Today I have a blog that features a piece my husband wrote. When I reread this story that he wrote back in 2008, I knew I wanted to share it. It made me cry for many reasons. First, I really miss his dad, who is a big part of the story. Even though I only knew him for a six short years, he had a big impact on me. His calm and fun loving nature, made him someone you just wanted to be around.
Another reason I felt compelled to share this, is because there has been so much bad press about cops in the last few years. I think it's good for people to know that there is another side to tell. People don't know what cops have to do and see while they are on the job. They not only sacrifice by being physically put in harm's way, their minds have to carry what they have experienced. They have to cope with it beyond the timing of the given incident. That is clear in the story.
My husband John, pictured above, is not a saint, but he and the members of his staff, do so many things that do not make it into the press. Things that go above and beyond regular policing.
Just last week, my husband brought coffee and breakfast to an Eversource worker who was watching a downed power line, and was stuck there overnight. He has brought people to our house when there was a power outage in the other part of town, to make sure they had a warm place to stay. He stops in and visits with some of the residents of Hixson Farm and brings me along to chat with them. He buys Christmas presents for shut ins and financially helps families in need. I could go on for pages, but he probably wouldn't like that. He won't like that I've even included what I have included. He does not seek recognition.
So without further ado, here is :
(Photo taken off of Pinterest, no credit was given)
It’s curious how your mind works when you find yourself in the midst of a catastrophic event. I suppose it may be some ancient biological coping mechanism that has been imprinted within us since the beginning of mankind.
Since becoming a police officer, I have had my fair share of disturbing calls; assaults, fatal accidents, suicides, and so forth. I can clearly recall each incident with vivid detail as well as the flood of seemingly random thoughts that accompanied those tragedies. They are permanently etched in my memory. These sometimes absurd thought associations during critical incidents have intrigued me for years. I suspect it’s the brain’s way of helping us cope. The following account recalls a few of those incidents.
While still on my very first week as a Sharon Police Officer, my field training officer and I were dispatched to a call from a frantic wife claiming that her husband was suicidal. Upon arrival, the distraught woman relayed to us that her husband has been suffering from severe depression. Frantically, she also shared that he was in the basement and that he may have a loaded rifle. I could see that the basement light was on through the side window. I ran to the window and peered in. There he was, sitting on a stool at the end of a table holding a string. My eyes quickly followed the white line, I saw that the line was attached to the trigger mechanism of a rifle through a series of pulleys. The rifle was clamped to the work table with the barrel of the gun pointing directly at his chest. It appeared as though he was going to discharge the weapon at any given moment. I screamed to the arriving sergeant that I was going to break the window. In the second or two that followed, some bizarre thoughts raced through my brain. The first thought being that my wife was cooking hamburgers for supper, and that I was most likely going to be late. I also thought about my father having hamburger for supper on the night he died. “Hamburger was a fitting last meal for a blue collar worker,” I thought. I also pondered that if I broke the window by kicking it in, my brand new “Rocky” high-top boots were most likely going to get cut up. I broke the window and startled the man enough that he looked up. I began shouting to him to come to the window. I explained, that this was my first week on the job, and I would probably quit if he took his life. This short distraction gave the other officers adequate time to enter the house and in turn the basement, where they safely subdued him. My boots were fine, and I was only a few minutes late for supper.
Years later, I was dispatched to the M.B.T.A. train tracks on the Sharon/Foxboro line for a possible pedestrian struck by a commuter train. I arrived on scene and ran down the tracks in the dark. I could see some Foxboro Police Officers with flashlights about one-tenth of a mile down the tracks. While focusing on them, I nearly fell over the torso of what turned out to be a sixteen year old juvenile, who had left his house after having an argument with his mother. High on marijuana, he either did not hear the impending train or voluntarily walked into it. Stunned, I looked down at what remained of him; a torso - no legs, no arms, no head. He was wearing leopard print boxer shorts, but I couldn’t tell if it was the front or back of him. Then began the random thoughts…. Curiously, although I can understand the slight connection with the leopard print shorts, I started to think about the 1967 movie, Born Free. My mind began processing the question of whether or not the woman who played the lead female role was named Elsa, or was that the name of the lioness that she had befriended? I actually began to hum the theme song….Born free, as free as the wind blows… Elsa, as I would later confirm, was the name of the lioness.
Later that night I shared with my wife that I was truly bothered by the fact that the gruesome scene that I had witnessed did not seem to affect me. However, a year from the date of this tragedy, I began having graphic nightmares of this young man’s death. I would later come to understand that these nightmares were a classic characteristic symptom of delayed post-traumatic stress syndrome. In turn, this entire incident became a valuable lesson that I would share with future incoming rookie officers.
The Sunday that my father died had been an uneventful day. Ann Marie and I had recently purchased a new home two blocks from my parent’s house in Sharon. Ann Marie, our four year old daughter, Emily, and myself temporarily moved in with my parents as I was renovating our one-hundred year old purchase. I had worked on the house all day and returned to my parent’s home late that evening. I recall briefly talking with my father and asking him if he had any old shingles. He seemed a bit annoyed. Perhaps now, as I look back, he may not have been feeling one hundred percent. I found out later that he had spent his last day of work lugging boxes of old police records from one building to another.
