By the time this column posts, the ten year anniversary of September 11th will have passed. The nation, as well as, its law enforcement community will have spent time reflecting on what we were doing a decade ago on the day the American landscape and the American consciousness changed. Many conversations will have begun with, “I remember I was…” For my story, I remember I was just coming into the house from running when my officer husband called me upstairs to the television set. I watched in horror, sweat still running down my brow, as the second plane hit the second tower. My husband and I arranged care for our kindergarten son because we thought we would be recalled and begin a grueling schedule to handle the chaos. We called friends and arranged to have supplies and weapons brought to the house for protection. We were a nation at war and as an officer and a dispatcher, we were ready for duty; we were prepared to serve and protect our nation as first responders. In the last decade, this ideology of law enforcement being homeland security was one of the biggest changes I saw in my career. On the home front, this tragedy made me relook at myself and my relationship.
The First Defenders
Many of my friends and loved ones, including my husband are former military. Once we heard the tragedy was caused by a foreign enemy, many tried to re-enlist. So many of us wanted to do something—anything. I know I personally felt helpless that day and for many days afterwards as my life just continued marching on relatively unchanged by the events of that day. The images played over and over on my television and in my mind, but I went about my daily business, going to work (although we were on heightened alert), dropping off and picking up my son at school, exercising and going to the grocery store. Little had changed. The only thing very different was the sense of foreboding, anxiety and sorrow that sat on my chest. This had not existed on September 10th. Law enforcement officers often have personalities that are take charge and get the job done. I feel many, as was reflected in my own husband’s feelings and behaviors, felt inadequate just continuing to do what they had always done while on duty. He would go into work, spend his time patrolling and running from call to call and feeling he was not doing anything. When the nation went to war on September 14th, my husband and many other former military members in law enforcement saw this as an opportunity to go and fight. In enlisting, they could go over sees and seek revenge on the enemy that had taken the lives of so many brothers and sisters in blue and in red. They needed action to help heal the hurt. Most were dumbfounded when told no. They were not going to be able to reenlist. They were law enforcement officers and because of that they were needed at home keeping the streets of their community safe. After all, the terrorists had struck on American soil this time. First responders across the nation were no longer looked at as just keepers of community law and order. They were now domestic peacekeepers. They were the original homeland security. In the last decade, with the emergence of Homeland Security, law enforcement agencies have adjusted their awareness and their training evolving the image and the ideology of our police officers. We are now domestic warriors.
Rededicating Myself to my Marriage
As the role of law enforcement was changing, I was also attempting to reevaluate my marriage. In the past few years we had grown increasingly distant from each other. I had been dispatching for just over three years and the newly added stress in my life was apparent in our relationship. We found very little time for each other and when we did we usually just talked about the events of work or the details of domestic life. We had stopped adoring each other and were just living in the same household. It felt like we were just ships passing in the night. We didn’t take the time to love each other and it was showing as cracks began to form in our marriage.
The events of September 11th and the immense loss of life made me reflect on how fleeting life was and how dangerous law enforcement could be. During my time on the department and being married to an officer, we had lost officers to violence and automobile crashes. On numerous occasions, I had sorrowfully watched the missing man formations in the sky and listened to the sorrowful wail of the bagpipes. As I sat, watching the horror days after the event, images of grieving family members, crushed fire engines, ash covered police cars and officers and department photos permeated my life. As my husband put on his uniform and walked out our front door each afternoon, I kept replaying those images over and over. I started asking myself, If I never see him again, what do I want left unsaid or undone? I asked, Did I show him that I loved him or better yet, did I show him? Have I left resentments unresolved because I don’t want to take the time to deal with it? What have I done to make his stress less? Have I asked him how he’s holding up and what can I do to help him deal with this tragedy? How can we get through this together?
During the next few months, the love and community of the American people became apparent. We banded together to help and support each other. I wondered to myself how I could incorporate this into my own home. I couldn’t really do anything to ease the pain of the recent widows, widowers and children thousands of miles away. What I could do was hold tightly to my officer who I was lucky to have come home to me each night.
As a public safety communications operator and as an officer’s wife, the events of September 11th changed me. It created an appreciation for the work law enforcement officers do each day to protect us at the community level and increased my love of family. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. I try to use this tragic day to remind myself to live each day fully, tell those who are special to me that I love them and to appreciate those who put their lives in harm’s way so that I can live with peace.
About The Author:
Michelle Perin has been a freelance writer since 2000. Her credits include Law Enforcement Technology, Police, Law and Order, Police Times, Beyond the Badge, Michigan State Trooper, Michigan Snowmobiler Magazine and Chief of Police. She writes two columns a month for Officer.com. Michelle worked for the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department for almost eight years. In December 2010, she earned her Master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Indiana State University. Currently, Michelle works as the Administrative Coordinator at Jasper Mountain a residential psychiatric facility for children. In her spare time, she enjoys being the fundraising coordinator for the Lane Area Ferret Shelter & Rescue, playing her bass, working on her young adult novel Desert Ice and raising her two sons in a small town in Oregon.