I remember sitting at certain restaurants with my fellow officers, picking at my food while they talked "fantasy football." We rarely hung with the other female officers, most of whom were on other shifts. Usually it was just the FTO's (Field Training Officers) or ex-FTO's...and me. The guys in my department were just as cliquey as a bunch of 7th grade girls and quite honestly...even more nasty.
I was the third wheel, a fish out of water, the kid sister no one wanted around. In other words...the untried rookie. I could deal with that, for I expected that to be the case, but what I hadn't expected was all the subtle psychological sabotage.
Every so often they'd joke with me but I had that little nagging sixth sense that they reason things weren't better was because we both knew I wouldn't be sticking around. I just didn't yet know the reason, nor had I had a chance to live up to any reason to stay or to leave.
My friend was in line to be hired by a big city but hadn't started yet and was interested in my rookie experiences. Logically, he was perplexed that I could put on a Kevlar vest, a badge, a gun, go to morning briefing, don a radio and drive a squad car and still not "feel like a cop." I was perplexed, too.
I don't in any way mean to say the department was all bad. In fact, that October the other six or seven women in the department, represented by two of them, waylaid me one afternoon to invite me "Up North" with them on a weekend fishing trip.
"We already checked your schedule", Officer T. said to me. "We know you're off! Do you want to come?"
Ha! If I'd wanted to say no, at that point I would have had to have a great excuse! It was clear they WANTED me to go with them, and in fact, they were all very helpful to me. Perhaps things would have been different if I'd realized early enough which help to request and when. I had allies in ALL the other women in that department, for they'd been where I was, at least in a sense, and knew the struggles I was facing.
...one particular officer, not an FTO, seemed to want to make things especially difficult for me. My training officers and a couple other cops warned me about him in vague but menacing terms. It wasn't that he was a "hound", but it was more intimated that he hated women, was a jerk, not a good cop...whatever. That very much put me on my guard and made me suspicious even though he'd always been at least polite to me, if aloof and cynical.
Well, one day I came in and put my radio on the charger before roll call. It was pretty much ready to go as I'd used my home charger, but I figured it could use a few minutes while we were in briefing.
This particular anti-woman Officer in question was called out of the briefing room to go to dispatch, and as he passed me in his hurry, he stopped me and requested that I put his radio on the charger for him. I saw that every docking station was taken, and, knowing that mine was OK, I removed my own radio, replacing it with his. I passed him a couple minutes later and confirmed I'd placed his radio in a docking station as he'd asked, and he thanked me kindly. Fine. Done. I thought nothing of it.
I was quite surprised and offended, therefore, that after briefing, this very angry, very large hulk of a man confronted me very loudly with, "You LIED to me!"
Taken aback, I asked him what he was talking about. He pointed dramatically to his radio in the charger, orange light glowing, and demanded to know why I didn't just TELL him that there wasn't a spot available. He claimed that I just set it aside and lied to him about it.
"No, I didn't!"
"YES you did! Why didn't you just tell me the truth?"
At this point he was bending down to meet my eyes, cornering me, his very angry, shouting face only inches from mine.
I denied lying, stated clearly (and loudly to overcome his own protests), that I DID put his radio in the charger at the expense of my own. I told him next time to be more responsible and charge it overnight like I did, and don't blame me when his equipment isn't ready. I further told him that if someone else took it out of the charger that wasn't my problem, and went on to inform him, quite loudly and in language that might have made a sailor blush, where, exactly in his anatomy he could place his radio from that point onward.
This little scene gathered quite a crowd of badges as you might imagine, (although none intervened given this was a verbal skirmish) and this angry officer backed off quite considerably in the face of my charged verbal onslaught.
I went down to the women's locker room in a huff to gather a couple things, then headed out with my training officer who naturally told me I needed to watch my language and cautioned me that my outburst probably did some serious damage to the reputation I didn't even have yet. I was ashamed. He told me he was glad I wouldn't let anyone walk all over me but that I really needed to be more guarded and...professional.
He was right and I knew it. Thankfully he kept it off his observation reports for that day.
But something funny happened as a result of that scene; the officer I'd been so warned about suddenly became my best friend. He would go out of his way to assist me on calls, or, if I was working on paperwork he'd offer advice on little tricks my FTO hadn't told me about. One day when we walked in to the station he loudly proclaimed that I was his "favorite rookie."
And the scary thing is, to this day I think he actually meant it. In fact, I think that the whole radio thing was a setup by my own FTO, who was hoping I'd make an enemy instead of a friend. And I think that my new friend realized it while I was going off on him, which is why he become my buddy after that. (Yeah, I know something about psychology and depravity, too.)
For some odd reason, I make the best friends through massive confrontations on first meetings.
Still, I knew I didn't belong there. The whole time I wore a badge and carried a gun, I felt like I was playing dress-up. Cops and robbers. It was a pretense, even when I actually did manage to do something right.
The Fire department was much the same, albeit without the big explosive confrontation with a co-worker. That particular year was more interior conflict than exterior, and the camaraderie was there but there came a point that I knew, once again, I was in the wrong place entirely.
The sense of relief on the day I was laid off can't even be expressed in words. It's like I'd faced a dragon and learned it was a fixed match with someone's trained pet, ending in a draw where both of us walked away with medals of honor.
Religious life was different, though.
With all my trepidation and gun-shyness from so many bad work experiences, bad discernment, etc., the communities I visited made me feel like family from the very beginning. That's not to say I was "home" but rather, it was like the sense one gets when visiting beloved relatives. When I left, I couldn't imagine not being there again, I couldn't imagine my life not knowing these Sisters.
And you know..it wasn't about the superficial ideal of "camaraderie" or a lack therof; it was simply a shared love for God. No matter how hard it was at times on those visits, I never felt like I had something to "prove" to anyone. I had only to "be."
That is why I press on. That is why I continue to pray, in spite of my obvious obstacles. There is no Easter Sunday without a Good Friday, and for now, whether I'm called to religious life or not, I have a huge burden to bear and carry up Calvary.
I've written often about being in the shadow of the Cross, and I see that as the sun sets, that shadow becomes longer and longer, and I know that it's leading into a long, dark night. Still, I walk because I know that what I choose, what I believe I am called to do, isn't going to be easy. It is not an escape from life, but rather, makes life more real, more intense...more...true.
I chuckle now at the conflicts of the past. They are nothing in comparison to what I currently confront. I see, clearly now, that all those jobs, all those conflicts, were only preparation for what is happening in this very moment.
~ from Psalm 127
Apart from God our labors are worthless