Press play on this video. Allow the music to guide your emotions as you read.

~

Silent boots stepped lightly but surefootedly into the gun smoke.  A whimsical dance commenced across the living room floor to the predacious rhythm of Beethoven’s “Moonlight”.  Whirlwinds of lead smoke bounced off of lifted shoulders as officers panned the room disrupting the fresh, still air. 

One particular vortex of fresh gun smoke in my periphery, stage right, focused my subconscious to the little 8-year old girl watching cartoons. All time stopped as my inner eye zoned into that little dark haired girl.

It was early morning, before school.  So it only made sense she had her backpack on.  She was sitting on the floor with her back against the leg rest of the couch.  Her legs were locked straight out in front of her.  She was into her morning cartoons.  In fact, she was SO into her cartoons that she didn’t even want to blink.  She didn’t even mind we, an army of city cops with their side arms out, were walking in between her and her tv. 

You see, I have this reoccurring dream:

I put away my pistol and take one knee in front of this dark haired 8-year old girl.  The officers around me are frozen in time, with their pistols in hand.  As I kneel, face-to-face with her, I can’t help but to feel the energy of her eternal peace being sucked from her heart and dumped into mine.  The exchange of energy leaves me speechless but calm.  I don’t expect a response.  I simply stare into her open eyes and wonder what she’s thinking.  Has she done her homework? Does she have a crush at school? Did she finish her cereal that morning?  The dream sometimes ends with me slowly standing up, looking around at everyone’s frozen postures, then walking to the door, which leads outside.  Sometimes I just see myself, as if I’m taped to the ceiling, and nothing happens.  I just kneel there, looking at her, until I wake up.

As the Sonata’s musical crescendo reached its zenith, it was as if someone hit the rewind button on the cassette player.  My vision was quickly sucked out of that vortex of fresh gun smoke and I was slapped back into my tactical position with my eyes on the yet to be cleared bedroom door.  A second officer held on that final door as well, ready for the cue. 

I took a quick glance to my right and as I did, an officer on my team had just knelt in front of the 8-year old girl and placed his two fingers on her neck.  He shook his head and motioned with that same hand, fingers bent towards himself, in a side-to-side fashion across the front of his neck.  The whole time he did this he remained disciplined, calm and focused on possible threats of the search.

He was in a better position to clear the last room.  I lowered my pistol as he walked passed me, heel-to-toe, and into the bedroom they went.  The smell of gun powder was so thick I expected shots to pop off as soon as they entered.  The shooter had to be there.  But no such gunshots took place. 

“Clear! Coming out!”

As they walked out the officers were holstering.  I followed suit in a silent mode of communication all officers understand.  One officer broadcasted on his police radio for two ambulances.  Both victims not conscious, not breathing. 

I took a look into the bedroom.  I don’t know why.  Its just what we do.  All I saw was two legs on the floor.  He wore blue jeans and his tennis shoes were tied with his toes pointing up.  The rest of the body was hidden by the bed.   I didn’t need to see anymore. 

Reality began to muffle as Beethoven’s No. 14 was reaching it’s final notes.  All around me the smoke whirled and spun, circled and lifted as time slowed down again.  I could tell the team of officers had already begun the robotic protocol that we do at homicides.

As I walked lightly but surefootedly back across that living room floor I turned my neck and took one more glance to my left with a slow blink. 

I didn’t notice it during my first encounter with her.  The bullet-hole.  Dead center on her forehead.  Burnt around the edges.  Bloodless except for a dark red circle on the broken skin. Smoke emitted from it and rose slightly then disappeared into nothingness.

When I dream of her, she doesn’t bare the violent bullet-hole in her  head.  She just sits there, peaceful.  Watching her morning cartoons before school. 

And I can’t help but to hope that she did her homework on that particular morning. 

~

Free-write Response & Backstory

I wrote this many years after the described incident took place. It was a love triangle. We missed the killer by moments. He probably saw us as our police cars as we screeched onto the street. From what I’ve heard, he returned years later to finish the job and murder his ex lover, the mother of the child depicted on this blog.

Homicide scenes are a normal occurrence for the police. The dark humor you hear about cops possessing is a real thing. I cannot begin to explain the psychology behind it, I don’t have the credentials. But I can tell you that levity and dead body jokes at a homicide scene is completely and utterly normal. And then? Well, it’s not spoken about until months later when we receive the subpoena for court. Most of the time coppers get on-call court. Our elation upon realizing how many hours of on-call court we will get paid for is made even more evident in our culture’s normality of letting our comrade’s know about our new found fortune. With a “cha-ching!” and a wave of the subpoena, we laugh and smirk and use non verbal ways to congratulate each other. Now that I’m writing about it and forcing myself to look at it as an outsider, it does seem kind of weird. But it is what it is. The point here is that once we clock out for the day, the incident is mostly forgotten.

