Friday, April 21, 2017

The Long Blue Line

I'm putting together a new story collection and pulled The Long Blue Line out of the file cabinet.

From 1982-1988 I worked at Western New England College (now University) first as a campus police officer, then as a campus police supervisor on the night shift. I was one of the three sergeants. During that time working in Springfield, MA there were two police officers shot and killed in the line of duty during a traffic stop. The Springfield Police would always stop and hang out at the station during the night shift, having coffee and letting us know what was going on in the area. They were usually around when the bar across the street closed and the college kids were rowdily staggering back to their off campus apartments.

During that time I was writing.

During that time we marched in the funeral procession for the two slain officers. There were contingents from many police departments that parked on campus that day in the fall. It was a chilly day with periods of sun and clouds. I marched with the officers from the college. Our Chief rode in the cruiser with the two lieutenants. I was still a foot patrol officer at the time.

It was a long march to the church but I barely remember the distance. I remember the long, long...long line of officers ahead and behind us. I remember the citizens lining both sides of the street, silent, some with heads bowed or hands over their hearts as we passed by. I remember the little children with flags, equally silent. I remember a black man beating out a somber tattoo on a drum on one street corner.

The church wasn't nearly large enough to hold everyone. Our large contingent that had marched from the college met up with a mile of police department representatives that had marched up State Street. The church hall was open to us, so a lot of us ducked in there out of the cold and grabbed a hot cup of coffee while the church service was broadcast on a TV. There were no big flat screen TVs then- it was like a set-up you'd find in a high school on a rolling cart, but we all crowded around that TV to watch the ceremony taking place in the church.

Normally when a bunch of cops get together it's rowdy and noisy. I remember how quiet we were, just low murmuring voices.

There were some school buses employed to move people to the funeral home. We managed to get n one of the busses to go about a mile and a half up the road where they let us out some distance from the funeral home. We lined the street and stood at attention as the hearses arrived. It was dead silent. It was cold. Many of us had tears streaming down our faces as we saluted our fallen comrades.

We marched from the funeral home to the cemetery and formed up amid the gravestones. There were so many police present none of us could really see anything. In my early twenties I really hadn't been to any funerals except my uncle's. It wasn't a military funeral. I had heard Taps on TV, of course. But let me tell you, when you're standing in a hushed cemetery amid a sea of blue uniforms and the distant first notes of Taps come wavering from a nearby hill it changes your whole perspective on life.

I was one of three female officers at the college at that time. I got a ride back from the chief in the back seat of the cruiser, in the cage. I was crammed in with a lieutenant and three other officers, still teary-eyed. We just talked all the way back to the campus...passing busses and cruisers, SUVs and vans full of police officers and fire fighters who had attended. I saw police from different countries including Bermuda and I thought they must have been freezing their butts off in their lightweight dress uniforms on that November morning, but I never heard a word of complaint from any of them in that church hall, or the cemetery, or on the bus.

From that real life experience of marching in that long blue line came the story of the same title.

I reread it last night as I was editing- read it with tears streaming down my face. You just don't forget something like that, marching in that long blue line in solidarity with your fallen brethren, cherishing the lives of those you still have with you in the line of duty. It was the most profound and powerful experience in my life.

And it also reminded me of another tragedy from that time- the suicide of one of my fellow officers, one of my closest friends in the department. But that's another story, one I'm not emotionally prepared to write about yet because that was too close to my heart and is still a raw wound today nearly 30 years later.

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