these thoughts, and allowed them to visit, then began to let them go. I cannot change the past, but I can look to the future, and use these emotions and feelings for good.
I texted a friend of mine, a fellow high school graduate, that is an officer with St. Paul PD. He and I became reacquainted at the hospital after Frank's accident, and have become close friends in the last few years. By fate and timing, we were able to have a late night conversation in the parking lot of a gas station and I brought up the possibility of doing a ride along with his some time - I believe the immediate response was "well, Fuck yeah!" which is cop speak for "absolutely that would be great!" I could have quoted him wrong, and I am sure he will let me know, but the sentiment is correct.
With some juggling and organizing, we were able to quickly schedule a night to get together, which just happened to be a Friday night - yes folks, a Friday night ride along in St. Paul, what could be more exciting.
The day quickly arrived and as afternoon moved on, I became aware of a new unexpected feeling in the pit of my stomach - fear. I paused in the elevator on the way out of work trying to figure out what this was about - why was I worried, what was I afraid of?
I was afraid of dying. Dying? What? Where did that come from?
True to me, I spent the car ride home trying to figure it out - why was I all of a sudden worried about dying? I will be honest, I do have a tendency to fret about dying, usually because I have an over-inflated sense of self-worth and worry that my world cannot live without me. But this was true fear, a possibility that I could die, tonight, while out with the police.
Why now? What about tonight was bringing this fear to mix with my excitement?
I thought about my kids, and how they see life now - fragile, not trustworthy, a place where bad things can and do happen, even to superhero dads. I thought about Frank, and how a life path was changed so dramatically, that there are still some days he cannot believe he will never drive a squad car again. And I thought about the officers I know, and how when they text me while on duty, I sometimes worry that I will be the last one that hears from them.
The culture of law enforcement today is scary - it doesn't matter which side of the fence you sit, the smell of fear is on both sides.
Officers are being killed for being cops. Shot in uniform while pumping gas, eating lunch, and walking out of their front door. Life is not safe for them, and it could be unsafe for me while I am with them.
It was a surreal moment realizing that truth. I could be in danger.
I had to make a choice in that moment - to stay home, with my family, and not go out, or to be brave, and trust that God has me where I am supposed to be, and with that comes scary times, and scary experiences.
I made my choice.
I made dinner, settle my kids, and walked out to the door. Running late with the load I always carry, I sent a text to Tony announcing my late arrival. As I got closer to the department, a familiar feeling began to settle into me, one that I know well, and one that has often lived alongside my fear during the last three years.
Honor. Integrity. Pride.
Familiar feelings that flow through me when I am surrounded by those that honor my family, exhibit integrity in their actions for their own, and are proud to face what may come each day.
I took a deep breath as I got out of my car in the parking lot. The air was cool, and going to get cooler as the sun went down. I walked over to get my hug from my partner for the night, and met his "real" partner for the first time, who would be in a separate car for the night, acting in tandem as the calls came in.
Twenty one people on duty tonight here in St. Paul. My heart raced with the anticipation of what might be - little did I know that my mild elation would be nothing compared to the other emotions I would feel later that night.
And the deep level of understanding it would bring.
More to come...