New Year's Eve
We were walking around Best Buy on New Year’s Eve. I had begged Mike to get me a Roku player and DVD player for the basement TV for something to watch while on my elliptical. We’d already picked those things out, but Mike wanted to see if there was anything else he might want. He had a lot of gift cards since he’s so hard to buy for and his birthday is right after Christmas.
Mia was fussy, so I was wandering around in the computer section, just trying to keep her moving so she wouldn’t get upset. I saw Mike at the other end of the aisle looking at his phone and I rolled my eyes. I thought he was playing his game again. Then suddenly he was next to me again, and he said that he had just gotten a text that Chris Yung had been in a motorcycle accident. That’s all we knew right then. He looked concerned, but since we knew so little he wasn’t overly upset yet.
I had a gut feeling that it was…what it was. I didn’t say that, though. I asked who was watching his kids. I figured, if it wasn’t what it was, maybe we could help somehow. He said he didn’t know. He said the other officers were all assembling at the hospital, the one on the other side of the county. I said I would go get in line so we could go and decide what to do. Mike quietly followed. As we got in line, Mike was still playing with his phone. I thought he was maybe texting back to see if he could get more information. I later found out that he was checking his work email. There was one with the subject heading “Terrible News.”
Mike just looked at me as we stood in line. Very quietly, very slowly, he just said, “He died.”
I should have made him leave. I asked him if he wanted to leave, as there was a long line, but he said no. He asked, “What is there to do? Where do we need to be? Might as well pay.” I said I wanted to cancel plans with my family for that evening. He asked why. Were we just going to sit around and be sad all night? I realize now that he was numb. He was in shock. I think maybe everyone was.
I drove home. He looked through more emails, and I looked on facebook. I found a release from the county and gave it to Mike. It had that picture of Chris on it. The one we’d see over and over in the coming days. The one that would seem to define him, so incompletely. The smiling, formal portrait that every police officer takes next to an American flag.
I hope I never see Mike’s portrait again, save maybe at his retirement.
I cried on the way home. I tried not to, but I couldn’t quite help it. I said again on the way home that I thought we should cancel with my family, which was right around the time that he found out people were now going to go meet at the police association hall. I told him he should go. I think a part of him just wanted to stay with me. Maybe he wanted to pretend it wasn’t real. I don’t know. I told him he should go, and I called my family to cancel. I knew he had to go. He needed to be around people that knew Chris as he did. Mia and I stayed home alone.
Mike called a few times from hall. He had to go outside to do it because he gets no reception there. I like to think that hearing my voice and talking to me gave him comfort, as did talking and reminiscing with all of Chris’s friends at the hall. As for me, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I gave Mia dinner, and put her to bed, and sat and blindly flipped channels on TV. I posted on facebook that a good, kind, brave man had lost his life doing his duty that day, and to pray for his family. I waited for people to care. I needed people to care.
The thing is, when your husband is a police officer, you know there are risks. You know he has to drive fast. You know he has to multi-task while he’s driving. You know some people don’t like to see a boy in blue. You know some people would hurt him just for being what he is. Still, you can pretend, day to day, that you don’t know these things. You can pretend that it’s a guarantee he’ll walk back through the door at end of shift. I know nothing in life’s a guarantee. I think I know that better than most. Still, the illusion is what keeps you going, keeps you sane. When this happens, it shatters the illusion. A man I knew and cared about, a man who was no different from my husband, died that day.
I needed people to care. It doesn’t matter if they knew him or not. He was a good man. He was so kind, and so generous, and so loving, and he’s dead. He died. It’s so inexorably wrong, and it seemed so wrong to sit there that night, inwardly pleading for someone, anyone, to comment on my post, and watching all of these ridiculous posts about what shoes to wear or what alcohol to buy or what party to go to. I know it was New Year’s Eve…but the world stopped turning that night for every PWCPD family. It seemed so horribly, freakishly wrong that no one else cared.
I looked feverishly for news stories about the accident. I found them. They included pictures. I don’t know why I looked. I didn’t want to see the pictures. I didn’t want to see the crash. This was a man I knew. This was a man who came to our engagement party, our wedding, our summer parties. This was a man who gave us a bag of his daughter’s old clothes when Mia was born. This was a man who always came up to talk to me at gatherings, when I felt so socially awkward and lonely. He always acted happy to see me, always smiled, always cared. I didn’t want to see the crash. I had to look.
I don’t know that I’ll ever forget some of the images I saw. He was gone before the pictures were taken…probably in every meaning of the word. Still, the images hinted at the action and violence that happened. Now, when I think of the crash, it’s too real. I can too easily imagine the sound, the panic, the fear. In my head I see the flames, watch him fly from his bike. In my nightmares, I see his head moving in slow motion toward jagged glass and twisted metal.
Mike got home about 10:30. I was so grateful that I wouldn’t have to worry about him driving after midnight on New Year. I asked him how it was. I asked him if people were crying. He said something about people handling emotions different ways. Some were telling stories about him. That’s what I liked best. Others were apparently just enjoying being together. I guess they were trying to not think about it, take comfort where they could. Some were upset. Some cried. It’s strange to think of these men crying. These are the men who make ridiculously inappropriate jokes ten times a day without flinching. These are the men who take breathalyzer tests as a drinking game. These are the men who run the streets at night. These are the men I just assumed had no feelings beyond joy and anger.
We didn’t quite know what to do with ourselves that night. It wasn’t right to celebrate New Year, though we had both been looking forward to it. 2012 was not our year. Still, it was the last year Chris got to see. How do you celebrate its passing? We watched old episodes of Glee on Hulu to pass the time. At 12:01, I noticed that midnight had passed and said so to Mike. We shared a kiss, but not the kind of kiss you have to celebrate. It was the kind of kiss that’s meant to feel connection and love and comfort. It’s impossible to be in a situation like that and not need comfort.
I tried to talk to Mike a little more between the episodes. I think the numbness finally started to wear off as he had gotten home from the hall. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen Mike truly upset, seen him cry. The reaction he had to Chris’s death was so similar to that of losing Charlotte. Shocked. Numbed. Pained. Shattered. He talked a little about what Chris meant to him. How much he would miss him. How much the world should have more people like him, not less. He said that, if he had to choose a person to die in the line of duty, the last person he would have chosen would be Chris.
We went to bed a little after one. We talked about life. What if it was Mike instead of Chris? I told him he was never again allowed to walk out the door without kissing me goodbye, regardless of how late he was running. He promised me nothing would happen to him. I tried to take comfort in that and failed miserably. It’s hard to believe guarantees when you know they’re just a happy lie we tell ourselves to get through the day.
He told me that, if it was him, if he had a sliver of a fraction of time to know death was coming, his last thoughts would be of me. That’s a cold comfort.