Officer Down

Officer Down

Today is Sunday, May 24, 2015. The weather is overcast and cool, and it’s definitely one of those days where the video games will get a lot of use….

Funny thing – this was also the case exactly one week ago. May 17, 2015. It was overcast and cool, and a Sunday much like so many others. The kids were playing downstairs, and I was hiding out in my room for a few minutes just to clear my mind before the mundane tasks of motherhood took over and I was forced to play second fiddle to everyone elses’ needs. Then my phone rang. Now, anyone and everyone who knows me knows how much I LOATHE speaking on the phone. 1996 Kate? Loved it. 2015 Kate? Not so much. But the person on caller ID just so happens to be one of my favorite men on the planet, so I answered.

“Hey, Kate. What are you doing?”

“Nothing – just sitting on the toilet.”

“Okay, well I’m glad you’re sitting down, because Heather was just shot, and she’s on her way to the hospital.”

In that moment, I knew I wasn’t fully processing what I was hearing. It couldn’t be. Not in a million years. Not Heather. NO. No, no, no, no, no. I immediately went into “Robot Mode”.

“Okay – where is she now?”

“She’s at the hospital, in surgery. The hospital is on lockdown, so when you get here, call me and I’ll get you in.”

See, I’m not a police officer. I am what police like to refer to as, “a civilian.” Call me whatever the hell you want – just let me see my friend. Now Heather – Heather is a police officer, and a damned fine one at that. The department is lucky to have her, and even though she may not patrol my neighborhood, I still feel safe knowing that officers of her caliber are out there, putting themselves in harm’s way in order to make our city as safe as it can be.

I know there has been a lot of tension in recent months or even years with regards to law enforcement, but let me be perfectly clear. This post has really nothing to do with that. This post is about two friends.

From the first moment I met Heather, years ago, something clicked. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I knew the second we met that we’d be friends for life. And I was right. We text almost every day, tag each other in silly Instagram posts and send each other ridiculous memes in long text threads involving at least three other people at all times. She’s my “go-to” when I’m having a bad day, and she’s my “go-to” when I’m having a wonderful day. But it’s not just Heather who is amazing. Her family is amazing. Her mom and dad are hilarious, and two of the kindest people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. At parties I have had the opportunity to meet many of her co-workers, and I have to say… most police officers are pretty fun to hang out with when not in uniform. I will admit that, as a civilian, I can’t help but feel a little bit like an outsider when we are all together; after all, I have no idea what it’s like to put your life on the line, every single day and/or night, for strangers who more often than not, seem to want to point out your failures as an officer, rather than praise you for being as close to a superhero as superheroes get. Not to mention, sometimes someone will make a joke, and then you’ll hear a resounding, “now THAT’s what I call a 1086 or a Code 5911, etc.” or whatever cop jargon they use, and then I just look around the room thinking, “I need to get a cheat sheet for this crap.”

Now, back to May 17. As I sped down the freeway, yes… I SPED, I didn’t know what to think. Was she dead? Was she paralyzed? Would she ever be the same? I thought about her fiancé, the buddy who’d called me. I thought about her mom and dad and brother and all of her fellow officers whom I’d met. I felt numb and utterly helpless, and I cannot, for the life of me, think of a worse feeling than that of feeling utterly helpless; unable to say or do anything to improve or change the circumstances in which you find yourself.

When I finally reached the hospital, I was taken aback by all the police cruisers, cars and just men and women in uniform literally protecting her from any outsiders. It was a marvelous, albeit, stressful sight. I was overcome with pride and happiness that she worked with so many good men and women who love and care for her as much as the rest of us do. I can’t begin to try to imagine what it would be like, as a fellow officer, to see someone you put your life on the line with every day in such unknown circumstances – but at that moment, I couldn’t even think. I just needed to see her. Immediately.

As I approached a group of officers in and out of uniform, I asked if I could go in with them so I could see her. I already knew her room number – I wasn’t exactly a stranger. One of the officers looked at me suspiciously and said, “You know Heather?” My response? “Well, I’m going to be a bridesmaid at her wedding, so I sure hope so.” I know my sarcastic humor couldn’t have been more ill-timed, but laughter is how I deal with most things. If I’m not laughing – I’m crying, and there was no way in hell I was going to let her see me upset – she was my hero, and now it was my time to be hers.

