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Rated: E · Chapter · Biographical · #2273974
Untitled non fiction WIP


CHAPTER 1

Dispatch: "A violent woman swinging a shovel, breaking out car windows, and threatening her neighbors." After 19 years on the job, days after celebrating his 46th birthday, it sounded like another neighbor or perhaps domestic dispute common in that community. What he happened upon more resembled a horror film.


Silent neighbors followed him with their eyes as he passed, arms slowly raising to indicate his objective. Recently strewn debris littered the front of the home. Across the street a small group of adults and children huddled. They watched intently as he approached. Their eyes flicked nervously, expectantly to the house, to him, back to the house. When he finally asked, they broke the silence to confirm that the garbage had indeed been flung by the occupant. She had been throwing items at people, property, and around her home before he arrived.


He neared, straining to ascertain whether the manic voice within was arguing with an unseen subject, or furiously shouting gibberish indiscernible to a passive listener as he made his way down the side yard toward an open door. There he saw various combustible items, all charred to various degrees as if they were failed and discarded attempts. As he continued, he noted the pile of partially burned lumber and was immediately assaulted by the overwhelming stench of gasoline.


She stood in the doorway. Surprised at his appearance, she abruptly slammed the door shut. As she did, the odor of gasoline was overpowering. He shouted to the officers who had arrived at the scene with him not to use tasers lest they ignite the fumes. Through a window to the right of the door, she continued her unintelligible tirade. It was clear she would not be opening that door. She intended to burn herself to death in that house.


He tried the knob. Unsurprisingly, it was locked. The gasoline fumes in that house would only become more concentrated and more explosive the longer that door stayed closed. What he did not know was whether she had more matches like those he had seen amid the debris in front of the house.

When he kicked in the door he was confronted with her hands, contorted, her long nails clawing wildly. She was in an animalistic state, attacking him with everything she had. He tried to grab her hands, to keep her from gouging his eyes. She responded by kicking him squarely in the groin, violently smashing delicate flesh into the pelvis, against the bone. The pain would last for days. The sharp pang followed by the deep, literally sickening, engulfing pain travelled upward from the testes into the gut, blinding and doubling him over. He struggled to maintain concentration to keep her from freeing her frenetic hands. If he allowed the focus to shift to the pain, a dam would open, letting forth the pain, rendering him unable to see or think of or experience anything else. Rage distracts, so that is what he used. The struggle felt endless. Gasoline was slick on the floor, complicating his efforts to subdue her. He dared not use his taser for fear of ignition. All the while the heavy, deep breath of one in the throes of a melee invited the noxious fumes into his lungs. He became impossibly light-headed, his breath raspy, his lungs demanding continually increasing effort to draw air.

There was a nearly intolerable stretch of time before finally she was handcuffed. The door had been open long enough for the fumes to begin to dissipate, and the melee ended. His head began to clear and he was able to take in his surroundings. As he led her from the house he saw it, but it didn't immediately register. Is that a car battery? What are those two prongs? It dawned on him. That was an arc welder. She had been trying to ignite an arc welder, failing only because there was no power to the house, denying the welder a power source. He wondered how many matches it would have taken to ignite the gas fumes instead, and how many more matches she had. He had just escaped the headline "HOUSE IN BAY POINT EXPLODES DUE TO APPARENT SUICIDE." The reality of his close call was washing over him as he saw the perfect Molotov cocktail placed under the gas line that went to the house. Exactly how many people had she intended to kill today?

He walked her to the patrol car as the crowd looked on. It was still somewhat surreal, registering in his mind in slow motion, as the fight-or-flight response continued to affect his perception of his surroundings. Families. Children. He still could not breathe freely for the fumes. He had come close to paying the ultimate sacrifice. A resentment stirred. The memory of the person who almost killed him would stay with him. What wouldn't was the emotional aftermath. There was a numbness to his emotional spectrum that pinged black after the event and ate at him until it enveloped his entire being.

That night he came home late, as he often did after a particularly eventful shift. There was much work beyond actual contact with suspects: determining if and what crimes were articulatable, assuring the safety of suspects, victims, fellow officers, and of course himself. He had to secure the scene, collect and log evidence, and interview witnesses. Each responding officer had to write a clear, concise, detailed report of events, making sure that all other officers who reported on the same incident wrote factual and thorough legal documents. Edits and rewrites could take hours.

