Some years ago, a lieutenant from a southern department shared with Calibre Press a letter he wrote to his soon-to-be former wife. It was impressively insightful and eye-opening. He shared it to help other cops who may be facing marital challenges.
Here’s what he wrote to us, to his wife…and to you:
I lost my wife recently. No. She didn’t go to the Last Roll Call. We divorced.
Yeah, I know what you’re saying. “A cop with a bad marriage. So what’s new?” Well. I’ll agree a divorced cop is not unique, but what is remarkable is the reason. She said I lacked spontaneity! I may be the only man in America who’s divorced because of a spontaneity deficiency.
Of course, my reaction was like any good, experienced cop confronted by Internal Affairs. I vehemently denied the charge and held tight to my story, citing many examples of spontaneous actions.
After the confrontation ebbed, I began to think my spontaneous denial may have been a poor exhibit to prove my case, as well as one of the few times I displayed this character trait outside the line of duty.
After much reflection I realized it probably appeared to her that I did have this lacking and I believed I could make my case as to why I was “spontaneously challenged” to put it in politically correct terms.
Since I loved my wife more than God should allow a man to love a woman, I thought I would write a letter to plead my case and all would be right in my world. So, I gave it a shot!
Dear Wife (I used her name, but that’s none of your business.)
As to my lack of spontaneity: I’m sure that you rightly perceive it as such, but let me offer you this—and I realize it is an excuse, not a reason, and I need to address what is a deficiency.
You already know what my earlier personal life was like and you know much of what I have done and been through on the department through talks and stories. You have said on more than one occasion that police work has ruined me. I don’t agree with that, but yes, it has affected me. Just as with everyone, including you, I am the sum total of all of my experiences. But maybe you aren’t fully aware of what has transpired and how it can alter an outlook, so I’ll try to relate a little better what I’ve experienced.
My first real night out of the academy and out on the street was Christmas Eve 1979 on the night watch. Two hours after the tour began it turned into Christmas morning. About halfway through the shift we got a shooting call. It was a woman, eight months pregnant who was shot in the face by her boyfriend who has been on Ts-and-Blues. She was going into labor when we got there.
We got her to the hospital and as the doctor was feeding a whole roll of gauze into her mouth to try to stop the bleeding, she had a contraction and spit a mouthful of blood in his face. As he wiped his face with a towel he said to no one in particular, “Thank you, darling!” Through the blood and the gauze she mumbled, “I’m sorry.” They took her off to surgery then. I knew she didn’t die but I never really knew what happened to her.
About two years later, while with another partner, we got a call of a disturbance with a mental subject in that same project. When we went into the apartment we found an elderly woman, a kid and a totally naked woman wrecking the place and screaming about someone hurting her. We had to fight her to restrain her and when we got her cuffed, I noticed the round scar on her face. It was the same woman.
Grandma pointed to the kid and told me that he was the baby who was born on Christmas Day. When I asked why I never got called to court, she said they held the boyfriend for about three months then let him go because he was too crazy to stand trial. She said her daughter had been crazy ever since, wondering if he would come back and kill her.
In the years between those two calls to that apartment and for many years after that, I have seen a lot. It kind of slowed down around the time we met, but in those years I have battled and, with the help of family, friends and God, “won” against alcoholism. I had friends and acquaintances who battled it and many lost.
I lost friends and acquaintances to death from disease, accident, murder and suicide and saw many injured, sometimes seriously. I have dealt with insane people under insane circumstances. I once took to the hospital a mental patient whose mentally retarded brother kept her in an empty room and fed her on the same floor she relieved herself on. Not out of meanness. He just didn’t know where to get help. My partner and I both thought she had short “corn rows” on her head but when we got her outside in the light, we realized she had a shaved head and the “corn rows” were bloated ticks.
I’ve been investigated and interrogated so many times by IAD and the FBI I can’t remember and I’ve stood trial in federal court three times for defending myself or others…for doing my job. Found innocent every time but not a real pleasant experience to be a policeman and hear yourself referred to as “the defendant.”
I’ve seen men and women of all ages and races dead from everything imaginable, some by auto accident where they were in pieces, some murdered in any manner and any method a sick mind can devise. I’ve seen people in every stage after death, from still warm and convulsing to skeletal and every stage in between with the attendant sights and odors.
I’ve been lied to, cursed at, spit on, pushed, punched and kicked. I’ve shot people and wounded them and I’ve shot people and killed them. I once shot a 19-year-old as he assaulted a sergeant with a 15-inch butcher knife. I was so close I could touch him. We stared into each others’ eyes as the life ran out of his blood ran out of the hole I put in his neck.
Nearly all the things I’ve experienced or been exposed to on the job have been spontaneous. Even when you think you have an idea of what you’re going to see or do, you still can’t be totally prepared. I was once dispatched to a shooting call to a shooting call in a housing project involving a 6-year-old. You can’t be prepared to see a 6-year-old dead from a point-blank blast from a .38 fired by his 5-year-old cousin and then have the “mother” lie about where the gun was kept because she was more concerned with avoiding responsibility than with her dead boy.
All this may not be as exciting and romantic as being a stunt car driver or a spy, but it’s not mundane. And you pay a price. Believe me, you pay a price. You put up walls and develop attitudes to keep from going crazy. My spontaneity reserves may be depleted.
You learn that you can’t give in to and display your emotions, not just on the job but off the job, too, because you can’t afford to start slipping. You hope that you can find one person whom you can trust and with whom you can share your emotions.
You recently told me that I go from being Mr. Macho to emotional. I couldn’t figure that out. I don’t know where the Mr. Macho comes from. I don’t think I’ve tried to contrive that persona with you, but yes, I have shown emotion. I had become comfortable with being able to show emotion to you; the one person for whom I had been looking. All of my emotions. Especially love.
Lieu (she had started calling me “Lieu” when I got my bar, but that’s none of your business either.)
The letter didn’t work. Like I said before, I lost my wife.
As it turns out, my lack of spontaneity was not the only problem with our marriage. It probably wasn’t that significant. There were some other things that later came to light that were insurmountable. But I can’t discount the possibility that a lack of spontaneity may have factored in there somehow.
If there is something in here for you it’s that you might want to remember that complacency in the home might be as deadly to marriage as complacency on the street can be to your physical self. Remember, the reality of the street is not the only reality. Not everyone who isn’t a brother or sister officer you’ve been to the whip with is a liar or a violator. Some civilians are pretty good people. They just spend most of their lives in a different reality.
You train and practice for survival on the street and you learn and practice for courtroom survival. Don’t forget about psychological survival. Once in awhile make arrangements for babysitting and spend a night in a downtown hotel or go to a good restaurant for dinner in a cab. Take the long way home through the park or by the lake. Maybe even one day when you come home from the street, stop in the garage and spontaneously take off everything but your gun belt and your hat before you go inside.
Just make sure it’s not the same day as the Tupperware party. There is a thin line between spontaneous and outrageous.
Thank you Calibre Press for this amazing article!