Through out my marriage to a law enforcement officer, the one thing I heard most was,
What's it like to be married to a cop? It must be so exciting.
A close second was,
Aren't you worried about him?
Although definitely exciting, I'm not sure I would use that word most of the time. Others pop into my head more prevalently and not all of them are fit for print. In light of the second question, when I look back on the incidents that made me worry most of the situations didn't include imminent death. Body fluid warning slips, beautiful new partners and mental health issues come to mind more readily. One thing I have learned is those not married to officers like to hear the stories from those who are and those that are like to hear the stories to commiserate. Here are a few of the good, the bad and the ugly from my marriage.
Pinning on his Badge
I was finishing my tour in the U.S. Navy when my husband went through the police academy, so I missed a lot of the long nights studying and shear physical weariness that marked the beginning of his law enforcement career. On graduation day, I drove out from San Diego to participate. I was so excited for him. This was a new path and he glowed standing there in his crisp uniform waiting for the ceremony to begin. Tears filled my eyes when they called his name; he walked proudly across the stage and accepted the badge of a police officer. After the ceremony, families gathered while loved ones - fathers, mothers and significant others pinned shiny gold badges on for the first time. My hands trembled as I tried to maneuver the pin through the holes in the front of his shirt. It didn't help that I chose to have ridiculously long fake nails put on for the occasion. I eventually got the badge on and this was the beginning of our law enforcement trip.
My Husband's Beautiful Partner
Although it seems this would not fall under the good category, years of reflection allows me to put it here. Our baby was only a few weeks old and I was severely sleep deprived. My husband worked midnights. Our son spit up on me and I was too tired to clean it very well. Still in my pajamas (I think I'd been in them for several days), I was startled when the door opened at 9pm. My husband walked in followed by one of the most beautiful officers I'd ever seen. She was fit and toned, her uniform was immaculate and her long dark hair gleamed. "This is Julie, my new partner," my husband told me as I stood there holding the baby and our 5 year-old son clutching my leg. In my current emotional state, I just looked at her, mumbled something incoherent and flopped back down on the couch. Now, I look at the situation and know she was a wonderful partner for him. Through the hours of talking, she gave him a unique perspective not only on the job but also on how to deal with a hormone-ridden, sleep deprived woman.
Marc Atkinson's Death
Being married to a police officer is complicated. Being married to a police officer and also working for the same department adds an even more interesting dimension. I had only been on the department for a few months working in 911 / dispatch when Officer Marc Atkinson was shot and killed sitting in his patrol car. From the moment the first call came in to my headset to just after the funeral, I was numb. I couldn't find an explanation or meaning in his death and I was terrified for my husband. If people chose to just shoot officers at random, what makes mine safe? I couldn't bring myself to go to the funeral because I couldn't cope with my own insecurities and emotions. I do regret not being there to support my husband when he attended. I've since been to several police funerals and they still leave an indescribable feeling inside me each time.
My Husband's Ambush
After Officer Atkinson's death, several nasty factions within the city decided they would wage war on the police department. They threatened to ambush any officer they saw and claimed there would be more deaths. One evening, I was working 911 and I got a computer message from a friend working in dispatch. "You need to come over here," it said. I got up and crossed into the radio room. I read her screen as she typed what the officers were saying. She was working my husband's precinct and it didn't take long for me to get that sick feeling. He and his partner (not the beautiful Julie) had been lead around a neighborhood several times by a car and on their last pass a man stepped out from behind another parked car and shot at them. After the incident, we found out the guy in the mobile car had called the shooter and told him to come out and kill the officers. To make matters worse, our radio system crashed while this was happening. I sat in that chair next to my friend listening to the silence knowing my husband was out there with a target on him and there was nothing that any of us could do about it. Thankfully, no one was hurt. He came home safely and a few days later we received a bouquet of cookie flowers from the local police association. It was a nice gesture and my son loved them. I'm pretty sure only police officers and their families receive goodies basically stating, "We're glad you're not dead."
My husband had been on the department for about four years when an incident occurred that made me question his sanity. One night about 2 in the morning, I was jolted awake by my husband's sudden movement beside me in bed. I grabbed my glasses and watched in amazement as he jumped from bed and grabbed his gun, all while in a weird crouched rolling position. It's hard to describe but was something you might see in a cop movie. When he came out of the tuck and roll, he was positioned in the doorway of our bedroom gun pointed out the door. It was at that point I heard the noise. The battery in our fire alarm was going dead and would emit a loud beep every few minutes. When my husband realized what it was, he stood up, holstered the gun and climbed back into bed. I guess you can say I'm glad he has such good reaction time straight out of sleep, but I also wonder...
Body Fluid Warning
One day, I was cleaning our bedroom attempting to make sense of all the random papers strewn about on top of the dresser. I truly believe my husband would come home from shift, take everything out of his pockets (and there were a lot of pockets in those BDU pants) and dump it on the dresser. So, I'm sorting through the mess and I pick up a yellow (I think it was yellow. It might have been pink) carbon copy. First thing, the title catches my eye, "Body-Fluid Exposure." Ewww, body fluids! Reading further, I got a vivid description of how my husband had come into contact with this other gentleman's blood and now needed to be aware of the risks inherent in that. Just gross. I suppose it was a good thing for me to know as well since I had washed the uniform he wore that night. I can't imagine most spouses of non-law enforcement people have to think about things like that.
Being married to a law enforcement officer has unique qualities. Sometimes it's good. Sometimes it's bad. Many times it's ugly. Regardless, it's always a journey... and it makes for great stories.