Tonight, and every time I leave for work and say goodbye to my family, I have one of two thoughts:
1) I can’t wait to see them when I get home or;
2) This could be the last time I see my beautiful family.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a fear, it’s not an attempt to gain undeserved sympathy. It is simply the truth. Reality. A result of my choice to be your resident authority figure. The thoughts come from my mind, acting independent of my conscious self, reminding me to cherish all that I have. To appreciate the time spent with those that matter most to me.
I spend a lot of my day helping strangers. Strangers who by the end of my time with them, have confided in me their most intimate:
And yes, their evil.
With the energy spent with these strangers come vulnerable acquaintances whose life story will be spilled to me in a matter of minutes, it can be easy to run out of the patience with your longtime, personal vulnerable acquaintances, aside from the professional ones.
The “I love you” from my spouse or child, the picnic on the grass of your front yard, the quick trip to the grocery store are all the things I will miss. Not the super achievements that fade away, forgotten by the next generation, but the ones that root, take hold and will never be forgotten in the souls of your family to come.
So when I leave for work, my brain clicks. I know that I need to appreciate looking into the eyes of my child, hearing “I love you” and saying it back. It requires that I mark it, feel it, goddamn-well mean it, because I also know that tonight…may be the night.
Yes the first thought is “tonight may be the night that I am killed on duty”, but what about maimed or simply changed, somehow, forever. What if the brain I leave with isn’t the one I come back with. What if I come home and don’t see my life the same tonight. Physical injury is a part of the thought, but not the whole.
It is more likely that when I put on that uniform tonight, physically I will be unscathed, but I will see something that will change me, even slightly, forever. The world will not look the same after tonight, it never does. The door will be flung open and another unforgettable image will be burned into my heart, a thing I cannot unsee.
Honestly, when I say goodbye to my family I know that fact to be true. The complexity of service. I know I will come home different; not better or worse-different. It will impact my life at home. It will be my responsibility to manage it.
As I leave tonight I will think to myself that, ONE: I am excited to see them when I get home or that, TWO: this may be the last time I look at them through these set of eyes and this exact brain. I may even think both those thoughts. Either way, I will absolutely accept the fact that I may not come home at all.
Before leaving, I will take the moment to take it in. I will see them. I will hear them. I will tell them I love them. I will accept in the far reaches of the parts of me that I will never understand and in the close ones that I will understand even less, that I have a family who loves me. I have a family who I will fight for. And they will be here when I get home, and even-God forbid-if I don’t.
Don the Incarcerator.