We begin to discuss very very very important things, such as the
multiple colors of kryptonite and the various powers and attributes they each possess. In my best (I wish I was only feigning being this nerdy) 'Can you believe it?' voice, I chide, "some people don't even know there are other colors besides green and red. Sad, really." We move on to debate Batman vs. Superman, a movie which I refuse to see on principle. I don't want to watch the good guys fight each other. It feels like superhero betrayal. My friend is trying to convince me otherwise about the film, but I am not budging. The subsequent areas of pressing analysis include critiques of Doomsday, Bizarro, Lex, and Zod. Then...I throw in my perpetual tangential issue of angst-the incredibly anticlimactic death of Captain Kirk (original series). I am speaking in a fairly quiet tone, so that others in the room won't hear me talking about this. You know...so I can control the narrative of the level and type of nerdom I am willing to publicly acquiesce to. ;)
His wife plops down across from me and I quickly switch gears as she and I begin gabbing and fangirling about two of our favorite shows currently on the air. Our hostess spent time working as an actress on one of the shows, and she joins us for a momentary recounting of fond memories and cast stories. I smile to learn my favorite I'm-not-a-doctor-but-I-play-one-on-TV is exceedingly kind and sweet in real life. I knew it!
My heart warms as their precious little daughter brings over a Russian nesting doll, and lets out peels of delighted laughter as she discovers there are more and more dolls inside the largest doll.
(The next part of this post includes a graphic depiction of events, please discern before continuing)
Last week, I was laughing to myself as I read an article highlighting my personality type on the Myers Briggs (INFJ) as the least likely to successfully work in law enforcement. I am prone to agree. My time working for our local police department was a bit of a square peg/round hole fit...but it was also an invaluable experience that shaped me in the way I now look at and analyze many situations. There remains a depth of loyalty and altruistic care for the coworkers I spent 12 hours a day with...that is unwavering, even years after my time with them has passed.
'We became friends at work,' seems like such a nonchalant statement. It's true, but it's barely descriptive of what that initial experience entailed. As I watched my friend quip brotherly barbs with another officer in the living room, my mind flashed back to the night I met him. A night that is seared in my memory, and one that has continued to have an impact on my life since then.
When I was fairly new to the police department, I was assigned as a rider to my friend for a (aptly named) 'ride along.' This constituted spending a night shift in a patrol car with him as he responded to emergency calls around our city. The idea being...it is an opportunity to see what the officers encounter while they are out patrolling the streets. We were going to be covering one of the highest crime areas of town.
Even though I understood the seriousness of what the ride along would entail the week prior, I don't think it really clicked for me fully until I was strapped into a bullet proof vest, walking downstairs for shift change. A kind of gravitas descended over my demeanor, followed by a nervous stomach, as I walked into that crowded room.
Sitting in the patrol car, he gave me a safety briefing, described a general overview of the night shift, ran me through the various firearms should we find ourselves in a life or death situation, and explained how to radio from the car if he became gravely injured. That was definitely a sobering moment.
Thankfully, it turned out to be an unusually large bag of gardening soil! We responded to a few other unsavory calls for service, and a couple that didn't need police assistance because they were civil matters. It's funny...most people don't realize how much of the work police officers do involves using well honed social work skills. Among the many hats they wear-social worker is right up there; they spend a significant amount of time providing brief counsel and resources to citizens.
Then, we went to the call. We ran code (lights and sirens) until we were in close proximity to a dimly lit large apartment complex. Exiting the vehicle, he beckoned me quietly to get behind him. I realized he had drawn his firearm. It felt like a surreal moment of déjà vu, plucked directly from scenes played out in movies and television shows. We walked up a couple sets of stairs, as he cleared each area, and we met his partner on a landing.
(Medics stage for their own safety before attending to injuries on scene. The police officers assess that a scene is safe, and then EMS can come in to treat the wounded)
We could hear the screaming/sobbing of a woman's voice as we approached the apartment door. The sight that greeted us was by far one of the saddest things I have seen close up. As we entered, there was a behemoth of a man standing in a bedroom doorway, wearing a pair of underwear. There was a short, thin, fully clothed man arguing with him. And, on the couch, was a young woman, clad in skimpy lingerie, sobbing, and covered in blood. My mind felt like it was underwater as it was trying to piece together what I was seeing...a pimp, a john, and a trafficked woman. I watched my friend and his partner move toward the men to arrest them, and my eyes turned back toward the woman. I glanced down at the box cutter lying on the table and realized she had vertically slit her arm from her wrist all the way up to her elbow. Time seemed to move exceedingly slowly, though in reality it probably wasn't more than a few minutes passing by. I remember my friend briefly nodding at me, as I was pulling black disposable gloves out of my pocket and walking toward her. I held her arm up, trying to put pressure onto it to stop the bleeding, and made a little pseudo tourniquet out of one of the other gloves, until the paramedics could assist her. Her eyes pierced into mine with desperate pain and terror, as she rocked back and forth sobbing the words, "I want my mom! I want my mom! I want my mom!"
As I looked at the suspects in the corner, I felt imprinted with a new truth, "this will always be my memory and reference point on the subject of pimps and johns." At that moment I felt hatred for the two men, bearing no desire for justice, rather...some semblance of vengeance.
My friend and his partner, charged and arrested the two men. I felt a little awed that they could both respond in a perfectly calm and professional manner. The paramedics pulled away in the ambulance, treating the woman for her injuries en route to the hospital. I don't remember the other calls for the rest of that ride along.
Being present at that call changed the trajectory of my next years of academic study-to focus specifically on vicarious trauma and complex PTSD. It changed the way I responded to an officer at the end of his or her shift, when I needed paperwork, but recognized they might be walking into the station from a truly terrible event, needing a few minutes to breath... There were subsequent ride alongs with other officers, the witnessing of different abject horrors, but none of them stuck to my soul like this one did. I've wondered on and off throughout the years if the young woman ever found a way out of her terrible situation, or if she ever found any peace in her life. She remains in the litany prayer of my heart.
A small hand reaches up to tickle my face with a rainbow fiber optic toy and my mind snaps back to the present moment. Mischievous brown eyes stare up at me, accompanied by a miniature grin, and bubbly giggles that fill the room with joy. The little girl in front of me has discovered her power of making rainbows appear on faces. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and all of us smile and giggle in unison at her antics. She turns to look at her dad. "Be a pony! Be a pony!" His wife and I exchange a grin. My friend's face is relaxed and happy as he plays with his daughter. The only thing he needs to be vigilant about tonight is dodging rainbows to the eyes.