Preface: I met Alex our first year of teaching high school. We were both interns. We dug deep, stuck together, and held on for the CRAZY, rigorous, exciting, and exhausting year of being a first year teacher. Not to mention, she did this while being a mother, expecting another. Alex is and always will be my ‘Super-Woman’ friend. She takes on the working mother role like a champion and does it all with a smile on her face and the energy of an ARMY. She is a loyal friend, an incredible teacher, and a loving mother/wife. Behind every man or woman who risks their lives in a career, is another man, woman, or family who prays and pleads for them to come home each night. At a time of serious divide in our country, Alex adds a unique perspective to the mix—the wife of a cop–a cop that was involved in a socially attacked, controversial case. Here is her story:
It was the summer of 2008 when I met the handsome hunk I get to call mine forever. He claims we’d actually been introduced months before…. I can’t recall it to save my life. I can’t imagine he’s telling the truth as when we did meet (per MY recollection) and start getting serious I was completely and unashamedly enamored with everything about this cute California boy; you know, that fun exciting honeymoon stage? Handsome, tanned Cali boy was in school just like me and was studying to be a fireman paramedic. Right?! S-E-X-Y. A man in uniform saving lives. What more could I want? I demanded he wed me, and somehow he caved to my demands! January 2009 we were married.
Fast forward a year or so in to our marriage… I don’t remember when the switch happened or even why it did to be completely honest but Mr. Hunky Fireman decided he didn’t actually want to continue school to be a fireman. I had finally figured out what my passion was and knew how happy it was going to make me doing exactly what I loved day in and day out, so I don’t remember being too disappointed at his switch in professional hopes and dreams. I only actually remember one inkling of an emotion that I quickly tried to push out of my mind because it made me so embarrassed I’d even felt it. The emotion was annoyance. You see, Mr. Cali Boy’s new choice in profession was the exact same as a boy I had dated and nearly married before him. Ironically Mr. Cali Boy and Ex had the exact same name as well (silly stupid coincidence)… As silly as it sounds, for some reason it made me feel like they were similar and I had found near the end of Ex and I’s our relationship that we weren’t great together and he was not quite what I had always dreamed of in terms of Husband for Time and All Eternity. Cali boy, however, was. For a split second I felt annoyance like maybe they WERE similar. Silly, really. I only mention this because emotions I DIDN’T feel were fear, dread, or panic. When many women’s significant others today tell them of their dreams for this profession those are very common and ready emotions. Mr. Fireman now had decided he wanted to be a Police Officer. I quickly got over my petty annoyed emotions and we jumped right in to getting him through the necessary training’s. November 2013 he graduated happy as can be, just as I had hoped would be the case when he decided to switch.
Life as a Law Enforcement Wife for the first 10 months were very naive for me. In fact, if Rachel (HIHP creator) had asked me within those months to do this post my story would be VERY different. When asked what it was like to be a Police Officer’s wife I mostly joked about the feelings of being a single working mother (still very valid today ;-D). The hours are rough, holidays are often times spent alone with kids, and of course there were always those little ‘what-ifs’ in the back of your mind. Truthfully though I knew many other professions had those exact same feelings and “trials” to go with them. I never felt any different than your average run of the mill American family. Husband’s first law enforcement post was at the local prison. It intrigued and saddened me to hear stories of men and women there, especially as Husband’s post was the “Max” unit where inmates who were in for life were sent. Their stories were those many of us hear on the news or read in horror/crime stories but quite frankly don’t identify closely with or feel any sort of reality towards. We seem to do that well as a society, disconnect ourselves from situations or conversations that make us uncomfortable, sad, fearful, etc. Maybe to protect ourselves? I don’t know. Anyway.
July 2014 brought a new adventure and excitement for Husband. He was offered a position at a local department to finally get out on the road. This is what he’d hoped for from the beginning of deciding he wanted to be an Officer. Still, my feelings and experiences as an officers wife were pretty naive. Now I selfishly feared he might be, or be perceived as, that jerk officer that doesn’t let anyone slide with a warning and people hate. I worried about peoples perceptions of this man I knew to be so kind and easy going. If I only knew how silly this was at this point.
September 2014 Husband had just gotten off FTO, which is the period of time they ride with a trainer before they are on their own. He felt confident in his FTO trainers and what he’d learned throughout his various training’s to get to this point. It was fun as his wife to watch him go to work each day excited to be doing something he loved. Despite what many perceive of officers many DON’T love pulling you over as they DO have many other pressing things to do. I loved hearing stories of how he handled situations and his hope that he’d made peoples lives better that he’d associated with that day, even those he’d pulled over for traffic offenses. It wasn’t very many in to being on his own (without his FTO) that I received a call no Police Wife wants to hear; a call, like I’ve mentioned above, I had naively assumed I would never get. Not here, not in small town, UT, USA.
