An open letter
The career or lifespan of an officer is measured differently than most other careers. A cop’s career typically lasts between 20-25 years. This journey can be broken down into what I believe are three distinct phases.
- The rookie years (otherwise known as the “good times”)
- The middle years (AKA “the grind”)
- The golden years (or“how much will my retirement be after taxes?”)
Every cop experiences the phases differently. I could lie and say my career has been sunshine and rainbows, but we know that would be a untruthful. Towards the end of the rookie year is when a lot of cops decide if they can stick around until the end.
Many choose to cut their losses and pursue other, more safe and lucrative careers. Others, like me, decide to enter the grind and see where it leads.
In 2003, I was very close to turning in my badge. It wasn’t so much the job as it was my personal life.
To say it was falling apart would be an understatement.
(Disclaimer: No one escapes pain or heartache during their lives or professional career. I am certain that my story may seem trivial to those who have suffered far worse.)
Several months ago, I read an article in a sports magazine by the NFL player, Danny Woodhead. He is a running back for the former San Diego Chargers who are now on the move to L.A. next season.
The article, written by Woodhead, is an open letter to his 18-year-old younger self. The letter is very effective in telling his personal journey through adversity in his attempt to make it in the NFL.
We all look back at different periods in our life that were exceptionally difficult. As we get older we look back at these events and wished we knew then what we know now.
They say your worst enemy is yourself. There is a lot of truth in that statement.
This article will be an attempt to reconcile the two.
The following is a letter to myself during one of the darkest periods of my life.
I am 32 years old and have been a cop for almost 9 years.
It is 2003 and you have started the year off with a transfer to day shift. Like most cops, you would rather work nights. It is nice to sleep like a normal human though isn’t it.
You have been at the rank of Corporal for a couple of years and decide to go up for Sergeant. We both knew that you were not ready. This was evident as you came out dead last on the promotion board. Ouch! I remember how much this humbled you. This will serve you well later on.
While working one day, you will receive a call from your ex-wife telling you that she needs to talk to you in person. What she reveals that day will feel like a kick to the gut. She is moving out of state and taking your 7-year-old daughter with her.
I know this may seem odd, but this event makes me proud of you. After receiving this news, you somehow manage to finish out your shift. You are much stronger than you think.
Over the next several weeks everything will be a fog. You have gone through an emotional storm and are still able to perform your job at a high level.
And yes, I remember the dark places during this time, especially that one night we will not speak of.
I remember how much you struggled at work during this time. All of the domestic fights, robberies, shootings and other high priority calls.
Outwardly you showed little of the turmoil that was spinning inside. Like a good cop, you had mastered the art of compartmentalizing your work from your personal life.
It wasn’t but a short time later that Dad was scheduled for surgery. It wasn’t anything too serious. Maybe one day or two and then back home for recovery. You and he would be playing golf together in no time, so you thought.
There were complications from the operation.
Seven days after the surgery he died.
The pain and void in your life became almost too much. Looking back, we both know you should have tried to reach out for help or at least taken some time off. You still showed up to work everyday. I applaud your work ethic but you weren’t fooling anyone. Especially me.
You don’t know it yet but the real knock out punch is coming.
For some odd reason you keep getting bad news while you’re on-duty. Your work phone rings and you see that it’s from Terry (sister). She is crying. She won’t be able to make out the words but they won’t be necessary.
Her cancer has come back! With a vengeance.
I’m not going to sugar coat this. It’s going to suck. Bad.
You have a job to do. You will need to keep it together that day and finish out your shift. Remember, you’re a cop. You don’t have problems; you fix them. When you get to my age you will understand how foolish this thinking was.
The next few months are what we will always refer to as the bad times. You will remain positive during her treatments. You and Des (brother) will do anything to bring her spirits up. This will be hard to believe but one day you and Des will have a battle rap competition for her (and by the way, you will win this competition hands down).
This will be one of the last times you see her smile.
You will be there when she takes her final breath.
Her death is going to rock you to your knees. Your private grieving will be short lived. Two days after her passing Hurricane Isabel makes landfall and you will be ordered to work. It won’t seem like it, but this will be a blessing.
Isabel gives the city a good throat punch that will act as the final curtain on this bad run you are on. The job will keep you very busy for several weeks after the storm has left.
Over time you become less anxious over another tragedy that you believe is surely coming for you. You will have many heated discussions with God. Trust me, you lose every one of them.
It will also become clear to you which path you are to follow. You thought that if you just started over in another career it would lessen the weight of your burdens.
You will have a moment of clarity that at the time you won’t trust. I’m not sure if it was our sister or father, but a voice reassured that you were meant to be a cop. You have been doing the job for 9 years. There is so much more for you to learn from these events and your chosen profession.
As I close this letter I leave you with one more piece of wisdom. Don’t ever think for one second that you have this job or life figured out. Always strive to learn something new everyday. And always give back what you have learned.
It was never yours in the first place.