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The Happy Sad Boy : a Story from the Street

Police officers see a lot of trauma. A lot of that involves kids. Kids shaking in fear due to what’s happening in their households. Kids that are made victims. Of terrible, unspeakable things. Things you hear about and wish you could unhear. Things you see and wish you could un-see.

Before I have to announce: “Reader’s Discretion Advised,” I will say this writing does not detail or depict any of the grotesque situations that may come to mind- whether they be from a first responder or from a civilian. What I am writing about today is something much more innocuous, yet the call has stuck with me for the majority of my career.

Near the very start of my career, well over a decade ago, I responded to a domestic situation. As one of my academy instructors explained, “Domestics are your bread and butter of police work.” Sad. True. Unhealthy relationships know no race, no creeds, no tax bracket. However, if you work in a jurisdiction with lower income households, you may get a lot more dispatched calls about them due to combination of logistical and sociological reasons.

Typically in a well-staffed area, you would respond to a domestic situation with at least two officers. That’s because most domestic situations involve at least two emotionally-elevated people and although not all of them have weapons directly involved, every household has a cache of deadly weapons (see: Kitchen).

In any case, as often happens when a unit is able, you may get a third officer in such a call. This allows for more hands on deck, or at least sets of eyes looking out for potential dangers. As you may have guessed, domestic situations frequently generate an arrest, and when you introduce highly emotionally-volatile individuals that don’t WANT to be arrested, that can prove challenging.

I was that third officer on this call. It was late at night (of course). I arrived, everything was amess. After looking around, it didn’t appear things were thrown around as much as they just lived in general disarray. Stuff was everywhere. Everyone was yelling. “Male-half” was yelling. “Female-half” was yelling. Officers trying to yell at both of them to stop yelling. (Loud Noises!) Fortunately, no one had to go to jail…this time. I remember looking around in the midst of verbal warfare and saw a few kids in the apartment.

The youngest kids were toddlers, they were wandering around. The oldest kid was probably six or seven. As both primary officers were talking to (at least attempting) the parents about giving each other space, taking a walk, counseling, court orders, and so on, I focused on the kid. He was calm. He looked at me and made eye contact. I didn’t grow up with younger siblings or cousins, so I never felt like a natural when dealing with kids. As I fumbled to try to think of how to engage or make him feel comfortable, he initiated. He asked me questions. He talked about himself and what he liked. The rest was easy.

The boy seemed so mellow and confident. He was almost adult-like in how he spoke to me. As a paralyzingly shy kid myself, I was initially impressed. He seemed so “mature.” It struck me that in an environment like this, he had to be. He was probably the closest thing to an adult in the family, the most reliable being in this home for himself and his younger siblings. He was somehow still bright-eyed and smiley.

There was no crime, no sign of abuse or neglect. Not enough to generate any report for child protective services. Not enough to remove the kid, not enough to require classes. So there I was looking at this kid and pondering what would become of him.

Call it cynical, call it realistic- but most cops would say that he was likely going to learn all of these toxic behaviors from his parents. Maybe he was doomed to repeat it with his future relationships. At best case, he would not witness physical violence. At best case, he would not receive it. At best case, he would not learn and repeat it.

At best case, he would not witness arrest. At best case, he would be able to have healthier behaviors for himself. At best case he was not going to continue to see this day in, day out. But this wasn’t best case. By the time people that do my job show up, it hardly ever is.

The boy was already inoculated with this environment. It didn’t even phase him anymore. He was looking at me, talking to me like nothing was happening. Like we were just talking in front of a grocery store. Like screaming wasn’t existent. His look of “calm” made me sadder than anything else going on in this scene. I realized I wish he looked scared, as that might be a hint that this wasn’t going on all night, every night. How sad is that?

Here I thought about how he would fare if left to be raised in this chaos. I shuddered at the thought. Here I was, in my early 20s, thinking I could do a better job as his guardian. As a single man living with a couple friends in a house. Here I was, knowing next to nothing about parenting. Yet, feeling confident I could do better. I knew I had more resources. I suspected I had more care. How sad is that?

Before too long, we finished our conversations with the family members. I forced a smile with the brilliant boy. I gave him a sticker, told him he was a good big brother and left with the other officers.

Years later, I still think about that kid that night. I think about him when we arrest violent teens and assaultive adults. Teens that rob, hurt, and crash cars. Adults that terrorize, flee, and fight police. I wonder if they started like this boy. This poor, precious boy.

But to my earlier comment, I disclaimed that this wasn’t a gory situation. It wasn’t something that will give you prolific images in your head, or nightmares. This wasn’t a story of extreme incidence, rather a mundane, average call where “nothing of note happened.”

It wasn’t traumatic.

Or was it.

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