My memoir has changed quite a bit since I first titled it I Am What I Am.
My editor said it sounds too much like a line Popeye would say. So I changed it to Who I Am: The Man Behind the Badge.
Now, after speaking with two agents, they both suggested dropping Who I Am and leaving the title as simply The Man Behind the Badge.
“It presents a much stronger impression,” they said. So for now, the story of my struggle with depression and nightmares will be just that. The Man Behind the Badge.
The original purpose of the memoir was twofold, I’m getting older and at times I’m worried I’ll forget these events and second, I want my friends and family and even people I’ve never met to know what first responders see and do every day. Its why were different, not better, but different.
I found that as I wrote, all the emotions I felt on a horrible scene came flooding back, worse even than I remembered them. It was as if over time, I had lost the tough veneer that sheltered me from the trauma of death, and now I was exposed.
Here’s a short example of what’s inside The Man Behind the Badge, and also what’s inside me head every day.
Sometimes you’re in the right place, but you wish you weren’t.
One evening I was parked in the swale of an elementary school catching up on paperwork when the alert tone sounded, a sound we both dreaded and loved. Something important is coming, and you can physically feel the beginnings of an adrenaline rush. The world closes in a little as you focus on the radio.
The call is a 3/30, or in our code, a shooting, the 3 tells you it’s in progress, or there is a victim down. This shooting is in my zone, but they send two of my zone partners. Then the dispatcher says the address….and the house is right down the street, I can see the house from where I’m parked. I put the car in drive and hit the gas, and I’m in the driveway in seconds, but as I arrive, the dispatcher changes the call to a possible suicide.
The neighborhood is made up of new townhomes that all look alike, each has a small front yard with just enough room to park a single car. Standing in this yard is an older man waving his arms at me, and then he ran back inside the home and I ran in behind him.
I find myself in a small, modest room that is both the kitchen and living area and an older woman is standing alone in the kitchen. I’m aware of her, but I ignore her.
On the sofa, a fifteen-year-old girl lays motionless in a sitting position. She’s wearing jeans and a white shirt, her head is tilted back, her eyes are open as if she is staring at the ceiling. She’s a small, thin girl with light brown skin and straight, shoulder-length, dark brown hair. A small revolver lies on the cushion next to her hand, and there is a distinct smell of gun smoke in the room. In crime novels, they call it Cordite or the smell of Cordite, but in real life, it’s just gun smoke.
I didn’t see the hole in her chest at first; I was looking for a head wound, but there it was—a small hole in her white shirt, a single drop of blood next to a black 38 caliber hole. I put my fingers on her neck hoping there was a pulse, but there was none. She was still warm though, and I could see tiny beads of perspiration on her forehead, and I thought, it’s such a small hole and with so little blood maybe she could live.
I lifted her shirt (which sounds creepy now) to see the wound. It is a contact wound which means the barrel was pressed against her skin. The bullet went through part of her bra and is just to the left of the center in her sternum. Like the hole in her blouse, the hole in her sternum is black also, seared by the heat or the soot but you could also see the cream-colored bone along the edges.
And as if that image wasn’t bad enough, the bullet had hit the underwire in her bra and forced one end of into the hole as well. The metal is a dull grey but has a shiny scratch on it from the bullet. The end of the wire is jagged and I knew a piece of it had been ripped free by the bullet and was inside her.
I see all this in about fifteen seconds, and then I sat next to her knowing she was dead and nothing I could do would save her.
I radioed the dispatcher and said the girl was dead and I would need a detective to respond. I sat with the woman I thought was her mother, and she gave me a handwritten note and told me the story.
She didn’t speak fluent English but she was able to tell me in the last day or so, she had found the girl had been dating someone she disapproved of and prohibited her from seeing the boy again.
This night the woman and her husband, who I learned later were her aunt and uncle, had gone out for a few minutes, and as they arrived home, they heard the gunshot. They ran inside and found the girl on the couch and the note on the table.
The man and woman were of course devastated. Some people scream and convulse in their grief, but these two were the other kind, numb and in shock like they had died as well.
I can’t recall everything in that note, but it started with, ‘I accepted you both as my mother and father.’
This suicide happened just days after Susan and I got the first picture of our soon to be adopted daughter Sarah. She was two years old; a cute little Colombian girl with light brown skin and dark brown hair and the coincidence was not lost on me; that this young girl had chosen to end her life as Sarah was about to come into mine.
I left once a detective arrived, and while raising Sarah, I was never able to forget this call.
This is just one story out of sixty or seventy I wrote.