Lasting First Impressions (Part 2)
(If you missed Part 1, click here.)
That was younger Don.
That was before blogging Don.
It sounds silly, but reading blog posts on different subjects ranging from physical abuse and drug addiction to prostitution, etc., has made me a better person and police officer.
Long before I ever decided to start my own blog, I’d been reading what others had to say about their own lives.
It’s easy to see a prostitute and think, “What a whore, why don’t you just get a regular job?”
Hell, I’ve thought it before, but after reading posts from a number of bloggers who blew my mind about their own stints as prostitutes or drug addicts or abuse victims, I’ve lightened up and learned to remind myself that these folks are people too.
I’d have never in a million years guessed that some of the people I’ve read about, and these SisterWives ladies are perfect examples, had such things in their pasts. The stories that so many down on their luck people have to tell are incredible.
I more easily remember now that they were once babies and little girls and boys like all of us. Like my own kids are right now.
What went wrong with them? Can they be helped? Do they even want to be helped?
Not everybody wants to be helped, no matter how miserable we may judge their life circumstances to be from the outside.
If a person has only known pain and misery their whole life, then that may be what’s normal to them. They may not know what it’s like to live without suffering, so they don’t miss or even realize that they can live a life without the sort of pain they’re currently accepting.
How can I judge a person who is petrified to leave a bad situation where they at least have food and shelter for a completely unknown situation that awaits should they leave? It’s easier to talk about leaving than it is to do it. I get that.
I will try, but I won’t waste too much time with people who clearly don’t want my help. Not adults, anyway. They may be more open to help at a later time, but it’s not my place to push them.
I hadn’t ever talked to Claire beyond asking her a couple of questions that night a couple of years prior, so I didn’t know where she was mentally with her situation.
She had invited me in at this point, and she was sitting at her little kitchen table when I asked her again, hoping that she wanted to be helped on this night.
She looked at the table and rested her forehead on her left hand as she stared at the white formica table top as though it had something compelling that it was telling her.
I hoped it was telling her to get out of this relationship while she could.
She exhaled and sighed to herself.
“I went to Dartmouth on a track scholarship. I was going to be a doctor, but the closest I got was getting knocked up by one instead.”
“Your husband?” I asked. “You’ve been with same guy this whole time?”
She looked up through her tear clouded eyes towards the kitchen light or maybe the clock, or maybe at nothing at all for several moments. I think she was trying to balance the tears in her eyes so they’d not roll down her pretty face.
She finally blinked and squashed the tears with her long lashes.
“Yes,” she finally whispered, as a renegade tear managed to escape her eye and race down her face before falling onto the tabletop.
The tear seemed to startle her a bit, and she turned her attention back to me.
“Where is your husband now?” I asked softly. “I was sure he wasn’t in this small apartment anymore.”
“Do you mind?” She asked as she presented a cigarette before my face.
If I were being honest, I’d have told her I minded, yes, but it wasn’t the time to be prodding her about smoking. I was busy prodding her about a bigger issue.
“No. It’s your house. You do whatever you need to do to be comfortable.”
She lit her cigarette and took a deep puff from the filter.
“Are you going to be here long?” She asked as she exhaled.
I was grateful that it wasn’t towards me, but disappointed that her kids had somehow snuck in the kitchen and were standing in the path of that plume of smoke.
I watched as it went right into the older boy’s face. He didn’t flinch.
“How old is he?” I pointed towards the kid so she had to look at him as he stood standing in a cloud of her Pall Mall smoke.
She didn’t flinch either.
“He’s four. The other one’s two. Jacob and Scotty,” she said very matter-of-factly. And he’s not my husband. He’s my boyfriend.”
It was 10:30 at night and she sounded tired. It was obvious to me that the boys had just gotten out of bed and had been very recently asleep.
“I won’t be long, if you don’t want me to be.”
“You don’t have to be long, because nothing happened here. We just yelled at each other a little bit.”
By this time, I had taken a seat across from her at the table. I put my face in my hands and rubbed my eyes. It was the end of a long shift, so I was tired too.
“He’ll kill you one day, if you don’t stick up for yourself or try to get away from him. You know that right?”
She had been starting to annoy me with her nothing happened bullshit, but now she started to sob softly. I watched as little Jacob came to her and put his hand on her thigh. The smaller one followed his big brother over to Claire, and I was struck with how touched I was by these boys and their mom.
