I’m not a superstitious person. Friday the 13th has always been just another day for me. It’s one of the 4 to 5 Fridays in a month that just happens to fall on a number that comes after 12. There have been 55 Friday the 13th’s since the year I was born, 1984. The first 54 were normal and uneventful. Fifty-five wanted to leave its mark on my family, though.
I sat at my desk Friday afternoon after my kids had left and I stared dauntingly at the mound of papers I needed to grade. I stared at my pile, glanced at my to-do list, thought about the emails I needed to respond to, work I needed to set out for the following week, notes I needed to write, and I suddenly felt overwhelmed and anxious.
I took out my pink grading pen, and began to grade the first of many, attempting to rid a tiny bit of the stress I was feeling. At least I could scratch “grading” from my list of things to complete. Here we go, math, science sheets, writing tasks, and projects. I had only gotten to the second page of the first paper when, sighing, I just laid my pen down. I realized I didn’t have the attention or desire to make a dent in my pile. Instead, I chose to do something I never do. Leave shortly after my kids walked out of my room. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve left so soon after them. My desk was in such a disarray. There were notebooks and papers on my small group table. I looked at my piles, my to-do list, my calendar, and I was just too mentally exhausted to tackle any of it. I can’t stand returning to work in the mornings with a desk that isn’t organized and ready to start the new day, but I felt like my pile of things to do was suffocating me. I removed my thumb drive from my computer. I logged off. I grabbed my pink coffee mug, my lunchbox, and schoolbag. I removed my purse from my filing cabinet drawer. I turned off my diffuser and lightswitch. I locked up my classroom, and walked out. Just like that. I gave no thought to what I would be doing in an hour. Playing with Blake outside? Doing the dishes while he played with his trucks inside? Coloring? Watching TV? Or would I be in a police car being driven to the hospital where my husband was?
The exterior of our house was being painted that day. After picking Blake up from daycare and with him in tow, I pulled up to my driveway a few minutes after 4pm, just as the painters were finishing. I was so thrilled with the color choices, and the wonderful job they’d done. I took Blake out of the van and snapped a picture and sent it to Michael.
(Excuse the Michael “Loving Husband”. He changed his name to read that in my phone YEARS ago and I just never changed it. So I changed mine to say Princess) 😉
The previous text was one I’d sent him from home while he was already at work that morning asking if we had a compass protractor one of my kids could for an in-class project. He said it was probably “too late” because by the time he was able to respond I was already at work.
He didn’t respond to my house picture, but I assumed he was just busy at work, as I was when he sent his reply that morning.
It’s so surreal now to look at the time stamps on there, think back to that morning, and how it was just as normal as any other day.
I walked up the driveway, elated and excited, thanking the painters for a job well done. I spoke with the owner of the company and he said they would be finishing up very soon. They also painted the interior of our house a year ago, so we spent some time catching up and he asked how Michael was doing and he told me the next time I saw him to thank him for his service to our community. He then initiated a 5 minute talk about how poorly police officers are treated these days and how he gets so tired of watching the media and seeing officers blamed for so many things that happen. He asked me “How do you do it? Being married to someone with such a dangerous job?” I told him that we survived multiple deployments, so things don’t seem as dangerous as him being gone for a year at a time, facing dangers I couldn’t even fathom. I told him that it helps not constantly following the news, since we don’t have cable, because I would probably worry a lot more. I remember very distinctly uttering to the painter (because I say this to Michael, too) “I tell him that he needs to do whatever he needs to do to come home to us at the end of every day. I don’t care what that entails, but whatever it is, we will deal with it as a family.” It’s crazy how at the moment I spoke those words, everything was already happening and Michael was literally running for his life. My heart is racing just typing that.
Continuing to be interested, the painter then wanted to know what it was like with him being gone so much in the military, and how I handled the thought of something happening to him.
Deployments. There’s no easy way to handle them or to make them any easier. I “dealt” with them by going to bed each night, praying, waking up each morning, going about my day, and repeating. I took every year day by day. I didn’t count years, or months, or weeks, or even hours. One day was one day closer to his return. I guess beyond that I tried not to give it much thought. I went to work each day. I hung out with friends as I normally would. I ate dinner alone every night, and probably binge watched too much TV. The toughest days were when I would hear through the grapevine that someone was killed or injured, but I never knew who it was until the names were released after the family members were notified. And even though I knew in my heart of hearts that I would know if it was my husband because someone would’ve been knocking at my door long before news actually reached the base that there was any sort of accident, yet, I would still hold my breath until I was 100% certain it wasn’t him. Because, maybe they couldn’t find me. Maybe they were asking around for me and word got out. Was my address correct? Did I update my work location?
