You Don’t Believe It

This is a wonderful, terrible letter.

When one decides to enter into this life, it isn’t without the thought that you might one day find yourself trembling as bagpipes play. In fact, if Trooper wasn’t as highly trained as he is, I’d have been more reticent. But there is a lot of comfort in the knowledge that “this ain’t [his] first rodeo”.

Still, so many troopers perish without anything more going wrong than they didn’t look back often enough at the oncoming traffic as they tried to also watch a car full of people. The mundane death is perhaps only slightly less horrific than that of violent action and reaction.

We had that fleeting touch a few years ago…his call, only a few minutes after he’d left me with a kiss that evening, held too much of that flat tone and simple syllables. Most important to me was that he was okay – bent, bruised, even ventilated was “okay” in my mind then. Breathing, present and staying that way was what I needed to know. A wreck, he had a hard time telling me that it was a fatality. I knew, in a moment, that it had been and felt my mind take that and tuck it aside for the moment. It was a surreal moment in which my brain worked like a computer – if this, then that. Simple toggles being flipped until the course of action necessary was calculated. Pure, cold logic.

Don’t come, he said. As if that was an option. Discarded, my brain demanded more. Where? When? He begged me to be careful driving, his voice cracking. The EMTs took him over and the conversation ended with the wail of sirens. I took time to look at a map, to understand where to go, I grabbed bottles of water and a coat – I didn’t know what to bring. And without another thought I left. I recall now that my usual poor night vision was sharp, that every turn was remembered. I drank a bottle of water, knowing that the adrenalin was going to make me feel like shit before long.

I had to pass the scene on the way – I took the shortest glance to just assess my access point – I had to get around it and didn’t want to announce to all there who I was in order to get by.

At the hospital – you know the kind: go there if you are dying then get the hell out as soon as you can – I pulled into the driveway for emergency vehicles, directed there by his friend with the EMT service. I wanted to park out of the way, even then trying to be considerate. I asked snipped questions. Is he okay? Was it a fatal? Can I see him now? I was all business and I think it might have stunned them. On the way in, the sea of uniforms surprised me. Curt nods to them as I passed, a kind of recognition and thanks. And the briefest smile and handshake with the woman who offered her card – for when he was ready to talk about it or if he needed help later.

It was a small room off to the side near the entrance and it was full of people. My eyes did a survey – small specs of blood as though cuts from shaving on his face – broken glass, of course, though I wasn’t sure at the time. He was doing okay – there was a bit of a deer in the headlights look to his face but he was processing. His good friend was there and spoke to me quietly as the medical personnel finished up with him. His wife was in the lobby so I took the time to go see her, knowing it was late and she deserved to know why they’d had to hustle into town.

She was very kind. I spoke quietly to her, my own quaking starting as my nerves began to feel again. I did not have time to cry, having shed only a few tears at the sight of him, and she made me feel too sensitive with her feminine kindness. Dear friends…

I marched back through the “No Access” doors to his room in time to see a rather uncomfortable encounter which I shall not detail here because there were lawsuits, of course, and that bit of business was so tasteless and crass that I will be too unkind in the retelling. I wanted him out of there – but there was a bit more to be done. A final touch of disgrace as they had someone come take blood to ensure he hadn’t been impaired. We knew it was just a formality but it was a bit too much of an echo of his duties…that crossing of the line. It was then I met a high ranking member of DPS who was there to give us comfort. He was so…solid. He exuded quiet competence and I was equally steadied and suspicious. It must be bad, I thought, if he is here. I think it was only then that my mind permitted that thought to enter – yes, it was bad. It would be bad for awhile.

The drive home was also strange – he wanted to drive out of habit and I barked out a laugh. I reminded him he had calls to make. I was hoping he’d reach his brother – who never answered his phone. I passed him the bottle of water which he gulped down. Smart, he said. Most people don’t think about that. Home, I think I had him shower before we spoke. And we talked a long time. But it was months before he told me everything…and years before it was all settled and he could safely see the lady whose card I was passed. Only then was he able to start letting it go. Only then was it safe to talk about it, and find a way to live without it in his mind every day.

It was a very close thing, you see. His vehicle took the blow in the front post passenger side. Just 2 inches – just 2 damn inches – and I’d have been telling a different story. So I have the barest sliver of idea of what this man is feeling as he tries to do his duty. To make words fit around a thing still too brittle and sharp.

This video ought to be played in every single leadership class and every recruiting drive. Never has a man given so much of himself so publicly…so much severe honesty…please, ride it through. I know it’s 20 minutes of your day. Get a cup of coffee, some Kleenex, and give it – give yourself – those minutes. You will learn lessons no matter what you do or who you are.

No, we never believe it will happen to us. You can’t and still do the job. But I try to never let him go without a kiss. Or in a bad mood. One more kiss might have prevented all the above, after all.

It is the one thought that I never let go – just one more kiss and it wouldn’t have happened. My own penance…

4 responses to “You Don’t Believe It

  1. It never ever gets easy. 12 wounded Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan 2004, over 200 wounded 12 KIA in 2005, Ramadi Iraq. 12 wounded Northern Iraq, 2009, 11 KIA Helmend 2010.
    During every one of my tours as a Marine, writing letters to parents telling them about their hero’s last actions is always tough.
    I’ve had parents tell me I was ling in denial as they couldn’t believe their son was gone. I’ve had Marines spat on at funerals out of parents grief.
    No one wants a Marine showing up in Dress Blues at their door steps and no policemans wife ever wants that call.

    Those that have to ask will never understand.

    God Bless you all for what you do! Semper Fidelis.

  2. Thanks, you guys…it was a tough story to remember and tell.

    Maj: I cannot even fathom that sort of burden. What we go through is truly a shadow of the duty of those serving. I know Trooper misses that comraderie…

    We thank you for what you do. Stay strong.

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