As I watched my husband leave the house for work that day, my eyes filled up the way they always do at the exchange of I love you’s and goodbyes with our kids. Yet for a moment I drifted to a calm place. We were four days away from his scheduled vacation, a break from his job as a city police officer. I could almost feel the sand on my feet and taste the delicious cocktails I knew we both needed.
Initially I didn’t panic when I received a call urging me to turn on the TV. I never watch the news, in fear of my kids seeing negativity directed toward their father’s job. It was not unusual for friends and family to reach out about police-involved ordeals, but I sent the kids upstairs and told them to ask Alexa to play their favorite songs, in case.
I turned the TV to Channel 6 and immediately saw two officers, one dripping blood from his arms, both in Narcotics Strike Force uniforms, sprinting down 15th Street. “Is that him?" I yelled.
Once I learned that an active shooter remained in the house after a warrant was served, I hit record and repeated the same 15 seconds of the news while trying to reach my husband. I paused the TV and the deafening sounds of my children’s cries took my breath away. This was the first time in 10 years that I failed at my job as a police officer’s wife.
I ran to the top of the stairs and could hear them sobbing and praying. I hadn’t realized they had been listening from the hallway. The words my 4-year-old spoke made my ears bleed: “Is Daddy dead?”
I rushed to comfort them, but I knew it was too late. I will never forgive myself for this mistake. Before this slip-up my children had envisioned a police officer as just a friendly community helper, whom you go to when you’re in trouble — an extraordinary person for wanting to make the world a better place. They could never have imagined that someone had different views or would try to hurt him.
I needed confirmation that he was OK, because whether or not his squad served the warrant, I knew exactly where he was. I know my husband. If someone out there was attempting to harm others, he was doing everything in his power to stop them.
For the sake of my children, I turned the TV off. Through phone calls I learned of six officers shot.
Imagine comparing a gunshot wound to a paper cut to downplay the danger of police shootings to your 4-, 7-, and 10-year-olds. I later wondered: Should I have been honest and mentioned how many officers have lost their lives on duty?
After three hours I finally heard from him. It turned out he had appeared on my TV screen, rising from his crouched cover position and running with the shot officer to safety. My kids and I were overcome with relief after hearing his voice. The disconcerting expressions on their faces are permanently etched in my mind. I knew they were terrified and at the same time proud to call him Dad. I also knew that their hearts bled blue for the first time as they truly understood the meaning of the thin blue line.
I sent them to bed early, after ice cream for dinner. They fell asleep quickly, maybe exhausted from the day’s trauma. I waited for another call from my husband assuring me he was out of harm’s way, at least for the night.
Weeks have passed since the police standoff, and much of the city has moved on. But the aftermath lingers in our home. Our children have difficulty processing the truths of the world we live in today. Honestly, so do I. Masking my terrified feelings about my husband’s job could never compare to quieting the fears of my children.
I can understand the uneasiness they now endure, because I’ve lived it. We continue to shelter them as much as possible, but that protective layer around their little minds and hearts has began to chip away. Now each day when my husband leaves for work my baby girl looks at me with saddened eyes. Her lips quiver as she mutters the same question: “Will Daddy be safe?” What would you tell her?
For now we do our best to reassure our children that what they witnessed won’t happen again. We promise that their nightmares will soon subside and apologize for their innocence being ripped away.
Oftentimes we hear them say, “I hate Daddy’s job.” Although it’s difficult to disagree, we remind them of the importance of his career. We ask that they support him even when it seems no one else will. When our son offers to do without, so that Daddy doesn’t have to work, we assure him that money is not the incentive in this line of work.
Our children vow to always have their father’s back. They have committed to this unpredictable life even though their hearts are broken. Aware that this might not be the last time their Daddy’s life is in danger, they are still hopeful someday that could change.