See, every phone call and every doorbell up until the name is released can leave you momentarily paralyzed. It was that way for me, at least. Body-numbing, nail-biting, I-just-want-to-be-alone-until-I-know, aching, longing, sad…pain. And then when the news comes that it wasn’t your husband (but oh do you ache for the person’s husband it was), you just want to wrap your arms around his neck in a great sigh of relief and smother him in kisses and tell him in person how much you love him. To please never leave again. But you can’t. Because he isn’t coming home for 9 more months.
I think God gives us a heart of preparation for things to come. A constant, beating, anticipatory edge to our compassionate selves. We think of our hearts as a feeling. The heart is what dances and warms when we feel joy. Conversely, it’s also what aches and breaks when we experience trials, tribulations, hardships, loss, grief, tragedy, and fear. But each time we should arise forging ahead a little stronger and a little more able.
By the 3rd deployment I couldn’t allow myself to be so crippled with fear each time I heard any kind of news. That’s when I truly learned living day by day, knowing I would just have to take and handle whatever arose.
The simple answer I gave the painter to his initial question about deployments was “I survived it day by day.” It was simple, and it was the truth. He chuckled and said “Good strategy”, then mentioned his crew would be done in a few moments. I went inside to make Blake a snack, and as he was eating I sat down on the kitchen table to write out a check to the painters. Just then I received a text from someone asking if I knew what was going on at the Tijuana Flats in Winter Garden because there were cops and helicopters. I don’t even remember if I responded, because at the time I had no idea, and I was a little too busy to pay it much mind. Sometimes I get texts from friends asking if I know what’s going on in certain places they’re driving by in Winter Garden. I guess they think I have automatic real-time updates from my husband since he’s a police officer. Truthfully, I rarely know what’s going on. I knew if anything was going on Michael would most likely be working it, but I gave it no further thought.
Maybe a minute or two later, my phone rang and I saw it was Michael. I was looking forward to his reaction on the house colors. “Hey babe!” I answered. But it wasn’t his voice on the other line.
There was that body-numbing pain. Only this time I wasn’t anticipating it. I wasn’t waiting by my phone or door for any sort of notification. It just happened on this regular Friday afternoon, 2 hours before he was supposed to come home from work.
The voice on the line was a familiar one, a fellow co-worker of Michael’s letting me know that he’d be injured. “Hey Brittney, it’s ___. There’s been an accident. Mike’s okay but he’s hurt his leg.” I heard yelling and sirens and lots of background chaos going on. He said I needed to get to the local hospital but I shouldn’t drive. “Do you promise me it’s ONLY his leg?”, I questioned. I really just doubted with everything that I was hearing that it was only a leg. He had to get off the phone quickly so I started trying to think of my next step. Who was going to take me to the hospital? Do I take Blake? Who could I leave him with who could get to me in a reasonable amount of time? We hung up and I started making phone calls. I think I called 5 people who I thought could help me. Help take Blake. Drive me to the hospital. Something. Absolutely no one answered. I had my front door open and Blake was inside quietly eating his snack at his table. I was standing in my driveway, knowing I needed someone who lived close by, but my attempts at that had all failed. I felt trapped in a nightmare during one of those times when you’re trying to call for help but no one hears you. I remember just standing in my driveway, staring at the houses across the street wondering if this was really happening. I wanted to scream. Scream at the people in the house across the street. Scream at the cars passing by. These people were carrying on with their lives at the very moment I was so uncertain of so much. Didn’t they know? It’s honestly confusing because I kind of felt as if everyone around me should just automatically have some sense of my pain and uncertainty. The black truck passing by was blaring their music without a care in the world, and I was just staring blankly into nothingness waiting for my next momentary move. You just don’t ever think it’ll be you who is ever going to get this kind of news. Other people, yes. But not you. I don’t know how much time passed. 30 seconds? 5 minutes? But eventually my phone ran again with the caller ID saying it was Michael, but it was Michael’s friend again telling me that a Lieutenant from another nearby police department was coming to get me and he would be at my house soon to take me to Orlando Regional Medical Center.
The painters returned to where I was standing from finishing up the back of the house and I gave them a 10 second version of what I knew, explaining I would have to pay them at a different time. They were completely understanding.
I had to put away any fear and think like a mom. Do I strap a carseat into the back of this police car? I knew I was not coherent enough to be able to properly hook up a carseat. It suddenly dawned on me to try phoning my neighbors. I quickly explained what I knew and within minutes they were walking over to my house to watch Blake for who knew how long.
I kissed Blake and told him that mommy would be back soon. He was joyfully watching Daniel Tiger, having no idea the cartwheels my stomach was doing.
Just minutes ago I was having a conversation about my husband doing what he had to do to come home to me. And here I was, soon on my way to the hospital. Ironic.