I remember vividly that morning. I was currently a part-time teacher at a local high school. This day happened to fall on my “off” day that I didn’t work. I had lazily gotten up with the kids, fed them, and then sat on social media for a bit as I tried to convince myself to start being productive with all the things I’d planned for the day – one being the house that had completely gotten away from us with our 3 crazies under 3 and two working parents. After about an hour of wasting time on my phone (convincing myself the whole time I was just motivating myself to get moving) I decided I knew the only thing that really got me going was to get out and exercise. I had just gotten ready my 3 yr old, 2 yr old, and 2/12 month old to be out in the jogging stroller so I could do a quick run, not quite a particularly easy task as you can imagine, when I got the call. “Honey” was ringing through on my phone just as I was about to open the door and lug the stroller outside. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a talker AND a stressor. Husband knew this as well so I think he must’ve strategized BEFORE the call that he was going to get out what he had to say in one breath in hopes I didn’t freak out and start in with the questioning. I had barely answered, “Hey” when I heard, “Hey…. Um, I needed to call you and let you know this right now because it’s about to be all over the news and I wanted you to hear it from me before anyone else AND just remember I’M OK. OK??” Before I could even respond (refer back to what I deemed husband’s strategy for the call) he immediately started again. “I was in an officer involved shooting with **Burt (name changed) and am now being escorted to the station with investigators from an outside agency. I’ll call you when I know more of what’s supposed to happen. DON’T freak out.”
I don’t recall if it was shock, or what someone might call it, but I don’t remember answering much – whether that was because he didn’t let me or I just didn’t know what to say, the call ended quickly after. It’s funny what a stressful situation does to us as humans. I don’t know that anyone reacts exactly the same, but thinking back to my response, I’m surprised at my reactions. I loaded the kids up, tears stinging my eyes (I HATE crying in front of people) as I furiously wiped them away, and started running like I’d planned. I wish I could accurately describe what that minute of conversation did to me in words. It was that moment that I felt someone had taken my world and dumped us on our heads. Nothing was as I knew it all of a sudden. Everything I felt to be safe and all I knew seemed to have changed; in an instant. Questions swarmed my mind as I ran to a close park I knew of. A shooting?! What in the world had led to that sort of situation?! How?! We live in safe, small town, UT, USA. It’s got to be a joke. That doesn’t happen here. Was someone hurt?! Husband had clarified adamantly he was safe as was **Burt. I tried to keep running but soon realized my lungs could barely sustain me as my attempt to NOT cry hadn’t gone well. My body was wracked with fear and it was expressing it through sobs that robbed me of much needed air to run effectively. I had to stop and walk if we were going to make it to the park.
I immediately called my mom for comfort. Just hearing her voice made me cry more yet calmed me in a way only Mom’s can do. She asked many of the questions that had been swirling in my own head, and that I couldn’t answer as I was still very much in the dark, but one that I hadn’t even thought of in my shocked state. Had I checked the news? We hung up as I arrived to the park and I started scouring my phone for local news websites. It was here that I got my first taste of what my life would soon be with media so interested in my husband’s life. Not one site had a similar story of supposed “Breaking News” that was happening now, but all were quick to throw out what was thought to have happened. It felt so wrong, damaging, and unfair that they could report this as news without any substantial information. It was also hear that I made my first mistake as a naive Police Wife… I read some of the comments from the public on these news sites. Already my sweet, kind, loving husband and his partner had become villains yet not even I, his wife, still had any idea the true story of what had happened. One consistent fact I did find, however, was that the shooting had been fatal. The man my husband and his partner had shot was dead. I was sick. What if that had been Husband instead? Who was this man’s family that would surely be told soon, if not already, that he was no longer on this earth with them? I felt so confused with conflicting and terrifying emotions shattering my naive world. I was SO sad for them, but so protective of Husband as well. He would NEVER do something like that if he felt he didn’t need to. What had happened?! The rest of the day was quite a blur.
Husband called again and asked if I could bring him clothes as per protocol everything on him had to be turned in for evidence. I was allowed to go in with him and sit for a minute when I dropped those clothes to him. Eventually, we both ended up at home. Per protocol he had been questioned most of the day on his story and then was advised to talk to me and ONLY me. In court a wife is not allowed to testify against her husband. Being through such a traumatic event they knew he’d need to talk to someone about it and they advised him that he should do so. The people he was allowed to tell the story to were the investigator, me – if he chose to, and a church official if he’d like as well. Otherwise it was going to be a long road of silence as to not taint any part of the investigation.
