The Best Police Officer I Ever Knew
There are colors in the world and then there’s Walmart. There are colors at Walmart too, but somehow they’re a little more compressed, contained, like toothpaste ready to burst out at any moment. People come to Walmart for many reasons. People work at Walmart for many reasons. Humans are complex.
There were probably many reasons I ended up on the bench by the front door, eating a pie and feeling like the world thought I was toothpaste and entirely too well contained. Gerry watched the door. He was a generously round man and generously patient, with a fine white hair and dark eyes that watched everything. He wore a yellow vest, which had a bit more authority than the more common blue one I had.
Maybe sometimes when people feel insecure, they talk about who they wish they were. On that first day I was talking about neurology. He’d had a stroke, he explained and that once his thoughts had been faster, but he was okay with the progress he was making. Neural plasticity is a thing I said, a real thing, and the mind can always heal.
It’s funny how sometimes the people who are the most wounded don’t realize the extent of injuries. There was something indescribably safe about Gerry, ageless, and grounded. He started giving me a ride home every night. At first it was because my scooter was broken, but then it was that he kept asking if I was going to ride that night, and I always said yes. So then we’d talk.
Even after my scooter was fixed, he’d push his walker and I’d ride my little scooter in circles. We’d talk about how pretty the moon was and how crazy work had been. At first we talked a lot about Andrew, because I was in electronics and Andrew was being mean to me. Gerry was the opposite of Andrew in every way. Gerry is a man I’d want to grow to be.
He talked about when he was a police officer and how much that had mattered to him, how much that had cost him. In the 1960’s he worked in Georgia as a regular police officer. His face would tighten, his hands a little tighter on the steering wheel when he spoke of officers he’d known who treated people of color badly. Our talks, my questions, they opened a door for him and in the dark, as we drove down empty midnight roads, he told me of officers picking green oranges, then hitting black people with them as they drove by.
He talked about his sister, a sister he loved and missed, who she’d cut him off when he’d become a police officer. Fifty years after that loss, he could sit in our breakroom, as we had lunch, and in a sad gray-blue emotion. She’d never forgiven him. Once, he and his wife had been visiting other family and he’d called his sister, wanting to see her, to make up, and she agreed. Only to have her husband call him the night before the visit and decline it. Without explicitly saying so, her unforgiveness left tarnish on his soul.
He had other colors though. His wife was yellow, as bright as summer. He was right out of college when he met her, working in an insurance office, one tall enough to need an elevator. Chicago in the early 1960’s. Mad Men and money and all the hope for the future sizzled in the 1960’s. His grin when he talked about the first moment he met her, how she walked out of the elevator and he told his buddy that she was the woman he was going to marry, in that moment he was a golden yellow with all the energy of a young man about to fall in love. Sharon would marry him though and they’d have three children. They’d move to Georgia together. She’d have her career. Really, though they moved for his career, it was really him following her.
When he gave me advice about my bully problem, it was to tell me about how he’d avoided confrontations he couldn’t win. How after ten years on the police force, he came to a place where he had to leave or he had to commit to staying the full twenty. They left. They took their family to the Bahamas and he did private security. Life there was more orange and red and blue, with the ocean and local friends. Gerry was still Gerry though and when the people smuggling drugs figured out that he was the one outing them, Gerry and his family came back to Florida.
The color of absence ought to be sparkles, like a magician throwing his hands up and all the audience sees is sparkles, not the sleight of hand that takes people out of a bad situation. As we sat in my driveway in his late-model white sedan he told me it was nice to have a friend, someone to tell things he’d never been able to share with anyone else. Like the co-worker of ours who was a preacher at Gerry’s church for a moment, but loved money too much or his sister and how he wished that he could have been repaired their relationship. He talked about being at our job because it had life insurance and that was how he could take care of Sharon, no matter what.
Anemia would be a pale color. Cancer ought to be a nasty color like an oil spill that sometimes can never be fully cleaned up, no matter how much effort is put into it.
He talked about how he was feeling really good, but that worried him. His mother had done aerobics the day she died. She had woken up and felt fantastic and then she was gone. Sparkles of absence are like grit on the soul. It worried him that he felt really good. I was just glad that he was feeling better.
He had such a great smile. My smile is like a tornado, broad and vivid, and it could mean a lot of things. His smile was an old quilt, favored and worn, safe and precious. “I’ll see you tomorrow, hopefully!”
I took his advice and let go of the fight over electronics and moved to work at the returns counter. He said I was happier. That’s the color of friendship. It’s much easier to see good in the world when there is someone happy to see you every day.
At lunch, sometimes we’d talk about flying lessons. They weren’t too expensive. We could do it. We’d talk about going to his favorite barbeque place, but we had to wait until Sharon was in the hospital, because he couldn’t leave her alone, not even long enough to drive into Seattle.
I asked him if he were afraid to die. The color of friendship, on midnight rides home when it’s only your car on the road, that lets you ask questions like that. His sweet, comforting smile, and slight look of longing in his eyes held not even the slightest color of self-deceit or any other kind. He wasn’t afraid. He was wise and cautious, but probably never afraid without reason. Jesus waited for him. Family and love waited for him.
Not all roads go where you want them to. We had the same schedule which was really nice. It meant we got to spend a lot of time together and he always put up with all my questions and philosophizing. There must be a color for acceptance too, some color that is kindness that I don’t even know how to see. It didn’t matter to him that I was atheist or trans or transhumanist or that my hair was blue. All that mattered was I was Max and I was his friend. That’s like a color that my eyes have yet to develop enough to see.
It was a Wednesday when he dropped me off. It was the week after he’d said he felt really good and it scared him. He said, “I don’t feel very well tonight. I’m going to call out tomorrow, but I’ll see you on Sunday.”
He almost always said, something more conditional, like the lord willing, or hopefully, or we’ll see. So there I stood in the door of his car, one hand on the door, the other on the roof, and I grinned because all was right with the world. “I’ll see you on Sunday!”
I never saw him again.
Born March 4, 1944
Died August 19, 2019
Survived by his Beloved wife Sharon
One might think that would make less colors in the world. It doesn’t because he taught me to see the color of friendship, the hue of self-care, the shade of belonging, and I will never be the same.
Nearly a year after I wrote this, I miss him so much. He was my friend when I didn’t really know how to have friends yet. I miss him so much. People aren’t perfect, but we can be better than we were.
About the Creator
I write a lot of lgbt+ stuff, lots of sci fi. My big story right now is The Moon's Permission.
I've been writing all my life. Every time I think I should do something else, I come back to words.
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