Those We Have Lost
The Year In Review
The Stories That Moved Us in 2016
Let’s Take a Look At What Happened
These pieces are predictable at the end of each year. Seems like every media outlet has some version of these retrospectives, these obits to the previous year.
I have always had challenges with goodbyes. Hence the title of my end of 2016 blog post – No Goodbyes. In my home we say, “See you soon.” It is a phrase of expectation, of something good to look forward to. “Goodbye” has such finality.
While I was on vacation, I focused on the simpliest things. I held those I love. I took longer dog walks. I read the inscriptions on the sidewalks. I looked skyward at night. I drank my coffee more slowly. I wore flip flops in the rain. I refused to say goodbye to 2016. I said hi to 2017 instead.
Uncomfortable to admit, but for as much introspection that I swim in, I hadn’t realized how very much I was in need of a break.
A much welcome break. Two weeks of vacation. On paper I am off duty, but in my head, not so much.
We are in San Francisco for Holiday Tea and an overnight stay. I always try to unplug. I tear at the cord. I wrap it around my hands and yank with as much strength as I can muster.
I was doing pretty well taking in the gingerbread house and the holiday wreaths. I stared at all the lights and stood by the enormous tree and smiled for too many photos. At bedtime, I whispered to my daughter as the others fell off to sleep in the other big bed. I was devising strategies to slow her mind down from all the excitement.
Then the sirens started. It was nearly midnight. We were 18 stories up. It was a beautiful clear, cold night. More sirens. I imagined the possible crimes below. The homeless man and woman who had been shot and killed the previous night. I imagined the overdoses. The purses torn from women’s shoulders as they left the theatre. The smashed car windows tourists would find when they returned from dinner. Then I worried for the officers, heading further into the darkness.
I close my eyes. I suck in the air and exhale as slowly as I can. I take in the sweetness of my daughter’s breathing. She is finally in deep slumber. I need that too. The sirens fade off. It has been much harder of late to unplug. Perhaps my yanking strength has dipped.
..But not hope to die. No more. Please no more. My Sergeant partner and I muttered to each other the other day that we didn’t know when and if we would ever get to take the mourning bands from our badges. He told me he was thinking of getting another, a secondary badge, with the black band permanently etched in it. Please no more.
I used to think that maybe the increase in media made it appear that every sex offender who kidnapped children lived in Florida. Or that there are lettuce or hummus or beef recalls every other day.
Maybe all the media made it seem like there were more officers getting killed in the line of duty. More executed. More gunned down as they approached scenes that they were called to help resolve. 137 to date in 2016.
You can’t make this stuff up. It is true. Bad things happen to good people everyday. Are we that different from so many others murdered everyday? Are we not involved in high risk behavior? Are we not the focus of others’ anger, disgust, distrust, damnation? Are we not “the man”, the government? Are we not judged by the worst amongst us?” I can hear the “But we…”now. Are we that special?
Lately, I have felt the angst. The bitterness and cynicism has spewed from me more than ever. I have looked into the eyes of the fallen online. It has been an angonizing time to say the very, very least. I have reached in deep and asked myself if I can be a better version of myself as a peace officer. What would they say if I were gone? If I fall too far, do I not cross to that darker side? Do I lose what makes me just a tiny bit special in my uniform?
Crumpled pages filled with half sentences, beginnings, ends and middles. I have nearly hit Post – Publish so very many times in the last month with pieces about mental illness. About Homelessness. About Addiction. I venture to post and publish my “place” in it. The Peace Officer place. The listening. The watching. The touching. The physical restraint. The fights. The necks lengthened and the feet dangling. Lifeless.
I pretend to know how I feel about it all. I spout my politics mixed with compassion. But I know I can never really “know.” Memories well up behind my eyes, tighten my throat and seize my muscles.
I fear that I will minimize the issues somehow or offend with the humor that comes with some of the interactions. Maybe it is me who is wounded.
In our old Hall of Justice that was demolished years ago, there was a small booking room. Once in awhile, a few of us at BPD have one of those “Remember the old building…” talks and that room often comes up. The space wasn’t very big and at the far wall was a freight elevator with a kinda orange colored caged door that pulled across it. We would often place an arrestee in the elevator while we completed paperwork. The elevator went up a floor and opened into the Hall Of Justice – City of Berkeley Police Department Jail.
My beat partner and I had brought in a guy with a No Bail felony warrant. When I spotted him on the street, I assumed he was just a drunk. As things go in peace officer work, don’t assume anything. Yes, he was really drunk but he was also wanted for stabbing somebody in another county.
The guy was Latino and had been telling me in a thick accent that he was Mexicano. “Yo soy Mexicano. Ok?!” He then broke into song. I could ink understand every third word. The ballads seemed sad, not just the tone of his voice, but the way in which he leaned his head against the elevator cage as he sang. Alcohol has that effect on some, I imagined.
I was standing up behind a wooden podium that we used as a desk. Suddenly, I felt it coming on. Intestinal pain, tightness, gas. The kind of gas that you fight to hold onto but… pfoopppp! I did it. I farted. Arrghhh. Of course, it was between Juan’s stanzas and the sound filled the room. He lifted his forehead off the cage and… glazed eyes full of surprise, he laughed. My beat partner didn’t flinch, but likely knew I was uncomfortable. I continued to write the summary about how I came to detain Juan.
“What is your first name? ,” Juan asks. “Mary,” I answer without looking up. “Ahhh. Maria. Mary…El pedo. Los pedos..For favor do not eat frijoles. Mary loves beans. She loves beans…” he begins to sing. He starts to belt the words, inserting them into various melodies at the top of his lungs. The other officer is trying not to laugh. I can see in his jaw that he is fighting it. My chin down, eyes on my pen I say, “Yes.”
