I stood at the driver’s door of the Toyota 4Runner and waited as the lone driver yelled, “I didn’t kill anybody, why don’t you go after real criminals?”. As I maintained my traffic stop stance and twiddled his driver licence in my fingers, my thoughts drifted back into my work day ...
My partner and I had a NOK notification earlier. NOK. Next of kin. We had only the basic facts since it happened out of our city boundaries. We do these as a courtesy to the investigating officers and out of respect to the family so they don’t hear the news over the phone.
At the beginning of our eleven hour shift, we headed to a nice south Vancouver neighbourhood. An Indo-Canadian family. Sunday morning. Early. My partner and I walked up the sidewalk, passed the neatly manicured lawn towards the massive stucco house.
I hope no one is home.
I pressed the doorbell and fidgeted with the equipment on my police belt that dug into my waist. Next of kin notifications are never done in plainclothes, they must be done in uniform.
“I've got the Kleenex,” I said as I slapped the thigh pocket on my cargo pants.
A woman opened the door. She was in her late forties. Dressed in a white blouse and dark pants. Both wrinkled. Her eyes were moist. No make-up. Hair unkempt.
“Hello, I’m Constable Michelle Sevigny of the Vancouver Police, and this is my partner, may we come in please?
“Yes, yes, please, please,” she said as she stepped backed towards a man who had joined her at the door. She pointed with her half-open right hand towards the living room. A balled up tissue poked out behind the other two clenched fingers.
I looked at the family portrait on the wall as I walked into the living room. Mom, dad, son. And daughter. Late teens or early twenties. Long black hair. Beautiful.
The mother introduced herself. The man was her husband. Both sat on the couch and a teenaged boy sat on the floor at the end.
“Is this the whole family?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
We had already decided that I’d be the one. No particular reason. Along the way, we had chatted about his kids, my dog, about what we did on our days off, anything but what we had to do.
“I have sad news, I'm so sorry," I said. "Your daughter has been killed in a car accident."
She slid from the leather couch to the floor as if in a Salvador Dali painting.
The father wrapped his arms around his wife. He muffled cries. The son snuggled his mother and buried his head into her right side. And cried.
I re-adjusted my police belt.
“I’ll be right back,” I said to my partner and ducked into their kitchen. I dabbed my index finger at the corner of my right eye and my middle finger at my left. I focused on the tiles in the kitchen. White. Nice. I should use those white tiles in my kitchen. Not this floor though, I don’t like patterned tiles. Stainless steel appliances or white? Bottom-freezer or regular? I breathed in. Breathed out. My bullet-proof vest challenged the strength of its Velcro closures holding it tight against my chest. After a twenty second kitchen make-over, I returned to the living room.
My partner was silent. He knew no words would be heard in this initial minute. I sat beside him and looked across at the broken family, like a three-legged chair that would be wobbly for awhile until everybody figured out how to adjust to it.
“Wha-at happened?” the mother sobbed.
We told her what we knew. Somebody crossed the centre line. A head-on collision. No survivors. We wrote down contact phone numbers for the Whistler RCMP police officers. We explained the next few steps, enough to give her action to do, but not too much.
Next of kin notifications are usually fast. In and out.
“We’re going to be tied up here a bit longer,” my partner told our dispatcher over the radio.
We sat with the family. We listened to their story. We learned about their daughter. We picked up relatives across the city and delivered them to the family. We provided our pager numbers and said we’d check in later in the day.
After a shift full of break and enter reports, keep the peace incidents, street checks and a sexual assault investigation, we visited again. We had to force open the front door because of all the shoes lined up in the foyer. The mother was lying in an upstairs bed with five other women sitting around her…
… the driver continued yelling. I’ve heard all this before. I knew he'd had a bad day. I’ve had thousands of people yell at me. On another day, I might’ve written him a ticket simply because I thought he was a jerk. But I knew his anger was not about me. I let him yell. I let him yell it all out.
“I’m just driving home, I was barely speeding and you’re going to write me a goddamn ticket for that? Great! Go ahead you stupid ass cop, fine! That’s all I need. I don’t even freaking care anymore!
“Sir, I’m sorry you’ve had a rough day. I don’t know what happened but it sounds like it sucked,” I said.
“Um, yes, uh, it did,” he said.
“I’m not going to write you a ticket today, drive safe,” I said as I handed back his driver licence.
“Uh, okay, um, thanks,” he said.
I continued driving northbound on Cambie Street, only ten minutes from the police station. We knew enough to check in with each other.
“You okay with everything today?” I asked my partner.
“Yeah,” I said.
It was time to go home.
© 2012 Michelle Sevigny. www.michellesevigny.com. Reprint permission granted with full copyright intact.
Photo by JD Hancock