Having my own kids has also caused me to see situations differently, for the better I’d say.
The boys were sweet to their mom and when the older one put his hand on his little brother’s head and kissed his cheek, I almost started to sob myself.
I don’t know what these kids have seen or heard, but I’d wager it’s more than most and more than any kid should have to see or hear at their ages. Kids who are around dysfunction have to grow up faster than they should, and they are often amazing. These were two boys who’ve been through the wringer I was sure. They were very mature for their ages, as though they’ve had to grow up faster to cope.
She excused herself and shuffled the boys back off to their room, leaving me to sit alone at the table feeling like a bigger asshole than I’d perhaps ever felt like as a cop.
How could you have said something about him potentially killing her, I thought to myself. Damn it, Don, she fucking knows that already. I was pretty pissed off at myself and didn’t hear her come back.
She startled me a bit when she said, “I know that he might kill me,” as as though she was reading my thoughts. “To be honest, I sometimes wonder if that wouldn’t be the best thing to happen to me.”
“What about the boys, Claire? You don’t think they love you and need you?” I had quickly lost my moment of melancholy and was getting frustrated with her again.
“What if he doesn’t want to lose you so instead of hurting you he hurts somebody else or something close to you?” I was talking out of my place now for sure.
‘You don’t think I’ve seen that play out a hundred times before, Claire? Just last year a crazy fuck like your husband killed his girlfriend’s cat because it was the one thing in the world he new that she loved. She was devastated, Claire. You don’t want to avoid that sort of mess? You have a cat, right?”
I’d seen the cat earlier, but we both knew I wasn’t referring to the cat.
“He’s not MY HUSBAND!!!” She was screaming and swatted her glass ashtray off the table, shattering it in half and sending her into an immediate crying tizzy.
She left the kitchen again to check on the boys and when she returned, she walked directly towards the broken ashtray. While she was cleaning up the mess, I’d noticed the second officer assigned to this call had finally shown up. I knew he’d been there for a minute or two, and his eyes were wide as silver dollars from our yelling.
We were just venting, kid, I thought to myself.
He was young, I think at that time he was 23 or 24, and I’m sure he was eager to get off work so he could go hang out with his friends and compare cop stories with each other. That was me ten years ago, I reminded myself.
I almost told him that he could leave right then and there since the suspect wasn’t around, but I thought it’d be a good lesson for him to stay and watch me at least try to do all that I could to help this woman.
As a cop, it’s so easy to tell yourself that you tried after giving minimal effort, and then move on to the next call, or in this case, go home. All officers do it from time to time, and maybe all people are like that occasionally. I do it still to this day, but I’m more able to recognize when somebody is open to help, needs it, or is just special in some other way that I’d be remiss to not go above and beyond to help.
I had him stand by the door, where he could hear our conversation, and also look out for the boyfriend, in case he should return.
I deal with so many people, that it’s easy to forget most of them, and I have. I can’t remember everyone I’ve written an accident report for or given a ticket to or given directions or helped with an unruly family member and on and on.
There are, however, people who scribble the messes that are their lives onto my brain with ink that I just can’t erase.
Claire is one of those people.
I tried all I could to get her to listen to my advice that night and offered her every option I could think up to get her out of the relationship she was in. I offered to have a female officer come talk to her, or a domestic violence group representative, anyone I could think of to talk to her. I gave her restraining order directions, shelter options, victim advocacy groups, other family members, all that I could think of to offer her. I left her with three pages of numbers she could call, including my own, in case she changed her mind.
“Call me anytime you want and I’ll make sure we get a car here to help you go where you need to go.”
Those were the last words I said to her that night before I wished her good night and good luck. She was strong and stubborn and was going to remain stubborn about making her relationship with this man work somehow.
I wrote the report and charged the boyfriend with assault. We don’t need the victim to help when it’s a domestic assault case, but it’s still a tough prosecution.
I brought the case to the prosecutor without her.
The boyfriend had turned himself in.
He was almost exactly what I pictured he’d be. He was handsome and tall and charming in a creepy way, but he had a glint of crazy in his eyes that I’m pretty good at recognizing.
He was also a coward, I could just tell. It’s why he turned himself in with witnesses, I’d bet. He probably thought he would get his ass kicked in the police station.
She was with him as well as his attorney. She was sticking to her nothing happened story.