I was pacing my driveway when the unmarked police car pulled up. Thankfully someone showed up that I’d met a few times, so a familiar face was welcomed. I sat in the passenger seat twiddling my thumbs as he sped off and talked in ten code on his radio. It was then I wished I could remember all those police codes I helped Michael study for 7 years earlier. In order to get to the hospital we had to take the highway, and we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. So, we made small talk. I knew I needed to keep myself as calm as possible, and that I would be doing no one any good if I decided to fall apart or lose it. So I asked him about his military past, his family, how long he’d been on the police department. He asked me questions about my work, what grade I taught, and how I liked my job, as if we were two acquaintances just riding alone together for no particular reason. In a police car. Going 50mph in the shoulder lane on the highway. With the lights and sirens blaring.
When I get nervous I say really stupid things and make really stupid jokes. I think I could probably laugh in the most gravest of situations. This was no different. I made some joke about how Michael pulled this crazy injured stunt because I’m having surgery myself at the end of June and he just wanted to get out of taking care of me. Not the best thing to joke about when I wasn’t really sure what I was going to be walking in to upon arrival at the hospital because I still had no idea of the events that surrounded all of this.
We talked in between moments when he wasn’t on the radio. The department was transferring all of Winter Garden’s phone calls to them. I did catch that much. That’s when I knew this was something really big, if they’d seemingly shut down all of the Winter Garden police department. I tried my best to stay completely calm. I took a few deep breaths. I continued to talk to him just as I would a friend sitting in the car next to me, when the opportunity allowed.
I didn’t know it at the time but I later discovered social media was all over it. So was the news. As I was driving in that car, people were giving real time updates to Twitter and Facebook. People were twittering it on scene, and someone even video recorded it just after Michael was hit by the car. Ugh. Don’t even get me started.
This was written around the time I arrived at the hospital. I’m thankful I don’t Twitter. Or is Tweet?
I didn’t bother to even check anything online until days later. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
There were silent conversation moments in the car when he was on the radio, and I had time to think. I tried to use these moments to counsel myself and rationalize through everything.
I didn’t get to kiss him this morning because he left before I got up. What did I say to him last night? We certainly weren’t arguing, so that’s good. I know I told him I loved him. So at least he knows that. When I get to the hospital who will be there? Are they going to let me see him? I’m not going to freak out. I need to call his mom. I’ll do that after I see him. Cell phone charger. I don’t have a charger and I’m at less then 20% battery. I know I’m going to have to call a lot of people no matter what. Wow, there’s really a lot going on on that radio. They don’t do that much for an officer with an injured leg, right? Was he shot? Okay, Blake. My neighbors can stay with Blake tonight hopefully so I can take care of things. He’s not dead, Brittney. If he were dead no one would’ve called you on the phone. But what if it was more severe than what they were saying? What if it’s not just his leg, and that was just the minor of the injuries? Okay, if he were dead you know they would’ve come to your door. It was just his leg. They wouldn’t lie to me. I can can deal with just a hurt leg. It’s just his leg. It has to be. You’ve got this. Whatever happens. Lord, please let him be okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.
We pulled up to the hospital on the ER side and parked where other police cars were already lined up on the grass across from the entrance. There were news crews there, but at the time I had no idea they were there for this.
When I walked into the ER I saw the swarm of officers in front of me. Nurses greeted us at the door and escorted us through the trail of other officers and doctors. I followed, and as the crowed cleared I saw an opening into a tiny room. I saw my tall, handsome hero lying in a hospital bed. At that first glance I saw nothing but his face, alert and awake, which is all I needed. Just to know he was okay. I ran straight for his neck. I don’t remember what I said, but I’m certain there were a hundred I Love You’s. There was blood and a huge gaping wound from his leg, which I made the mistake of looking at. But, there was relief when I was able to see for my own eyes that his leg seemed to be the only injured part of his body. It was clear he was in pain, but between pain meds and his positive attitude, he was doing a somewhat decent job of covering it up.
We spent hours in the trauma center getting x-rays and waiting on an emergency surgery to reset his leg in preparation for surgery the next day, where he then had a titanium rod implanted that now spans from below his knee to just above his ankle.
The hours in that night happened in slow-motion. I know at the time it was all go-go, wait around, go-go, wait some more. But I think I was just going through the motions. So many officers from different departments stopped by to check on him. There was standing room only in the hallways of the trauma center, and that many visitors isn’t something that is apparently usually allowed, but the nurses told us they make exceptions when it’s officer-involved, and they were happy to do so. The nurses and doctors weaved around the crowd of people. Officers stopped by from departments that we didn’t even know. It was pretty incredible, heartwarming, and humbling.
Thankfully Michael was going to be okay in the end. I knew any surgery we had to endure, and any recovery ahead was better than the alternative “what could’ve been.”
I finally got the whole story of the events that had lead to his injury. It’s truly a miracle that it was only his leg that was hurt.
