Considered vintage in 2019, but back in 1993 they were all the rage. Simple molded plastic, teased mile-high bleach blond hair, and a neon colored dress. Back before articulated joints were cool and long before anyone was offended by her “size.” Barbie.
It was a more times than not typical Saturday morning for me, an 8-year-old little girl who didn’t sleep well the night before, waking up to the sight of a brand new Barbie doll in the lap of her oversized stuffed panda bear, sitting in a ‘then vintage’ children’s rocking chair next to her bed. “Pull it away from the wall so it doesn’t leave marks or chip the paint!” Yes sir. I already had four of the exact same doll, but I didn’t care. The mere presence of this five dollar doll meant more to me than a million of the most expensive Barbie dolls in the world. Because it meant my dad was home safe from work.
Now retired, my dad was in law enforcement for my entire childhood. I was always excited to hear his “work stories” when he came home, but mostly I was just happy that he came home. That doll meant he came home. No, I didn’t get a new toy every time he worked, but it was especially when he worked late night or overnight ‘details.’
Over the years, I have watched my dad seemingly do it all in law enforcement; everything from aviation and the mounted unit to narcotics, burglary, Homeland Security, and the Secret Service. I’ve seen him hurt, stabbed, bruised, with stitches and broken bones, run over, hit by a semi-truck, temporarily paralyzed, and now he is held together with steel rods and pins. All work related injuries. And his last one was very nearly his ‘last one.’ Over the years, I had also seen him ‘be a cop’ off duty, on family vacations, saving people and chasing ‘bad guys.’ We even have one such incident on a home movie – VHS, of course. For someone who is meant to be a police officer, it’s simply in their blood. Even without the uniform and badge, you feel it – you know – you are a cop 24/7/365.
Fast forward a few years, following a bitter divorce and a life-changing move 500 miles from the place I had always called home, my mother decided to go into law enforcement as well. While excited for her, it left me with anxiety just the same. More injuries and more restless nights to come – only now left wondering if I’d be an orphan when I woke up the next day. There were nights I cried myself to sleep, praying a thousand prayers to stop the dawn if the sunrise meant I would be. Then, it happened. Another phone call to my grandmother that there had been an accident and my mother was at the hospital. She had been running code to a call and another vehicle slammed into her. I can still vividly recall the look of anguish on her face as she lay in that cold hospital bed. Unfortunately, that was the end of my mother’s short-lived law enforcement career.
And just when you think the story is over, it has just begun… At the young age of 14, I joined the local police explorers – determined and ostensibly unstoppable. I knew what I wanted to do with my life; after all, it was in my blood. While other teenagers were going to the movies with their friends or hanging out at the mall, I was completing daily PT, filling out tow slips as a peon at DUI checkpoints, “working” community events, learning defensive tactics and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and participating in ride-alongs. I exuded happiness and promise. My heart and soul was in this, and I was going to make my dreams come true. Or would I?
Through my involvement with local law enforcement, I met a sheriff’s deputy and we started dating when I was 18. I’ll never forget how nervous he was on our first date. His face was soft and kind – and yet his eyes, they were fierce. This military veteran, a sheriff’s deputy turned detective, such a muscular and strong man, with broad shoulders and a square jaw, who most would view as intimidating… I saw as kind and gentle. And I loved that side of him. As time passed, that lingering fear of losing him to this line of work was a constant weight on my heart. And again, it happened. Not another phone call, but an AOL instant message in its infancy, just after 9 a.m. on an otherwise quiet Thursday morning at home. “Todd’s dead.” No. No, he’s not. What kind of horrible prank is this? But it was true. And I lost it. After all these years, sometimes I still do.
For everyone out there who doesn’t support law enforcement, perhaps you are doing or have done something you shouldn’t have. Or, perhaps you simply lack understanding of the life and sacrifice of our officers and their families. While I freely acknowledge that there are ‘bad apples’ in law enforcement, I challenge you to show me a profession where there isn’t. As a society, we hold our officers to the highest standards, as we should, but time and time again accusations against law enforcement have been proven false. When are we going to hold all of our members of society to the same standard?
And for everyone out there like me, know you are not alone. Maybe you have your own “Barbie” story. Maybe a certain smell brings back a sweet memory. Maybe the sound of Velcro coming undone makes you breathe a little easier. And God forbid, in the worst case scenario, maybe you still feel your LEO when the wind blows, so you close your eyes, take a deep breath, and smile. I know I do.
When I sat down to write this article today, I wondered how I could best convey my support for law enforcement. Telling a little bit of my own story felt like the best way. It’s quite simple, if you want to know why I support law enforcement, all you need to know is this: While not an orphan, I have one parent who walks with a limp and will set off metal detectors; another parent whose career ended en route to help another human being; and I have to drive to a cemetery to visit the first man I ever loved.
Written by Renee Blank