At first I simply got the basics. The facts of what had happened. In an instant, one day, our marriage dynamic quickly changed. I wanted so desperately to be there for him and plead with him to open up further, tell me not just WHAT had happened but how he FELT. I was terrified about how this had affected him and his inability now to open up to me. Husband had never been big on the sharing of feelings anyway but I felt like we had now become strangers. I didn’t know how to help him; how to comfort him. How could I understand what this felt like? Meanwhile I tried to keep a strong front for him thinking this is what he needed. I hid my new found fears, panicking and breaking down only when I felt he wouldn’t see. The next few months we’re some I don’t know that I could ever adequately express the feelings being felt.
To shed some light onto the situation a few facts have to be told. Husbands shooting was right around the time our nation had erupted in a divide over another Officer shooting – that of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri. The man fatally shot in Husband’s shooting was also a different race than that of Husband and his partner. As you can imagine social media and even local news media had a hay-day with these facts alone, regardless of their lack of any substantial facts otherwise with the situation. Still at this point a mere 5ish people knew the whole story and facts front to back: Husband, his partner that day, me, partner’s wife, and those from the outside agency investigating. To preserve the integrity of the investigation not many facts were released to the general public at that time. That didn’t stop, however, everyone wanting to discuss it and speculate what had to have happened and what vile men these two officers must be. Within days of the shooting, Husband had received death threats from national terrorist organizations. Within months a picture of our home had been posted on Twitter. As I mentioned earlier, I felt our world had been turned upside down and there was no way to go back to our old “normal”. My new life as a Police Wife was terrifying, debilitating even. I was scared of everything and I was angry. So angry. How was the world going on in their every day life when our world had been turned upside down? I wanted so badly for all these people to see the man I still saw that chose a profession to make a difference. A man who is kind and gentle. A man who has a knack for being a friend to people of all different walks of life. I wanted desperately for people to know the whole story and see that Husband and his partner had ONLY done what they both felt necessary to protect others and each other as they had sworn to do. I wanted the world to see the man I saw when he FINALLY opened up and broke down to me saying one sentence I will never forget as tears streamed down his face, “a man is dead because of a choice I had to make. Do you think that feels good??” Together, which is the ONLY way we could’ve made it through this time, we soon realized we had both stupidly chosen to shield the other from feelings we were facing because we thought we were protecting each other. We had to re-learn to communicate and be open with feelings and fears that we were experiencing.
It’s now been a little over 2 years since this experience for us. Husband was cleared of any criminal charges in the shooting, meaning it was found that neither officer acted criminally or in any way they shouldn’t have. I wish I could say it ended there. Because of perceptions from the family of the man who lost his life there has been a civil suit ongoing and is still being fought. I don’t get a single call from Husband while he’s working anymore that doesn’t send a small panic through me that this might just be another one of “those” calls. Life as naive Police Wife is a thing of the past. Life as changed Police Wife, however, is not.
I’ve heard it said that “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” I am no where near perfect but I know that past two years have changed me and I hope improved me. I have watched my sweet Hunky Cali Husband change and improve in to a man I love more than I thought possible when he was that sweet young Hunky Cali Husband who wanted to be a fireman. Together we have learned and grown more in love than two silly college students in 2008 could have ever imagined. As a teacher, learning is my passion, and individually I have learned more in the past two years than I could account for on paper. I learned I have a gift for compassion, something I had always felt to be a weakness. Throughout the two years and various bouts of anger felt at the situation I have always felt very deeply for the mother of the man killed. I wish it were appropriate now, but have been told timing is just not yet right, but some day I hope to tell her how much I love her and am sorry for the whole situation. So sorry that it had to turn out the way it did. As hard as the past 2 years have been on our family, I can’t imagine the heartache they have been through. I have learned that I am strong. I don’t account for my strengths well so each of these is very hard for me to type out, but I have learned that I can do hard things and I can be strong.
The fear and the panic that come with the daily life of being a Police Wife only go away, or diminish, if I choose to focus differently. So I choose to have faith. Faith in a loving Heavenly Father who has a plan for me. Faith in a Husband who has been trained well and will always do his best to serve and protect those he comes in contact with as he has sworn to do, as well as come home to those he loves. Faith in myself that I can do hard things as they come my way, and in the process become a better me each day. I’ve learned that I am loved and people are GOOD; so good. Throughout the past two years the genuine support and love we’ve had has risen well above the frustrations and hurt we’ve felt from that of ill informed social media commenters. And lastly, I’ve learned to never judge a book by it’s cover, or more importantly a situation by one side or very limited information. Each side has a human being involved that deserves to be loved. They have a story they passionately believe in. If we were to seek more to understand of each other’s “worlds,” or stories, and love rather than trying to be the “right” party/side I think we would find there is much to love about everyone we come in contact with.
*Photos by: McKell Merkley of Snapdragon Image