About Bradley's Blog:

A cop, a writer and a whole lot more.

Here you'll find my thoughts on writing, links to my published works, law enforcement musings and other tidbits. Please subscribe to my blog and I encourage you to share anything you find worthy. Thanks!

Disclaimer: these are my opinions and mine alone. I am not speaking as a representative of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in any shape or form here. These are not necessarily the opinions of my employer.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Monday, December 8, 2014

Put down the bag!

I learned at a young age what I would do with my life. Almost like it chose me. It wasn't wanting, it was inevitable. Nobody could ever stop me from achieving my dream to become a policeman.

This dream wasn't fueled by playground bullies or some desire to wield power upon the weak. No, it was fueled by a keen sense of justice--not in the courtroom where legal scholars have exterminated real justice, but in the simple measure of wanting to be a barrier between people doing wrong to others.

Perhaps it was brought about by my mother being killed by a drunk driver when I was six years old. Maybe that pain brought about a desire to prevent others from experiencing the same kind of thing. I'm really not sure, I've just always known I would be a cop. Something else I know is things that happen to us when we're young often set the stage for how we perceive the world as adults. That's not groundbreaking information, I know. However, I'm hoping the true story I'm about to tell will resonate and take your understanding to a new level.


So how does a six-year-old boy cope with the loss of his mom? I'll tell you: he doesn't. Think about it--six-year-olds still watch cartoons and think some of the characters are real people. They don't have the cognizant ability or even the neuro-pathways established for that kind of high-level brain function. So how do they deal with that kind of trauma? Fantasy.

I convinced myself as a six-year-old boy that everyone was lying and mommy was going to come walking up the street one day into the yard and take me by the hand. She was going to rescue me and say she was sorry for being gone so long. The perfect ending would happen and life would get back to normal.

So I waited. And waited. And cried some. Probably a lot more than I'm letting on. And I grew up.

As a teenager, life gets busy. School gets tougher and social situations get more awkward. Pimples come around. We start to get sorted into groups: cool kids, not so cool kids, geeks, jocks, etc. And all this time, the hope that my mom would come back one day just kind of faded into the back of my mind somewhere. I didn't have an epiphany where I sat down and had a conversation with myself..."Okay kid, give it up. She's not coming back. Get over it." No, it just kind of faded away, packed into a bag, and I forgot that I had ever thought such a thing.

But it was still there, like a computer virus running in the background. The bag was always getting heavier. Grinding. Causing problems.

I grew into a man, started a family, and fulfilled that dream of becoming a cop. I made my dad proud. He came out to Las Vegas and attended my graduation from the police academy. That was a big deal for him.

As many cops do, I began to drink alcohol. Drinking for cops (and really for most people) is a social thing and there was a kind of unhealthy false release from the stress caused by the things I had seen on the job and the complex hidden labyrinth of memories and pains from losing my mom as a kid.

In a sick irony, I was nearly killed by a drunk driver while on duty one night. You may have read my article about that recently in American COP Magazine. My drinking continued and it almost wrecked my marriage. It almost brought about the same kind of pain to my kids that I had experienced--the loss of a parent. Not in the same way, but losing me because they would be in a broken home.

The bag I had been carrying for so long was overflowing and the stuff coming out of it wasn't good. It was poison in my life and the lives of those I cared about the most. I didn't even know I had a bag. I had forgotten the whole thing and thought the bag was just a part of me, so I kept carrying it, spilling the poison from time to time.

Then one day in 1999, my wife and I had the evening to ourselves, so we went to a movie theater to see Double Jeopardy, with Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones. Ashley Judd played Libby, a woman who was married and had a young son she adored. She was framed for murdering her husband--framed so well that even she thought she might have done it.

Sent off to prison, Libby one day learned that her husband was still alive, living with her son and one of her best girlfriends. Eventually after several years, Libby was paroled. Her husband was found and killed when he presented a deadly threat to Libby's parole officer, played by Tommy Lee Jones.

At the end of the movie, Libby is reunited with her son, Matty. As this scene unfolded, I felt my heart rate go up. The temperature in the room seemed to change. I stared at the screen and something over twenty years gone by started bubbling to life in my mind.

Libby asked Matty, "Do you know who I am?"

Matty stood there, emotions pouring out of his face while he nodded and said, "They told me you were dead."

Double Jeopardy scene
If the video doesn't play, click on this link:

SLAM!

That big heavy bag stowed away so deep went from the back to the front in an instant. For the first time in nearly twenty-five years, I remembered. I remembered what I had convinced myself to believe: mom was coming for me someday.

I began weeping as people rose from their seats and filed out of the theater. I sat in my seat and my wife looked at me like I had grown another head. These weren't tears of sadness. These were tears of a multitude of emotions: relief, joy, anger, sorrow. It wasn't that I finally realized mom wasn't coming back, it was that I remembered that pretending she would is what got me through it when I had no other way to cope.

My wife asked what was wrong and I said, "That was me! I was that kid and I remember now. That's what they told me too. They told me she was dead." 

For the first time, I had figured out how to drop my bag. I didn't even know I had a bag and there it was on the ground before me.  I didn't have to carry it anymore. I didn't have to treat it like it was part of me. It was liberating and it was the beginning of a change in my life.

I've found other bags that I've packed and carried over the years. As a lifelong cop, I've learned that policing is a solemn business that brings few accolades. When the job is done well, that's just normal and expected--go away, pig. But make a mistake or worse, commit some intentional wrong, and the forgiveness others want for themselves is rarer than air in the vacuum of space.

Nevertheless, the keepers of the peace know the troubles and scrutiny they face all too well. We go back for more every single day. It's either insanity or true love for their fellow man. The policeman doesn't look for pats on the back or any sort of thanks from the public. Most cops think it's actually quite embarrassing to be recognized for doing a good job. They'd rather see a stranger help subdue a criminal when he's one-on-one with him, or stand up for the police when the anti-cop zealots bang their drums.

But something I will always be watchful for are those times when I'm holding on to baggage and tucking it away, acting like it's good for me when I know first-hand that bags never have anything good inside.

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