Nationwide that year, 128 officers were killed in the line of duty. My father is number 87 in the official report, arranged chronologically by death date. When it arrived in the mail, glossy and sleek like a new car brochure, my mother barely glanced at it before tossing it in our recycling bin. I dug it out when she wasn’t looking, hid it under my pillow. I look at it at night, using my flashlight friend stuffed penguin. I can quick squeeze him off if I hear her coming. Dad replaced his batteries a few weeks before it happened. After, he rough-tickled-tucked me in, tousling my hair after kissing my cheek. His scratchy stubble the perfect prelude to my soft pillows.
The average age was 46; my father was 41. His blue steel coffin cost $5,678.98, (I found the receipt). It was smooth and cold when I put my hands on the edges, looking in at Dad. Cleanly shaved in his uniform, he rested on fancy pillows, eyes closed. I was willing myself to touch him when Aunt Kathy appeared. I didn’t get another chance.
Forty-two, 33% of the deaths, were from car accidents. Of that, 17% were caused by drivers failing to yield for police on roadways assisting motorists. My father is one of those. There is now a local campaign to raise awareness of “move over” laws. My father’s smiling picture appears next to all the newspaper articles about it.
Aunt Kathy says Dad is still saving lives. Preventing future accidents. I see more of her now than ever, with mom needing her rest, her many naps. Aunt Kathy orders delivery; we eat in front of the TV. We order for mom too but usually, hers just sits, cooling and alone. Aunt Kathy lets me pick the shows. She’s only firm about bedtime: 8:15 on the dot.
I don’t argue. I like reading the report under my covers. Colored graphs, neat columns, photos, pie charts tell the stories in different ways. Dad’s photo wasn’t selected for his category’s pages. But the final ones, labeled “Other Causes,” have one picture each. I touch their faces as I read them: helicopter crash, horse-related accident, poison. These are the smallest slices of the pie charts, the tiniest lines of the graphs. I peer into their ageless eyes, wondering how it can be they don’t count as a full one percent.
Noreen Hyde is an English teacher whose work has appeared in Artlines2 and The Plaid Horse. She lives in Durham, New Hampshire, with her husband, daughters, dog, and rescued guinea pig.
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