Sixteen months ago Officer Daren Wilson set off a firestorm across America and in my heart.
For sixteen months, I have relied on friends to be a funny text when I needed it, an ear that understood, a brain that fit together what I couldn’t and motivation when I felt I couldn’t complete what I had started. For sixteen months, I have listened a lot and cried little, I have changed in ways that no one will ever know and I have grown to love law enforcement more.
In October, I had the pleasure of meeting Steven Hough and Jeffrey McGill in person; two men whose story convinced me that my writing could make a change. While visiting, we went to the shooting range where a class was taking place, Steve and Jeff decided to fire off a few rounds. That’s when it finally began to fall apart for me.
Each bullet startled me. In my head I counted them. Six for Mario, one to Steve’s face, one to Joe’s head, one to Steve’s leg, one shattering Joe’s radio, one to Mike’s leg, one through a man’s mouth as he shot himself while Stephen watched, three for Dave whose story never made the book…and I kept counting…I focused on trying not to jump each time a shot was fired. And I wanted to leave. But I didn’t. I watched Steve and Jeff and thought, “If they can do it, I can do it. I didn’t get shot. These aren’t my stories.” I was in awe and wanted to be their equal. I didn’t want them to see me fail them. I focused on them and I was able to stay, barely.
Each bullet was a memory, there are thousands more that I don’t know about that are haunting other people right now. And that is why I keep writing. It’s not easy, it’s harder than you can imagine. The fear of doing the officers justice, of conveying their pain and their courage. Of trying to be part of them without being one of them.
While on that trip, I realized it was time to close the door on the trauma, the memories I had ingested and the feeling that I needed to keep it together or I’d never finish what I started. But I also needed validation, I needed to know we did the right thing and that we all lived up to expectations. I needed the stupid shit that people sometimes need and I was afraid to ask them. As Steve, Tanya and I talked I told them how it had affected me; I realized how hard this had been and I had been too afraid to admit it. I didn’t want them to think I wasn’t as tough as them.
As I boarded the plane, something that Steve said hit me. “You’re my brother. I think of you as my brother and I love you.” I then realized that I had become collateral damage. They weren’t my stories but they became mine. You can’t take them in and not feel them, you can’t erase them, you can’t go back. The trust that was given to me was tremendous and I know the responsibility I have been given. But I didn’t realize it was okay to feel the pain as well.
With those three words, “You’re my brother”, Steve gave me everything I needed. He made me his equal, he admitted I was just as tough as they are, he admitted that all of this worked and that he was proud to stand by me as long as I needed. I’ve heard the statement before, but until today, I didn’t realize how meaningful it could be. So I’ll cry myself to sleep from time to time and I’ll learn to heal myself. And we’ll be brothers. I can be part of law enforcement without being one of them. So can you. Use your voice, make 2016 a great year for them. Be loud, be supportive and be kind while you are doing it.
While you are eating your dinner, someone is making a difficult decision, getting berated for their uniform, saving a life and possibly, giving their own.