“Yes, I do love beans. Refried. Black. Whole pintos. Next time, I will have a salad.”
…were made for everything.
I got up from my desk in the Patrol Sergeants’ office and walked towards a colleague’s desk. He was asking me to review a draft email and of course I would oblige.
My foot suddenly felt weird. He looked down and said, “Is that your boot?!!”
Awww crud. I knew it was a matter of time. I hoped these boots would last until I retired. A wave of sadness and disappointment overcame me. These boots have been with me for over 22 years. “Lady Rockys” that I bought for the police academy.
These boots have been through so much. The leather is weathered and worn, the toes easy to shine each day. They have been warmed by my body. They have held me up on many hot roadways and sidewalks. They have climbed through windows and over fences, stood on perimeters and searched yards overgrown with weeds and blackberry bushes.
I have walked in and out of so many lives… These boots have gingerly avoided bodies, blood, oil, shell casings and pieces of cars scattered across streets. I can run in these boots, uninhibited by their softness, their familiarity.
Now I was out of sorts. I have had many a conversation about uniforms and gear with my colleagues. Most echo similiar sentiments. Having your uniform “just so” – everything in its place – is so essential. I need to be comfortable for safety. Discomfort impacts my focus.
I pull the other pair of boots I bought years ago from the top of my locker. Dust reigns downs on me. They are stiff. Rigid. They are Rookies. Unpredictable. Annoying. I don’t trust them. The most these have endured is a training day at the outdoor range.
I put them on and head back upstairs. I wonder what we will do together today.
New Boots On Patrol
Back to the bunny.
I stopped short of the animal and took a better look. A bunny for sure. Yes, the nose was doing that rabbit thing. It appeared clean, docile, like someone’s pet.
The radio was silent, the shift had turned calm for the time being. I grab the car radio. “I will be 11-94 (pedestrian stop) on what appears to be a domesticated bunny. Code 4..” Periodic humor, a bit of irreverence (as long as it is well timed) is acceptable, I think.
But.. I hadn’t formulated a plan. There was me stopped in the roadway, bent over in front of my patrol car’s headlamps, looking at a bunny, the bunny looking at me.
It wasn’t long before two of my team members showed up. They too stopped their cars, but safely along the curb. Both walked slowly towards me.
“Sarge, what are you going to do?”, says the first. “Watch out, that thing may have fleas or something”, says the second. They stand side by side, neither moving closer. Now that I think of it, I must have been a sight. I was bent over, arms outstretched as if the bunny would hop over to me and into my arms.
“If only I had a box or something, I could put it in and take it to the shelter.” I was thinking out loud again. As soon as I wish for a box, a box comes into focus. Berkeleyans are notorious for putting household items in front of their homes with Free signs. Someone else’s trash… Awww, forget it. That is another post.
I dash over the sidewalk and dump a box of books into a pile. I run back to the trunk of the car to fetch a grocery sized paper bag, then back to someone’s pet.
With very little style or grace, I somehow scoop and slide the bunny into the box, but not before a ridiculous zig zag hop chase a half block or so. The officers are in the same spot. You think this is some spectator sport? I actually hadn’t asked them to help and I know they had my back.
When I get to the shelter, I place the floppy eared rescue into one of the night deposit boxes.
I was pleased when it hopped in, went straight to the water bottle to drink. Yup, some family is missing this animal companion. It is too comfortable in the crate.
The next day in briefing, a team member pops in a VHS tape and pushes play. Not before he says, “You always tell us nothing is Code 4…” It’s the killer rabbit scene from Monty Phython and the Holy Grail. The team is laughing. “Sarge, I mean, you know… Anything can happen out there. You said it yourself.”
They are listening. I laugh with them and at myself.
So I go off on tangents often. (Just get to the point, will ya? Shut Up, Mary. These are two of my favorite lines of late. Yes, I have been caught saying them out loud.) So, yes. I do go off on tangents often. I feel one coming on.
I had grand plans when I dumped out all of my writing about work. I am going to show a different type of courage. I will write a blog. Yeah, that’s it! Who’s lame brain idea was thaaat?!
I have settled on animal stories more than I had ever imagined. So much that I have jotted down about being a cop reveals way too much about my colleagues – lots of current ones – some past ones. I had made a commitment to myself not to expose them too much. Then there is me. Yup. As I read, I became worried about exposing too much of myself, my politics, my values — me. I am still working and supervising after all. So animals. I know sharing these moments make me vulnerable too, but I don’t really give a hoot. (Did I just write that?)
I can’t count the times that I have said something professionally, not to mention personally, that has come back to bite. Sometimes it’s a nibble, sometimes a chomp.
It was one of those dogwatch nights when I was a newer Sergeant. This night was strangely Q. (We tend to be superstitious not to say it is “qu–t” during any shift. Once uttered, you can count on all hell breaking out afterwards…)
I was cruising in my patrol car southbound on Sacramento Street in South Berkeley when I saw something ahead on the double yellow lines in the roadway. Roadkill, I thought. Hope it isn’t a cat or a small dog. I slowed down and saw the thing… hop. Hop?!
Yup, a rabbit. No, not a wild looking grey thing that had wandered to the urban landscape. It had long floppy ears and a seemingly docile, innocent looking face.
I had told my team often, “Nothing is Code 4…” Code 4 means essentially that “I got this.” No other assistance needed. I can handle this myself. Think you get the idea.
Too many incidents in policing, in humanity, in the urban spaces may start out being benign and Pow! Whack! Wham! (Hmmm that sounded like a comic book)