I took a shower and went to bed in the front bedroom. Ann Marie and Emily had already gone to bed in a separate bedroom at the rear of the house. Not having the energy to search for clean underwear, I decided to sleep without briefs. This is not my normal practice, nor is it information that I would routinely share. However, this fact will help you understand the following scene.
I have always had difficulty falling asleep, and so it was on that night. I had been lying there for about forty five minutes when I first heard my father get up and enter the bathroom. My mother had fallen asleep down stairs and did not follow my father to bed.. I strained to listen, as it sounded as though my father was sick. I was about to get up and check on him when I heard him return to the bedroom. After a few minutes, I then heard what sounded like a table being knocked over. I quickly got up, went to my father’s bedroom and turned on the lights. There, I viewed my dad fully convulsing. My next recollections are a bit foggy, but I think I ran to the bedroom where Ann Marie and Emily were sleeping and awoke them, yelling for Ann Marie to call 911.
I then returned to my father and jumped on top of his body while attempting to perform C.P.R. I administered breaths, then compressions, breaths, then compression. The breaths did not seem to work. It would later be explained to me that my dad had pulmonary edema and his lungs had totally filled with fluid. Essentially, he drowned to death.
Within seconds, my uncle, Eddie, a Sharon Firefighter, arrived on scene. I was handed a pair of shears and instructed to cut off my father’s tee shirt and to continue C.P.R. A few seconds later, Firefighter Dennis Mann and a few other firefighters, arrived on scene with the defibrillator. I looked up and made eye contact with Dennis as he entered the room. I was struck by the look of horror on Dennis’ face. I would only figure out weeks later that Dennis’ expression was most likely due to his witnessing me, butt-ass, naked, sitting on top of my father while performing C.P.R. I never spoke with Dennis about that night, but I do sometimes wonder what he was thinking at that very moment.
I can still see my father’s eyes, they were open and dilated. I would revisit that look many times in the future while responding to fatal scenes through my duties as a police officer. I sometimes wonder if my father could see me that night as his functions began to fail. Did his brain allow him one last glimpse at the world? Later I had a comforting thought that God had allowed me to “kiss” my father goodbye through the act of C.P.R.
After several failed attempts at reviving my dad, the firefighters strapped him to a backboard and maneuvered him from the second floor into the ambulance. My mother attempted to wipe the fluid draining from his mouth with a towel as he was awkwardly carried down the stairs. How bizarre, I would later think. As pointless as my mother’s actions seemed to be at the time, it was a fitting final gesture of love from a woman who had faithfully served her husband of some forty years.
As the firefighters passed by the bedroom where Emily had been sleeping, I glanced in to see her sitting up, wide-eyed, and frightened. In her large brown eyes I foresaw all the lost opportunities that she would miss with her grandfather. Lost times of playing “Beauty and The Beast”, a game Emily and my dad would play for hours at a time. He would don a blanket as his cape and she would chastise him for incorrectly playing the part. The lost birthday parties, I thought, as well as the lost holidays, family gatherings, and perhaps even a wedding someday. Then the thoughts became markedly more random. “No more trips to Jolly Cholly’s,” I thought. Certainly, this was not a rational thought, as Jolly Cholly’s had shut its doors some thirty years in the past.
Jolly Cholly’s was a small amusement park located off of Route One in North Attleboro. I fondly recall going there as a treat on many weekends. I can still smell the sweetness of summer air mixed with the confluence of cotton candy, machinery, fried dough, etc. I can still vividly see my father in his off duty “uniform” which consisted of green chino pants and white tee shirt. His U.S. Navy tattoo peeking out from the sleeve of his shirt. To a small boy of six or seven, that amusement park was the most exciting place in the entire world. It’s funny, but I don’t like amusement parks now, and as “seedy” as Jolly Cholly’s probably was, it will always surpass the wonders of Disney World or any other theme park, because it’s permanently imprinted in the mind of a seven year old. The night of my father’s death, I vividly recall thinking about Jolly Cholly’s neon entry sign. It displayed a huge clown with a disproportionately small head and enormous legs, that you would enter through to access the park. Were the legs emblazoned with white and blue neon strips, or were they green and red? I later confirmed, through an old photograph, that Jolly Cholly’s legs were in fact checkerboard. Did Jolly Cholly beckon you into the park with a waving neon arm or am I mistakenly mixing that recollection with the waving chicken arm of Fontaine’s Family Restaurant in Dedham? You can still make out the rusted remains of Jolly Cholly if you drive down Route One. The run down lot that once housed the park, is tiny and betrays my memories of it being much larger.
It’s curious what your brain thinks of when tragedy strikes. I now have three grown daughters. They will, in their lifetimes, experience tragedies, as tragedies are part of life itself. When those times come, perhaps as part of some coping mechanism, they may have some random recollections of some long past fun vacations with their family on the Outerbanks of North Carolina. I would certainly be OK with that.
After 31 years of teaching, I have decided to retire and start a new chapter of my life as a photographer. It has been my passion for about 7 years now.