When I became a cop, I learned to face the chance of my mortality coming to an end. We learned in the police academy about criminology and from that victimology, first aid, patrol situations, comradeship, and death. We just never learned what to do when it is our own child. There isn’t really any course that could be offered. As of now, in the near fourteen years of being a cop, I had seen Death take on the form of natural causes, homicide, suicide, fires – both accidental and arson, and auto accidents. I learned detachment. I learned to suppress my feelings; not showing how disgusted I was that some people have a complete abandonment for human life sometimes including the victim him or her self. Like most cops I went home and didn’t talk about a job. I wanted to wash the images from my mind. I had fights with my spouse when she wanted to go to certain areas of the city that as a cop I was most familiar, and I didn’t want any harm or chance of harm coming to her or my children if she was bringing them along.
Some cops, like me, become over protective and almost smothering when it comes to our families. We see things that the public and media don’t see. Sometimes the closest they see is from a special effects artist on a television program and even that is at most exaggerated or sometimes too close to reality. We believe we are not to be victims, we know better, and we are to know what to look for in some cases. There were many times I could go to work and know it was going to be a night or day from Hell. Like laying an ear to a rail to hear the vibrations of an on coming train, it became second nature. The number of radio calls, the summer heat, on-going neighbor disputes, schools letting out, etcetera…all factors and conditions that lead to something kicking off. Like wiping my shoes on a welcome mat, I didn’t want to bring that filth into my home and to my family.
A few years ago I was called to a deposition. The case involved a bike enthusiast that died as a result of illegally parked eighteen-wheeler along 9000 Bartram Avenue; I can still see the young man – maybe about twenty to twenty-two years old with a large hole in his forehead. His breathing shallow and rapid – death rales telling me his body was shutting down. I knew he was dead but his autonomic system didn’t know it yet. There was nothing I could do but hold his hand and tell him to hang on and the medics were on the way. I remember too clearly the brain matter and blood on the hinge to the trailers rear doors; pieces of his broken skull and teeth on the asphalt. During the testimony I was giving, I began to cry. One thing I learned is that if you see a cop crying, its worse than how the media is reporting.
I told the lawyers I did what I could, and that was not to let the kid die thinking he was alone. The lawyer for the kid’s family told me after the hearing that the family found some solace in the wake of their tragedy that I held his hand and my partner and I treated their son with respect when we transported him to the Medical Examiner’s Office. I had nightmares for nearly two weeks after that accident.
When Tim began high school and knowing he would have to take public transportation, I told him that if any one ever wants to rob him, let him take whatever he had. It would be an empty wallet containing my business card with my cell phone number written on the back. I told him just try to remember everything he could if that would happen. I didn’t tell him to scare him, I told him so if that happened the bad guy could be caught one way or another. I told him and asked him to be careful in his travel to and from school. My wife or I would drive him to school or pick him up if my schedule allowed it. We have only one car – a condition of being a one income family.
Last summer I took him to Archbishop Ryan to register him for the Freshman year. I had visions of him graduating in four short years. A few months before he had gone on a tour of the school and liked what he saw; he wanted to attend Ryan. As the school year was drawing to a close, Tim and I schedule the summer movie schedule - Green Lantern, Captain America, the third Transformers movie. The last movie we had gone to see together was Thor and that was ten days before he was taken from our lives.
I think of that Saturday, getting up to catch an early matinee before I had to go to work that afternoon. After the movie he talked about how it was great that the movie tied in with Iron Man and how he was looking forward to seeing the upcoming films that would cap off with an ensemble movie – The Avengers. As we walked back to the car, we stopped in Barnes and Noble. A person dressed in a Peter Cottontail costume came prancing up to me as Tim looked through comic books and game magazines. I handed him my cell phone and he took a picture of me next to the six foot rabbit. I asked him to let me take a picture of him next to Peter and he laughed.
“Yeah right,” he said.
That was the last thing we were able to do as father and son. My calendar hasn’t been flipped to June or July; like in some sense time just stopped. But I did find some gratitude to be given knowing that two teachers attempted CPR on my son, and a priest followed from the accident scene. I found out later that a parent of another student held my son’s hand begging him to stay.