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Every 53 hours, says the statistic. Every 53 hours a life is cut short, a family is torn apart and brothers and sisters behind the badge mourn one of their own. Every 53 hours an officer is killed in the line of duty.
I understood this statistic going in. I accepted the responsibility to wait calmly and patiently when incidents kept him late, to graciously understand weekends being stolen, and to give twice the hugs and “I love yous” on holidays while smiling and explaining, “He’s so sorry he couldn’t be here.” I was ready to be a law enforcement wife.
It’s not that that’s changed; I am still ready to be a law enforcement wife. What I am not ready to be is a law enforcement widow. It sounds trite. No one is ready to lose their partner. It’s just that 53 hours has gotten awfully short in the last few weeks. Officers are being gunned down in the streets and in their homes. They’re being ambushed, not as a part of a pursuit or investigation, but simply by virtue of the uniform they wear. Now that I am mere days away from being married, these stories shift the fear from bad weather and melted buttercream to the paralyzing fear of losing the love of my life.
I have to say, the title Law Enforcement Wife gives me a certain amount of pride. I am proud of my soon-to-be husband because I know he’s a good cop. He is smart and aware. He is compassionate and deliberate in his actions. He is a go-to for assistance, for instruction, for advice and for action and he never forgets the duty he has to every person with whom he comes into contact. He is unendingly considerate to me. A good cop starts his or her texts with “I’m ok … ” before explaining why they’re going to be late. When you love a law enforcement officer, the text or call that says “I’m coming home” is second only to the moment they darken the doorway on the list of things that keep you sane. I’m proud because I know I bear a different role on occasion. When my husband comes home to me and I ask how his day was, I don’t know what horror waits on the other side of that question. I don’t know what he omits for my peace’s sake.
The title makes me proud because it implies something about me, too. There is a patience and understanding that’s a little different from the typical virtues a loving partner provides. When he goes to work, many of the people with whom he comes into contact wish him ill. The fact is, many of the people with whom he comes into contact wish me ill. Most of the time they’re merely blind threats, but the phrase, “When I get out of here, I’m going to kill your whole family,” is a go-to assault on officers.
That’s a stress on his day most professions don’t experience. Part of my job – and do believe it’s a job – is to mitigate that stress. I have to respect the fact that his protective instincts are a little more specific than most. My fierce streak of independence and self-sufficiency has to take a back seat if he throws his arm in front of me and tells me to get back before we round a corner. I can’t call it paranoia when he explains tactical plans to thwart a potential intruder (and has me rehearse them). I know to remain calm, look straight ahead and be prepared to leave an unfinished drink or meal when he spots a former inmate who might cause trouble. I’m not submitting out of weakness or being “less than;” I am respecting his knowledge and training and trusting that he only wants to keep me safe.
During the first week in September, several social media pages encouraged readers to wear blue and post pictures tagged #backtheblue. Hashtag activism isn’t my favorite means of support, but I saw an opportunity to use my position to offer some perspective. That post opened up a conversation that had only been implied between the two of us. I saw both love for me and disappointment in himself as I explained that sometimes I’m just so scared.
Now the line I walk is a fine one between letting him know I care and adding to his worry with mine. Where once I was happy to have my man in blue make a pit stop after work, there’s now trepidation that the three stripes on his shoulder and badge on his chest leave him a marked target. Statistics show that 2015 is actually on pace to be one of the least deadly years for law enforcement on record, but so much has happened in such a short time. We’re all aware of it, so rather than further grinding the issue into his brain, I try to be a steady source of love and support. There are moments in my day where I am brought to tears by thoughts, images and words. Most days I can dry the tears before he gets home. I always try.
Many would think that there’s a problem sharing emotions in our relationship. Quite the contrary. It’s simply that my burdens will always be his, and likewise, his are mine. Yes, the weight can be heavy, but that’s why there are two of us. Rather than live in fear, we carry on by acting in love and remember that – sometimes – it’s all right to pocket the words related to emotion and settle for a long hug.