Around the time the chain department stores start advertising Christmas decorations and presents; the tension in my house begins to mount. As the weather gets colder and the songs get more festive, a sense of dread fills the air. There are sleepless nights, nightmares, and the sound of pacing bare feet on hardwood floors late into the night. Tempers flare and emotions run hot. There is no Christmas tree until the very last second and even then it is merely tolerated for the sake of others.
Let me explain.
My dad was a police officer in an urban city for 25 years. He was on gang, human trafficking and drug trafficking task forces with the entire alphabet soup of federal agencies many times over. He’s saved lives. He’s been in shoot outs. He’s been shot. He’s been stabbed. He’s been run over. He’s pulled people out of burning buildings with little to no protective gear and sustained 3rd burns on 25% of his body. He’s risked his life to save children from shootouts and domestic violence incidents. He’s done CPR on babies, children, elderly people and everyone else in between. He has stood up for prostitutes and sex workers when no one else would at the risk of his own career and reputation. He has had friends and strangers alike die in his arms. He has given the hat off his head and the shirt off his back many times over to people who didn’t have anything else. He has solved murders, rapes and robberies.
A lot of these things happened between Thanksgiving and Valentines Day. That’s the ‘busy season’. Tune into the news. Abductions, Murders, suicides, robberies, rapes, domestic violence, drug overdoses abound this time of the year and the police have to respond to each call. Even stretched out over 25 years that’s a lot of trauma to process. Each time he responded to one of those calls it might be his last. There might be a shootout, or a fight; serious injuries were bound to happen. Throw in inadequate mental health care in general but especially for men and even more so for men (and women) that are first responders (not just police officers- Firefighters and EMTs too).
He’ll never admit it but I see the look in his eyes. I see how he instinctively steels himself against this holiday seasons horrors even though he has not worn a badge in almost 21 years. I see the blazing look in his blue eyes that say it only happened yesterday.
In a rare moment of vulnerability he told me about how he was assigned to the gang unit task force in the late 80s- early 90s with multiple federal agencies and police departments represented in the Tri-State area. They went up to a city (in a different state than the one he is from) to conduct a raid. The site was an average middle class suburban neighborhood with unassuming minivans in the driveway and white picket fences in surrounding the backyards. Dozens of law enforcement officials and federal agents swarm the area, clad in helmets and SWAT gear they prepared to barge into a raised ranch, warrant in hand. But, they were spotted and the occupants of the house opened fire. My dad and the other law enforcement officials were forced to take cover behind their cars. They returned fire. All of a sudden a neighboring side door swung open. A three year old boy, disorientated by the noise, ran out of the door and directly into a hail of bullets. They tore his abdomen apart and he fell whimpering in pain and fear. My dad struggled with this sight for a little while and finally his emotions won out. He broke cover and ran out into the firestorm to retrieve the boy. Once he picked him he ran back behind the armored cars. He began putting pressure on the wounds but there were too many, he could tell that the boy was bleeding out too fast to be saved. The boy was scared and crying, so my dad decided to take the pressure off the wounds and pick up the dying boy. He cradled him close and hugged him so that the boy’s last experience on Earth would be of kindness and comfort. That boy died in his arms. He then had to pick his gun back up and continue the firefight.
He wouldn’t allow himself to process that event until many many years later. I am almost positive that every December he is transported back to that suburban minivan lined street from 30 years ago. What I don’t know is how many more people like that boy come to visit my dad every year. Its no wonder he has a hard time looking forward to the Holiday season.
Every year when I can see the pain grow in his eyes I try to be a little more understanding, a little more gentle, and a little kinder to not just him but to everyone that may be fighting a battle I know nothing about.)