I saw the news break late last night before heading to bed. A shooting reported at a bar in California. I initially thought, “Maybe it’s not a shooting, just gunfire in the area and no one was hurt?” Wishful thinking, but why not? I try to be optimistic.
This thought immediately caused a flashback to July 7th, 2016. A day I can’t seem to escape, despite having not worn that Dallas Police uniform going on 11 months now. The evening the shooting took place – resulting in the death of five police officers – I received a text from my Mom, “Shots fired at the protest.” My response was dismissive and annoyed. Once again, I thought, “shots fired” doesn’t mean anyone got hurt, hopefully it’s just someone being ignorant shooting into the air, trying to be a pain in the ass. Sadly, I was wrong, very wrong.
Despite the fact these events seem to occur much too frequently, it doesn’t make them any easier to accept. I stayed up a little later and watched some more television and eventually went to bed. No matter how much I told myself I’d get some “good sleep” and that I was “tired”, I knew it’d be a crappy night of sleep. All because of a simple “breaking news alert” with little to no information about what transpired. I didn’t know the number of people shot, dead, or if anyone was even shot or dead.
Two hours later, after tossing and turning, battling visions of red and blue lights flickering in my head as if I was at the scene of the shooting when I closed my eyes, I did what anyone does that can’t sleep, I picked up my phone. There it was, confirmation of more disgusting and unthinkable evil in the world. I don’t remember the headline exactly, I just saw the words “dead” and “officer”. I knew more innocent people had been killed and apparently a police officer was among them. What a joke.
I put my phone down in disgust. I’m thousands of miles away, my phone didn’t ring, no bad news came my way personally, yet here I am, struggling. I haven’t worn a bulletproof vest in months, haven’t seen a dead body in years, yet I lie there awake, frustrated, bothered, sad, angry. I think about the victims, who did nothing wrong but go out to have fun with friends. I think about the police officers, firemen, and EMS who ran toward the scene and the horror they were confronted with once they arrived. I think about how they will never be the same and those who survived will also be forever changed.
I don’t know why I still carry this burden, as if I wish I could have been there to help. I’m angry it happened, despite not knowing anyone involved. Maybe that’s just who I am, or more accurately who I was. No matter what happens, especially the bad in the world, I always feel like I should have been there. I should have helped, maybe prevented it, saved a life, something, anything. Not because I want a medal or an award, nothing like that, those are meaningless, but because that was just my mentality for just over 12 years. When bad things happened, I am who you called. It was up to me to help you. Stop the evil, or even better, prevent it.
Each and every time I hear about incidents like what transpired on July 7th, 2016 or November 7th, 2018 at the bar in California, I feel like I’ve let society down. I didn’t do enough. I wish I could have been the officer who out of sheer luck, made a traffic stop as the shooter was on his way to the bar to carry out his evil plot and stopped it all from happening. Wishful thinking and almost silly to think I could be that “good” but I’m just being honest. When these things happen, it pisses me off to my core. It’s just in my DNA I suppose.
Before I was married, I’d be angry that the officer that gave his life was a 29 year veteran police officer and was married. It’s been reported he called his wife to tell her he loved her before rushing into that bar and giving his life in attempt to save others. Why couldn’t it be me instead I’d ask myself. I don’t have a wife. I don’t have kids. It should have been me.
I don’t know why these thoughts rush into my conscience. I don’t ask them to, I certainly don’t want them there. In the end, I know I’m powerless and just have to accept the fact that another tragedy happened and it is over. Just like on July 7th, 2016, I survived, some of my friends didn’t, I have to learn to live with that reality.
Honestly, I should consider myself lucky. Unlike the hundreds of officers who responded to that scene last night, I’ve never done that. I haven’t had to run into complete chaos with dead people everywhere, injured kids crying for help. Maybe that adds to my guilt? Yet another psychological bullet I dodged and my brothers and sister in blue have to absorb.
In the end, I know this, this burden is real. You can’t escape it, you can’t ignore it, and you can’t just make it go away.
It may never go away and I only carried it for 12 years. I can’t imagine 30.
I will forever support those who run toward danger and the burden I know they carry.
Thank an officer today, trust me, they need it.
The Officer Next Door