My fiancé arrives home from a twelve hour shift. He left in the pre-dawn darkness, and has arrived after winter’s dusk.
“Who died?” I ask when I greet him at the door, motioning to the black band across his badge. A thin blue line on the band serves as a marker for his profession.
“The deputy in Leon County,” he says, leaving his boots by the door. “You didn’t hear?”
“No. What happened?”
He tells me about the fire and the ambushed deputies, and I’m reminded of the nickname firefighters have given cops–blue canaries. As far as first responders go–firefighters, EMTs, the works–law enforcement are known for running straight into the fringe with little to no protection. They carry a gun, pepper spray, TASER, and often wear a ballistics vest, but that is not always enough to save them. They are the canaries in the coal mines of burning buildings and rubble.
I browse the Officer Down Memorial Page–it seems like there’s a new entry almost every day. I understand the very real dangers he faces on each of his shifts–he jokes that it’s 98% boredom; 2% sheer terror. I try not to think about that 2%.
But that 2% is why I keep my lips pressed tightly together when I hear about officer-involved shootings where the officer or deputy lives.
There’s plenty of scrutiny regarding the appropriateness of law enforcers’ interactions with civilians, and sympathy often lies with whomever is perceived as the victim. I’m not one to take sides, but I wish we’d take a few seconds to look beyond the uniform and all it stands for, and consider the lungs and beating heart of each unique individual who chooses to be a blue canary.
Over dinner, my fiancé reads aloud from the obituary of his fallen brother. “Deputy Smith,” he reads, “is survived by his loving wife and two children.”
“That sucks,” I say, pushing the food around on my plate with my fork. “That. Sucks.”
It sucks for the deputy’s family. It sucks for the community. It sucks because I know there is a very real possibility that one day the Sheriff may roll onto my driveway, ring the doorbell, and ask me to have a seat.
It’s the same knowledge all law-enforcement spouses have, the sinking rock in our chests, to know it could be any one of us on the other side of that door. We share our loved ones with the law-breakers, rapists, and murderers of the world so that others may sleep safely and soundly through the night.
So I cherish the few short hours I get with my fiancé between his shifts. After dinner, we marvel at the newness of our engagement; the flood of messages and texts from well-wishing family and friends punctuates the twilight. I watch my blue canary as he adjusts the black band on his badge before setting it back on his nightstand, and wonder if this–the black band, the thin blue line–is one of those things that never gets easier.
A time-honored tradition will follow. Deputies and officers from near and far will pour in to the community, dress in their sharpest Class A uniforms and stand united for their fallen brethren. Despite recent or long-standing hostility toward law enforcement, together they find solace and fraternity and strength. They endure, and continue to stand watch.