I’ve spent most of the last seven years in a homicide unit. The work is often intense. There’s always pressure – on some days the vice grip squeezes harder than others – you always feel something: a horrific scene, a family’s grief, the urgency to prioritize public safety, the slow and often frustrating grind of the court system. The phone that might ring.
That was the hardest part for me. Being on-call. I tried to be stoic. I often reminded myself that I had no control if my cellphone rang. By that point someone was already dead. All I could control was my reaction. Answer the phone, be professional, and begin the investigation, an investigation that almost always takes many months, if not years.
That mindset – controlling what I could control – helped. But it was a constant challenge. My phone was always with me. In the bathroom, beside my bed, jammed in the center consul when I was driving anywhere. A day off never felt like a day off when I was on-call. I could not relax. When I was on-call my wife and daughter were on-call too. Every family decision or plan had to take into account – what if the phone rings? What if I must leave immediately and be gone for days on end?
That phone accompanied me on countless trail runs. We live in a neighbourhood surrounded by trails. The cell service is exceptional. I could be alone in the woods, confident that if someone called, I could answer. Trails runs when I was on-call were not the same. I’d stuff my running vest or backpack with a pen, paper, and a cheat-sheet to remind myself of the questions I had to ask, and the direction I had to provide, if someone called me and told me there’d been a murder.
Dozens and dozens of trail runs while on-call. Sometimes the phone rang, but I was never called out for a homicide while running. In fact, it was while running, on the trails, that I came the closest to being able to relax. The magical quality of putting one foot in front of the other again and again sometimes made me forget that I was on-call at all. That didn’t happen often, and when it did, it might just be for seconds or minutes at a time. But it did happen. Running has that power.
This was my last week in the homicide unit. I didn’t say “goodbye” to anyone. I don’t like that word. There’s a finality to it. Saying goodbye might have brought the simmering sadness I felt to the surface. I felt the weight of leaving a group of friends and colleagues who experienced the same daily pressures I did. The experiences we shared created bonds that transcend time and space.
In a few days I return to nightshifts. I know lack of sleep will affect my body and my mind. My family will be effected. My daughter has never known a dad who is gone all night and sleeps during the day. There will be adjustments for all of us.
I also know that on days when I’m tired, with brain fog that feels like a hangover, I will head to the trails. I will put one foot in front of the other. And the magical power of running will help restore me.