I came across an old photo album the other day looking for pictures of my soon-to-be 16 year old son for his birthday. I have a dozen photo albums; all from before the time of digital photos. Although my intention was to find chubby cheeked pictures of my son, when I flipped open this particular album, I stopped, sat down and looked at each and every photograph. The album consisted of my husband’s police academy graduation day or better known as, “The Day I Pinned it On.”
I pulled out a photo and looked closely at the girl holding a little blonde boy wrapped in a denim jacket and standing next to the man wearing a Phoenix Police uniform. The girl looking back at me was young, just twenty years old, with long spiral curled blonde hair and sparkling eyes. She stood there proudly beside the man she loved getting ready to participate in the ceremony that would carry him into the ranks of law enforcement. As I looked at that photo, I wondered, “What would I say to that fresh-faced, little girl if I had the chance to sit with her a while on that day fifteen years ago?” This question bounced around my head for several days, until I finally sat down and wrote this letter:
What an exciting day! There are so many new sights and smells and noises--radios and guns and handcuffs. You’re just barely starting your lives together, although to you having been married for two years with a ten month old son, you feel like you know everything already. Now here you are after months of helping him study traffic laws and criminal codes, watching him demonstrate take down moves and listening as his language changed. You’re so proud! Look at him standing in formation with other municipal and state officers. One of these men or women may save his life one day. He looks so distinguished in that new uniform even though there are still traces of chapped skin above his mouth from those cold, cold morning runs up South Mountain. You had wanted to help him iron his uniform for today but he insisted on doing it himself. It had to be perfect. He spent hours starching, lint rolling and shining. His hair is freshly cut and his face cleanly shaven. He shines as brightly as his name plate, “Howard”. Officer Howard. How funny that sounds to you, especially after that time you both kept saying it over and over again laughing with childish glee after he received the acceptance letter. He kept smiling long after you had stopped because you had a sudden realization he could get hurt or even killed doing this work.
They’re putting up the flags now. He’s on the honor guard. Of course, he is. He always wanted to be the best at everything he did. He snaps to attention proudly and marches in perfect cadence with the others. His military background really shows in his proud movements. Even when you were stationed together, you never saw him so crisp and sharp. You just want to jump up pointing and shout, “That’s my Baby, right there. Do you see that officer down there? That’s MY HUSBAND!” But you don’t. He’s already talked to you about the community’s expectations of his personal actions and how you are an extension of him. You are now an officer’s wife and must conduct yourself as such.
After the flag line, you have a few hours to kill before the ceremony. You’re surrounded by his family and closest friends. Everyone keeps talking about how he’s always wanted to be an officer and how he’s worked so hard and how this will be the biggest challenge of his life. You’re excited for him but feel a bit left out as everyone gathers around him talking about his accomplishments. You try to get closer to him but he is surrounded by his academy buddies. They’re swapping stories about the time they’ve spent together and you’re trying to comfort and quiet a now fussy baby. Finally, you take your son outside leaving the festivities behind. As the door shuts, it closes off the sounds of excited chatter and you are left outside. Wife and child on one side; co-workers on the other. This should be a good lesson for you, but in your youth and inexperience you don’t notice.