I was escorted into the waiting room where I was greeted by 20-30 police officers. Some in uniform – others not. Greeted might be a strong word, since the room was cold and tense. To say I was intimidated would be a hugely gross understatement. I scanned the room and only recognized two officers, and was receiving suspicious glances from everyone else. I didn’t blame them. The waiting room had a level of tension I had never experienced before. Of course, I had also never been in this situation before. Obviously, many of the police officers there remained stoic and poised. I, on the other hand, didn’t know what to do. So I sat down and loudly stated, “For the record, nobody has permission to check my purse or my trunk.” (sigh) I don’t know what I was thinking…. I just couldn’t handle all the serious tension. We were ALL helpless at that point, so might as well break the ice in the only way I knew how. It was well-received by some, and by others? Not so much. On the bright side, I had the opportunity to speak to many of her fellow officers, and I was able to meet many new and wonderful people whom I know I will see again and greet with hugs.

Now, before I reached the hospital, I already knew the details of what had happened to her and when I arrived, I was able to get an update about her condition. And I can now definitively say, with 100% certainty, that the media has no clue what the hell they are doing or talking about. They couldn’t get the information they wanted, so they made up whatever they thought would attract the most attention. It’s sad, really.

I just sat there, waiting for hours, just hoping to see her face and let her know that I was here. I even brought dumb magazines to keep her company, but after three hours of waiting, we were told by the hospital staff that we had to leave. Not just civilians – everyone, except for the officers on duty protecting her. I saw her fiancé, hugged him, and asked him to please make sure he let her know that I was there, even if I couldn’t see her. He assured me he would, so I gave one of the officers on duty the magazines, and I went home.

When I came back the next morning to see her, I ran into one of her fellow officers in her cruiser and asked if I could sit with her for a minute before I went in. As we sat in the car talking, something most unexpected happened. An African-American man cleaning up the garbage around the hospital approached the officer’s window and said something I will never, ever forget. He said, “Hello, Officer. How’s your friend doing? I really am praying for her and a good recovery.” Then he said, “Listen, I wanted you to know something. I live in a very bad part of town – I guess you’d call it the ‘hood’, and most of my family and neighbors are in gangs and involved in drugs and stuff, and I know that there’s been a lot of stuff going on and being said in the media about cops and blacks, but I have not heard one single person make light or laugh at your friend’s situation. No one is cheering. No one is clapping. No one is celebrating.”

That really got to me. I had no idea one man’s comment could put so many things into perspective. See, Heather is not just a police officer. She is a human being. She is someone’s daughter. She is someone’s sister. She is someone’s friend. She is someone’s fiancee. She is someone. It is so easy to forget in times of strife and evolution, that at our core, we are all people. That man didn’t know her. He didn’t know her name. He didn’t know the details. All he knew, was that she was hurt and he was praying for her. It was as simple as that.

It is so easy to forget in times of strife and evolution, that at our core, we are all people.

I wish we, as a society, could look past the uniform, and realize that yes, there are police officers out there who give others a bad wrap, especially the ones who give me tickets for having tinted windows on my minivan, but take the uniform off and we are all just people. And people need each other. And when someone so close to you comes thisclose to losing their life, it really makes you resent all the negativity pointed at these heroes we so easily take for granted.

It has now been one week since Heather was shot. Looking back, and after speaking with someone I love, it was made apparent to me that having my tallest best friend shot and almost die was essentially a perfect storm of all of my worst fears and anxieties coming at me at once. I wasn’t able to eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even be a mom – I was so wrapped up in the hailstorm, and now, a week later, I’m finally starting to feel normal again. And that is mostly due to my hero, Heather. God love her. She’s the one who reassured me that she would be ok. She and her fiancé are the ones who held me when I went to their house and laid on her lap and cried. She is the one who continued to smile and put me at ease, even though she’s the one who took a bullet. She was there for me when I wanted to be there for her, and if THAT isn’t the definition of a hero, then I don’t know what is. I want the WORLD to know what an amazing woman, friend and police officer she is, and San Diego is lucky as hell to have her.

I love you, Heather. You are my hero. You are everyone’s hero.

~ Your Shortest BFF

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