I recall immediately after the incident was deemed safe. The scene was taped off and homicide detectives were walking around in their suits, holding their notepads. We were standing outside of our police car. Six of us. But there weren’t any jokes being said. I snapped out of my own head and looked around at the officers around me. Everyone was in their own world. No one was on their cell phones. Everyone in that circle of officers was eerily silent and simply staring towards the ground. They were all in this fixed glare. I don’t think anyone of those officers were thinking about the dead bodies we had just came into contact with. I think everybody’s minds were simply blank. Mine was. No one even noticed this collective pause was happening. Just me. The captain arrived and thanked us for our good work. We all exchanged pleasantries, as patrol cops do with captains, and that was that.

Fast forward a few years later. I had this dream about the little girl. It’s just like I described in the blog post. There was no real anxiety or fear in the dream. But I noticed that the dream felt familiar. Not in the sense that I was there at the crime scene. It was something else. I soon realized that I’ve had that same dream on several occasions before. I thought it was over. Forget about the homicide until we get that subpoena for on-call court. Cha-Ching! But it stuck with me. Beneath the uniform. Beneath the skin.

Do you have any similar stories that have followed you from work, back home, and into your dreams? If you feel comfortable, share here. On the second follow-up to this blog post I will share some of the coping mechanisms I used to get me through these low anxiety dreams.

Until then….

-Tom Ludlow


How I Actively Attempted to Minimize This Dream

When I caught myself in this nightly mental whirring of dreams, I realized I was shrugging them off as if it was no big deal. The dream wasn’t a typical “cop dream” where your gun fails to shoot, or where your bullets are ineffective. These kind of dreams are a high anxiety type of dream (which I will visit on a future post).

But the one I was having of this little girl was a calm dream. They would last a long time and I would be very sad in the dream. They started happening multiple times a week. At first I would not even acknowledge them. My frenzied morning routine would quickly allow me to forget about it. But after a few weeks, I would go to bed knowing the dream would visit me again. So I’d go to bed worried about it.

So in order to lessen the chances of having the dream I did 3 things at night before bed and 3 things first thing in the morning to get my mind into a less agitated state.

Before Bed Routine:

  1. The throw away checklist: I would write down everything that was on my mind. Everything that I had to do the next day. It was like a clearing of my brain so that it would be free from my worrisome to-do lists. It made my brow un-wrinkle from all of the stressors. In the morning, after my morning routine, I’d look at the checklist and place them all back into my brain for the day. Then, I’d throw away the checklist.
  2. The Scalp Scratcher: You guys know what this is, right? It has these thin silver prongs that are attached to a handle. The prongs are slightly curved and have a small plastic bead at the end of each one. You place it on the top of your head and push it down onto your scalp. Holy crap. Scratched my head with this for a few minutes. Heaven.
  3. The Sounds of Earth: These days there are tons of options on music platforms and through YouTube. I would find sounds like “babbling brook”, “ocean waves”, “rain on window” or “distant thunderstorms”. There are even sounds called “white noise” that are extremely calming. The science behind it is interesting. It’s calming affect is awesome.

Morning Routine:

  1. Acknowledge and Acceptance: It was important for me to not try to hard to rid these dreams from my slumber. After all, we can’t control what we dream. My main goal was to reduce the controllable stressors before sleep and after waking up. Upon waking up, if I did have the same dream, I would acknowledge it. I would accept it and be ok with it. This was a very important step for me.
  2. Walk to Wake: I added a long morning walk to my morning routine. I did it as soon as I woke up and as early as possible. That was the morning chill was in the air and there were less people out. It was important to do this before I looked at the checklist I wrote out the night before. I walked just enough to fully wake up. I walked slow and I would make an effort to find something along my walk to appreciate.
  3. Stretch & Breathe: I live a pretty hectic lifestyle. I do it to myself. After my walk and my morning routine for work I would pause before heading out of the door. I would close my eyes, take 10 deep breaths and stretch. Anything I felt like stretching. My neck, my legs, my shoulders. I didn’t matter. As long as I would focus on the physical feeling of the stretch and on my breathing. Then, I’d head out into the world.

Did the dreams stop? Well, not immediately. But this particular dream eventually went away. Not sure how long it took. But the important part here is that I realized what was happening, and I took active steps to alleviate the dreams.

I got these ideas from several different self-help books, Google searches and YouTube videos. I will compile a list of them and post them here on a future date. Hopefully my suggestions or suggestions from my resources can help alleviate any sleeping problems you might have from being a police officer.

Have YOU had any dreams that keep revisiting you? How has it affected your sleep? What did you do to get back on a normal sleeping routine? Let’s share our experiences here on my blog and lets help each other!

-Tom Ludlow