The details of what happened aren’t what I want to get in to. After all, you can Google the news and get the story. The headlines were kinda crazy. Police officers just don’t get injured on calls in Winter Garden. It’s a small, quiet town, for the most part.
The day of receiving the hardest news of my life is also the day I am most grateful for. The Lord has special things planned for my hero, because he allowed him to come back home to me. God provided him with wisdom, discernment, and clarity in split seconds to respond in such a way that literally saved his life.
Stress can be a blessing. I look back now and am just so thankful that God put me in a position to be overwhelmed that Friday at work. I should’ve been able to manage all of my tasks-papers graded, setting up, responding to emails. I should’ve been able to compartmentalize it all and do one thing at a time. But it all got to me very quickly after my kids walked out. But if I hadn’t felt stressed, then I would’ve been in my car driving when I got the phone call saying that Michael was injured. And the last thing I needed to be doing at the time was driving.
Days later I began to read social media comments on Twitter and Facebook, and news reports. I probably shouldn’t have bothered. But I did.
It’s no surprise that the headline with the most shocking adjectives will attract the most people. The Twitter update with the least amount of characters and is aptly poignant will get the most retweets. I don’t usually give these headlines and updates much thought when it comes to the people they’re written about. An interesting title is enough to peak anyone’s curiosity. I’ve been guilty of clicking on them when they seem interesting enough.
You think more about them when the headline hits closer to home. “Pizza Delivery Guy Shot After Running Over Winter Garden Officer” is going to gain more readers than “Pizza Delivery Driver Goes Crazy”.
I probably would’ve clicked on the first headline if I were just sitting at home doing nothing. Injured officer? Who was it, I would’ve wondered.
Three days after things had somewhat settled down I took the time to Google what had happened on my phone. It was really hard to look at, and as much as I wanted to stay away, I wanted to know what people had to say about my husband. The headlines were all similar in nature, Officer pinned at dumpster, Officer run over, Officer hit by a car.
After the name of the suspect was released, I read one report that said:
Police said Moran (suspect) drove his car right into an officer behind the restaurant.
“He’s in pain. We do have his wife at the hospital with him,” Ralston said.
And that’s when the true reality of everything finally smacked me in the face, and I cried for the first time in those three days. I wasn’t still standing in my driveway wondering if this was real. It was real. It all really happened. “We do have his wife at the hospital with him.” That did it. I was at the hospital with him. I mean, of course I knew I was. But someone said it. Someone wrote it. So it had to be true. Every storyline I clicked on about what happened were different than any other news I’d ever clicked on in my life, because it was gut-wrenching. That Winter Garden Officer was the man I was married to. And that “wife” was me.
By the third day things had settled down. Michael had his surgery. He was recovering in a hospital room, and crowds of visitors came like clockwork. We saw people we hadn’t seen in years. We laughed a lot, and ate a lot of junk food, thanks to people bringing in sweet treats! All the visitors were really good for our spirits, especially Michael’s.
Michael was released from the hospital on the 4th day. It’s now been over two weeks since it happened, and we’ve had our share of ups and downs. Blake has had a difficult time trying to understand why daddy can’t run around and play with him. His level of comprehension about it is that daddy has a “boo-boo” on his leg, and he tries to kiss it to make it feel better. Gosh, I love our kid. I’m glad he doesn’t understand the world we live in right now. I wouldn’t want him to experience the anger I initially had at the guy who did this. The man who had the intent to take my husband away from us, but thankfully was unsuccessful.
Michael has a recovery ahead of him. Right now he gets around on a walker and sees a physical therapist a few times a week. He should be back to his old self hopefully in the next month, maybe two. Well, back to his old self with a bit of iron pumped in him!
I’ve gone through so many emotions through all of this. Anger, despair, stress, thankfulness, and I think I’m moving into the forgiveness stage. (More on that in a different post.)
The scariest and worst day of my life turned into the best day of my life. So the one word I would use to describe our recent events is BLESSED. Blessed to count one more day as a gift. Blessed to be together as a family. Blessed to walk, talk, breathe, and just be.
I am so thankful to call this hero my husband.
As I wrote this entry, I also came up with this acronym and poem for “blessed.” I think I’m going to paint a sign of this and hang it in our house as a constant reminder of all God does for us.
Scenarios that God
Saves us in
I am grateful for another day to spend with my love. I’m grateful that Blake still gets to chase daddy around the house in a game of hide-and-go seek. And that we get to sit down for dinner together each night still.
Life is just crazy. You never know what the day will bring. I think I take that for granted on a daily basis.
I’m still not superstitious. I don’t suddenly believe that Friday the 13ths are mysteriously bad. It’s still just another day. But definitely a date I’ll never be able to forget. I will now celebrate them as a reminder that on this day, God gave us the blessing of life. My husband’s.