When he called me to explain that he might be late he said that he had breathed in fumes and he was feeling ill. After nineteen years on the job, the separation of home and work had been solidly established. He rarely talked about what happened on any given shift and I had long since learned not to push the issue. Clearly whatever happened that day had affected him. I asked him about it, but his monosyllabic answers were as indifferent as they were vague. I let it go and gave him his space.

This time there was something decidedly different about his demeanor. He routinely brought home the burden of murders, suicides, child abuse, and sex abuse cases. This was a seemingly simple failed suicide attempt. Though she tried to light the blaze with him in harm's way, this was not the type of encounter that shook him. Yet there he was, shaken.

People in law enforcement are more intimately acquainted with suicide than one might imagine. He had seen more in his years on the job than he cared to remember. There were tragic deaths, unnecessary deaths, even the couple who sought to brush their deaths with a hue of levity by drawing happy faces on the plastic bags they'd secured over their heads after connecting them to helium tanks that had previously been used for a celebration, perhaps a quincenera or birthday party, before holding hands and taking their last deep breaths. He knew some things about people who choose this escape. One of those things is that women don't typically choose particularly violent means.

According to Callanan VJ, and Davis MS. in their article Gender differences in suicide methods in Soc Psychiatry Psychiatry Epidemiol. 2012, statistically men choose methods like firearms, hanging, asphyxiation or suffocation, jumping, moving objects, sharp objects, and vehicle exhaust gas. Women on the other hand tend to choose self-poisoning, exsanguination (such as with cutting the wrists,) drowning, hanging, and firearms, in that order. Exploding one's home and potentially setting the entire neighborhood ablaze is not included in either list. This is an extreme unaccounted for.

She wasn't just ending her life. She was erasing her entire existence. He considered that. He wasn't aware of facts and statistics, but professionally he knew this was extreme. He became consumed with the fact that she had reached a level of pain beyond that he'd seen in the most desperate suicides. Her attempt lit a beacon so bright as to penetrate his psychic shield. She was attempting to annihilate herself, all her belongings, every mark she had ever made on the world. She intended to leave no trace. She had given no thought to others. Had she been so callous and selfish as to mortally endanger innocents, or was it pain so intense it turned her focus inward, blinding her to consequences? The neighboring families, the children, and he were just collateral damage, so desperate was she to never have been. This would follow him and come back to shape his future.


Five months later in the early autumn, Eric left for his shift as always before the kids and I stirred. He was deep into his routine by the time I got my teen to middle school and my oldest son to elementary and settled into a morning of edutainment for my youngest and dishes and laundry for me. Routine.

Law enforcement officers have a saying: "there's no such thing as 'routine'". It means quite frankly that any situation can go awry in an instant. This is the underappreciated source of their Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They may spend fifteen minutes or five hours sitting in absolute boredom, either driving their beat in their cruisers looking for anything out of the ordinary, or sitting in a strategic spot in their beat waiting to be dispatched. It can be mind-numbing, and complacency is a constant danger. Then the call comes, or something breaks bad in front of them on the street, or they conduct a traffic stop, and suddenly they are thrust head first into a melee for their lives.

Because of this they are trained to be hypervigilant, to employ situational awareness. A concept born in World War II and further developed in the 1970s, Cooper's Color Code system is taught to soldiers and law enforcement officers alike. White is unprepared, unready to take action. Yellow is prepared, alert and relaxed; this is considered good situational awareness, and should be employed at all times, on and off duty, often bleeding over into the officer's down time, their safe space: in their home at the dinner table or watching television. Orange is alert to danger from an identified threat and ready to take action; the disconnect comes when an officer pings on orange when he sees someone he arrested at the next isle in Target. Suddenly wife and child are hissed at to abandon the cart and go back to the car, so convinced is he that something is about to break bad. Red is action mode, acting on the emergency. Black is panic, resulting in a breakdown of physical and mental performance; CPST can be blamed for this more often than not. Unlike soldiers, law enforcement officers' battle can ensue at any moment. They can go from giving a toddler a sticker and patting her head, to being thrown into a life and death encounter. General James Mattis said, "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet." In contrast to how it is often perceived by the public, this statement simply means that a law enforcement officer should stay on yellow, on and off duty. It reinforces the idea of the unnecessarily hypervigilant cop, but it saves the lives of officers and citizens alike, another unseen and unappreciated sacrifice. This is reinforced by encounters in the field many times over.

There is no such thing as routine. Never be in the white. The events of this day ended his career in law enforcement seven years before he would retire.

7


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