Miraculously, there was no previous record of this man assaulting her. She’d told the officer the night of the “motorcycle accident” that some stranger tried to rob her as she was walking home and that he’d punched her when she told him that she didn’t have any money. It happened so fast she had said, that she didn’t even have a chance to see any of his features, so no suspect was ever generated. I guess it’s good that she didn’t describe somebody made up and send us on a wild goose chase after an innocent man.
Still, I was livid and I wasn’t sure why.
I guess I was mad at her for not being able to recognize that she was in danger, that she needed to get out or her boys were going to grow up and do as their daddy does to her, if they aren’t removed from that situation. I was mad at his smug attitude and face, which I really did want to pummel with every inch of my fists. I guess I was mad because I knew I had lost this round.
Exasperated at trying and failing, I sat in the office with the prosecutor after he refused to issue charges and listened as he told me that it’s hard to help people who don’t want to be helped.
I knew that already, thanks.
I’d been a cop for several years already, so I didn’t need to hear that from a mid 20’s prosecuting attorney just getting his feet wet at his first job just out of law school.
That night in her apartment was a long time ago, and I hadn’t thought about Claire in several years. I moved to a different job within the police department away from where she lived and she sort of faded out of my memory, until a couple of weeks ago, that is.
I was talking to a prostitute at 8:30 in the morning as she was drinking a tall can of Miller Lite in front of one of many nearby sidewalk churches.
“I need it for the shakes, officer Don. I know it’s illegal, but I get the shakes.” She kept saying.
“You clearly do, Loraine, I’m not doubting that at all. We’ve talked about this though and I’ve asked you before, just put it in a brown bag or a big cup for God’s sake. That way, I can pretend that you’re drinking iced tea or something else, okay?”
“Okay, okay. You’re letting me go again, right?” She really was wound up. I assumed she was on drugs as well as Miller Lite.
“Of course, don’t I always?” I joked with her.
Loraine is a long time lady of the street. She’s funny and sweet with me, but she’s definitely broken. She’s an alcoholic and a drug addict and a prostitute, and she knows all of this.
She is also one who doesn’t want to be helped and she thanks me to not try, so I don’t, normally.
She just wants to be left alone, so I mostly do leave her alone. She mentions that other cops still give her a hard time, and it’s mostly deservedly so.
“You are breaking the law, Loraine. I can’t tell them to let you do that, and I’m not the boss anyway.”
“Well, I wish they was all like you, Don.” She said.
I normally take that as a compliment, but sometimes it makes me feel as though I should be more of a hard ass, but not with Loraine. Her life is hard enough.
As we were wrapping up our encounter, I noticed another woman I assumed to be a prostitute across the street. I’d not met her before, of that I was sure. Still, she looked vaguely familiar to me. She was short and built like she was in good shape, and had surprisingly long, pretty hair. She stood out like a sore thumb in her purple sun dress, especially around the other prostitutes who, while I do find mostly entertaining, aren’t sticklers for traditional beauty or cleanliness. It’s all most of them can do to just get by every day.
“Hey Loraine, do you know that girl across the street there? Is she a, you know? Is she on the streets?”
“She’s a crack head, Officer Don. She don’t hurt nobody. We call her Sunny, but I think her real name is Claire.”
I was walking back to my car and sat in it for several minutes before it hit me where I’d heard that name before.
By the time I put it together, the woman was long gone.
Part of me hoped it’s the Claire I’d met and tried to help, because at least I’d know she was alive, but another part of me hopes that it’s not, that it’s another woman who looks exactly like her and is living the rough life of a North City drug addict.
It’s been a few weeks since I’d seen her, and I’m still waiting to find that woman again to see if it’s her, and if yes, whether or not she remembers me and the times we met when nothing happened and everything was fine.
This post was sitting in my drafts folder waiting to be deleted because it didn’t really fit anywhere on my own ridiculous blog. I offered it to The Sisterwives because they sort of dealt with abuse and I’m glad they posted it. While I had originally thought it was just an interesting story to me, I see that there’s a lesson in my own personal growth that I haven’t probably conveyed that well here, but it’s there, I promise. It also shows that we don’t always win. Maybe that woman I saw wasn’t Claire, but I know in my heart that it was.
Blogging has helped me to meet people, like many of you who are reading this, who’ve given me renewed hope in humanity. So many of you are wonderful men and women just trying to do the best you can, like me, and I appreciate your courageous stories. Thank you all for accepting me.