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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Our Choice

It's nice to know that, at thirty, I can still be surprised. Not just surprised by just anybody, mind you-- like some lunatic in a clown wig and no pants on jumping out from behind my kitchen cupboard or by someone on reality television saying something coherent. No-- surprised by my wife.

After seven-and-a-half years of togetherdom, she still surprises me. I like it. Maybe it's because she doesn't do it by jumping out from behind the kitchen cupboard wearing a clown wig and no pants.

Though, I admit-- that would be surprising, even in this house.

"I don't want to feel guilty anymore for holding you back from doing what I know you really want to do with your life," she said to me on Sunday night.

What I really want to do. Sheesh. You have to dig to find the answer to that one, don't you? You have to rip through layers and layers of hurt and anger and despair and frustration and lots and lots of Band-Aids that have been applied to allegedly long-ago-healed wounds. But, if you're brave enough to look-- really look at what lies underneath everything that I've been, and everything that I am, and everything that I'd hoped I would be by now, it's not hard to see what I want to do with my life.

I know. You know. She knows. My mother, God bless her, she knows, too. She knows everything-- remember?

A long time ago-- God-- seven years ago, I remember jogging with my father on the track of my old high school. I was training to enter the police academy, and he and I had a very deep conversation, devoid of his usual bombastic humor and rants. I had been dating the woman who would become Mrs. Apron for about four or five months.

"Mummy," he said to me, "this relationship you are in is getting serious, and this decision to become a cop-- you cannot make it by yourself anymore, because it doesn't just affect you anymore-- it's two of you now. This is the end of you making choices just because-- fuck! I want to, you know? Maybe you will marry this girl, I don' know. But you will be two, not one. And you have to think about that. You have to think about her waiting up for you, not knowing if you're coming home-- if some crazy fuckin' asshole drug addict jump you in some alley. You have to think about what it's gonna do to her."

And I did. And I went ahead and enrolled in the academy anyway. And, at 23, I washed out. Chicken arms not quite strong enough, thank you, (they had yet to spend seventeen months on the street lifting 300 pound patients on stretchers all across Philadelphia). But my beautiful girl knew what I was doing. I had made the decision to enter the academy before I had met her and, so, when we met, my becoming a cop was part of the deal. It was part of what she had signed on for, no different than the other things about me she couldn't change-- the acerbic humor, the obscure Peter Sellers references, the affinity for neckties, the affection for my doctors, the tether to the community in which I grew up, my propensity for swearing, my lust to write.

It was all there for her to see. No hiding. No games.

On the track that day, in the summer heat, my father confessed to me that, without telling my mother, he had taken $80,000-- practically the sum-total of their lifesavings, and dumped it into his failing business to try to save it, which I guess he did because, seven years later, it's still here. My mother found out about it, and, well, it wasn't pretty.

"I can't believe I did it," he said to me as I stared at the beads of sweat on his head to keep from looking him in the eye as we bounded along the track, "but I did it, without telling my wife. I tell her everything, but I knew I had to do it. Don't ever do something without telling your wife," he warned me.

And so, in 2009, the bug not yet out of my system, I approached my wife with a police officer application for my home town department. She would not hear of it, and so, crestfallen, I tore it up and forgot about it. But not really.

Here we are, though, a year later and me about to finish three years at my non-profit, looking for something to do that has a career trajectory, something to advance to. Patrol. Sergeant. Lieutenant. Captain. After our talk on Sunday, where my wife released her hold on fear, on anxiety, on uncertainty, I put in two applications for deputy sheriff positions with the county. "It has to be a department that will pay to send you to the academy-- they've got to hire you first," my wife gave her condition, and I agreed. Practical to the end, and I love her for it.

It was a good talk on Sunday night. With minimal tears on both sides. It was a rational, logical, almost middle-aged discussion. "If you're going to do it," she said to me, cracking a smile, "you'd better just fucking do it, because you're getting old."

I liked our talk. I liked it a lot. Not just because I got what I want-- hell, I haven't gotten anything yet. I've still got to get an interview. I've still got the written test. The psychological test (pray). The physical agility test (pray harder-- some departments have added swimming). I've still got to get appointed a probationary patrolman. And then I've still got to get through the academy. Oh, and I've got to find departments who will hire me and then pay to send me there. It's a hell of a long-shot, and it may never happen for me, but at least I can take the long shot in the knowledge that we're really doing it together. Before, the choice was made by me, alone. Now, it's together.

I remember a different conversation about entering law enforcement, again, held long ago. My father and I. Again. We were in the living room of the house in which I grew up. He and I were on our knees together, holding each other fiercely, both of us sobbing hysterically while my mother hid in the basement, pretending to do laundry, probably crying just as hard.

"Why?" my father pleaded through his snot and his tears, "Why do you want to do this? Why? Why? Why?"

His impossibly huge hands and thick fingers dug into my shoulder blades and pulled me even closer to him, and the roughness of his jungle-thick stubble ripped against my cheek.

"I love you, Daddy," I choked out-- because that was the only answer I could think of at the time that made any sense. I couldn't think clearly enough to talk about valor or about justice, or service, or about bringing a clean face and clean morals and clean judgment to the uniform, of re-instilling a community's pride in its police, about delivering on a promise to serve not only the public, but the public image of law enforcement, about having people go, "Yes, he's my cop. He's mine."

I just couldn't think clearly enough to say all of that. Maybe, seven years later, I'm thinking clearer. But I still love my Daddy, and I still love my wife. And I still want to be a cop.

Now we get to see if they want me.


  1. shit, you'd make a hell of a decent cop, mr. apron. good luck, we need more people like you fighting the good, clean fight, and not consuming all of the boston kreme doughnuts.

  2. oh you break my heart.. I wanted you to become an E.M.T for blog fodder.. ha ha ha!
    Good Luck Mr Apron, I am happy that you are going for your dream with your wife's support.
    This was a great post.

  3. Your wife seems like one hell of a lady.


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