Unexpected

Unexpected

From A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Unexpected

Service was as much a part of my upbringing as eating breakfast and going to school. It isn’t something that you do in your spare time. It was clear that it was the very purpose of life. In that context, you’re not obligated to win. You’re obligated to keep trying, to keep doing the best you can every day.

Marian Wright Edelman

In the 1970s, I was the first female officer to work patrol duties at the Anchorage Police Department. I was sent to hundreds of domestic violence calls in my first years. One time, I was sent to a disturbance in Spenard, an area of town known for violence involving guns.

It was after midnight, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The snow had stopped but the streets were slick with ice caused by the recent winds. There were only five officers and a sergeant on duty.

At the 11 P.M. fall-out, my sergeant jokingly told me “to get the lead out.” I was known for staying longer than most officers at domestic violence calls. I had attended a week’s training on the San Jose Crisis Intervention Method. Our chief decided that this method, which provides crisis counseling and referrals on the spot, was not cost-effective for our department. But that did not stop me from trying to provide referrals to fighting couples who were ready to listen. The policing goal is to not go back to the same place in the same shift.

I did not know what I would find as I approached the darkened house. I listened and did not hear an argument in progress. I did not hear anything from inside the residence. My footsteps in the crunchy snow gave away my approach to the house. I cautiously let myself into the residence and saw a woman sitting on the kitchen floor. Next to her right hand was a revolver. She was quietly crying. She was at the dry crying, sighing stage. Her first words were, “What do you want? Can’t I die in peace?” I quickly picked up the gun, unloaded it and looked for the light switch. There was a chef’s knife about two feet from her on the counter. I searched her to be sure I had all the weapons. Leaving her on the kitchen floor crying, I took the knife and gun with me as I searched the rest of the house. We were alone.

I returned to the kitchen, and as I tried to help her up from the floor, she started screaming: “You don’t have the right to stop me. I want to die!” She appeared to be seven or eight months pregnant. I asked, “What about your baby’s life?”

She continued to cry, pouring out her problems. She had no job, no income, the heat was due to be shut off Monday, and her boyfriend had just beaten her again. Her left eye was swollen, her maternity top was torn, and she had defense wounds on her hands and arms. I went to the refrigerator to get ice for her eye—there was no food. I put the ice in a towel. She grabbed the towel from me, putting it on her eye. She screamed at me again, “I don’t need any help!”

I talked to her about her baby. Where were her relatives? She told me about the boyfriend who had assaulted her. I asked if she wanted to press charges against him. Her answer was typical for the time. “He’ll just get out of jail and beat me up again.” She reluctantly gave me information on the suspect. She refused to go to a hospital or a doctor.

Fifteen minutes passed. Dispatch checked on me, asking how soon I could respond to the next call. Calls were backing up.

I asked her who I could call for her. I did not want to leave her alone knowing she could always find another weapon. I phoned a girlfriend of hers and a minister I knew from our ride-along program.

While we waited for them to arrive, I gave her pen and paper, telling her to write down the numbers as I gave them to her. By the time her friend arrived, she had a list of domestic violence counselors and the social service number to file for financial aid for the baby. We talked about people I knew who would hire a pregnant woman. She wrote down the names and phone numbers. The baby was not due until after Christmas so I suggested she could find a temporary job. She was most interested in working at the Anchorage Arts Council, making stage sets. At least, for the moment, she was thinking about the future and not about killing herself.

The minister arrived as her friend was making coffee. I asked them to get her to a hospital, taking the gun and knife for safekeeping. I left. Fifty minutes had passed since I first arrived.

At the end of the shift, the sergeant wanted to know what had taken me so long at the domestic violence in Spenard. The other officers listened, thinking I was going to be reprimanded again. I flippantly told him, “I saved the department hundreds of dollars in overtime. The homicide team did not need to be called out and we did not need to go back.” He said dryly, “Okay, this time.” Then he winked at me.

This domestic violence call was soon forgotten, overshadowed by the multitude of other calls, one day very much like the next, call after call.

Soon, it was time for Fur “Rondy.” For 11 days each February, Anchorage changes into a busy tourist town. People from everywhere come to see the dog sled races, test their skills and drink hard. It is the Alaskan midwinter party for the public. For police officers, it means many long hours and overtime, want it or not. Many officers only see the Fur Rondy events as they perform their police duties.

At our house, my older kids liked to attend the Rondy Melodrama. One Sunday, we went to the evening performance.

During the intermission, my daughter, Sheila, and I went to the restroom. As we were standing in line, a lady came out of one of the cubicles, saw me and exclaimed, “Oh, Anne!” She came over and hugged me. This took me absolutely by surprise, because I didn’t recognize her.

She told me her name and said she was running the lighting system for the Melodrama. Then I remembered her and asked if she once lived on Spenard Road. She smiled, shaking her head yes. We talked as if we were old friends. The baby was a girl. She had not seen the abuser since that night. She now had a regular job. She shared her plans for her future with me.

I introduced her to Sheila, who was 11. Sheila asked, “How do you know my mom?” She said, “Your mother saved my life.” This comment caused everyone in the ladies’ restroom to listen. She went on to say, “If she had not come along when she did, I would not be alive today.” We talked until she had to return to her lighting board.

When we returned to our seats, Sheila told her brothers about the woman in the restroom. Just after the play started, Sheila turned to say something to me. She was alarmed to see tears running down my cheeks. “Mom, what’s wrong?” I replied softly, “No one ever said ‘thank you’ before.”

Detective Anne Newell

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