Written by the late James R. May. Originally published in the Oologah Lake Leader. Winner of the 1991 Oklahoma Press Association Newspaper Column of the Year.
The late summer shower would begin momentarily. Lightning flashes would distract the police SWAT team members surrounding the mobile home. Rain would hamper the tactical use of smoke and tear gas as my team tried to take out the barricaded gunman.
Preferring conversation to confrontation and doubting the ability of the 22 layers of Kevlar in my assault vest to stand up to a deer rifle, I reluctantly gave the order to storm the home.
The flat crack of a 37mm gas grenade announced our determined intentions. The smashing of glass followed by four gas and smoke grenades backed up my commands to surround and brought the evening to a safe consult ion with one suspect in custody and one victim in the hospital. The neighborhood returned to normal and I mentally chalked up one for the good guys. I totaled up the damage to my SWAT team as only one officer slightly injured by flying glass.
Back at the police station, I started on the mountain of paperwork that would take longer than the evening’s shooting and full-scale armed police assault. About 30 minutes into the paperwork, I sneezed, and for the first time in my life, I had a nose bleed. When it would not stop, I reluctantly went to the hospital emergency room. The next morning when I regained consciousness, my doctor gave me the news. My blood pressure had exceeded stroke level and did not want to cooperate.
That was the end of my SWAT team career. I transferred to Personnel. A type-A personality kept my workload at 60 plus hours a week and the assignment change made me a real grump. Shortly afterwards, my 17-year marriage became the next victim.
My doctor said I needed a new lifestyle or a cemetery plot. I opted for a new career, found a young lady who was brave enough to marry a man who only knew how to be a cop, but could no longer be one. Together we started a new life, a new career and a new family. A few months later, my very frightened and very pregnant wife was explaining to my dad why he needed to come to the hospital.
Myocardial infarct is what the doctors called my heart attack. If you want to walk out of here, you will do let us do certain things. If you want to see the child graduate from high school, you will change your lifestyle completely. The doctor kept his part of the bargain. For the past 13 years, I have tried to keep mine.
My frightened young bride of the scary night a lifetime ago is now an accomplished businesswoman and very talented professional photographer. The unborn child is now a tall, beautiful child of 12. She is my autumn child and with eyes as deep and brown and as wonderingly innocent as those of her mother.
Life has been rich and good these past 13 years. There have been setbacks, financial problems and not a few tears. Overall, it has been a good life. I had to learn to let go of the past and to change a lifestyle. A life fueled on adrenaline is exciting, but no way can it compare to the love of a wife and the admiration of a child.
Our life in Oklahoma is one of hard work. Writing and restauranteering is a far cry from nearly 20 years of holding life and death in my hands on a daily basis. Emotionally, being married to a highly talented free spirit and the father of a daughter who follows in her mother’s footsteps can be as intense as any day in a police uniform. Claremore, Oklahoma, is about as different from Dallas as one can imagine, but we love it here.
With the years have come a certain wisdom. When it gets too intense, I quit pushing so hard. My spirit of competition is just as great. My desire to be the best is still there. I just think back to the night when I watched my damaged heart on a TV screen and waited for each beat to be the last. I’ve learned not to push. To be right is good. To be dead right is not all that great.
A couple of weeks ago, things got a little too tense so I kicked back and went to Mexico, taking along my young daughter. We swam in the Pacific, rode a horse across a ranch and made sand castles on a remote beach. She learned about people who wash in a ditch, mothers who beg or go hungry and that life is not always fair.
We stood in the shadow of a cathedral, watched a horse eat a mango, and shared a sunset on the side of a mountain. I learned a lot about my daughter that week. I learned to love her for what she is and to love her for what she will, in God’s good time, become.
To my God and to my wife, I give thanks for my Autumn Child.