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Originally published Friday, December 18, 2009 at 2:26 PM

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Guest columnist

A cop's wife grieves, worries and counts her blessings

Guest columnist Catherine Johnston grieved with the families who lost their family members when Maurice Clemmons shot four Lakewood police officers. Here she reflects on the pain and pride of being a cop's wife.

Special to The Times

AS the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marched and marched and marched into the Tacoma Dome, I sobbed for the children and the spouses of the four officers killed by Maurice Clemmons — and for myself.

As a cop's wife, I know the risks.

Few people understand the stress and anxiety inherent in a law-enforcement career.

Decades ago I proclaimed, "I'll never marry a cop." A husband whose career clothes include a bulletproof vest, service revolver and a uniform? Never. But I fell in love with a cop — and married him.

And that uniform often blinds citizens.

When a friend's sister parked illegally, she screamed as the tow truck pulled up.

"I'm transporting my elderly mother!" she claimed.

As my uniformed husband approached her, she didn't recognize him, a man she had entertained in her home. When he reminded her that her mother died years ago, she finally recognized him, mumbled about his uniform — and moved her car.

Years ago, when my husband proposed to me, he apologized for his stressful career.

"I am marrying you, not your job," I said.

I believed my naive declaration until our first New Year's Eve. Wearing a perfect red dress, I couldn't wait to meet our friends for dinner. I was brushing my teeth when the phone rang.

"Honey, there's a riot at the prison; we are called in for backup, gotta go. I'll call you, if I can," my husband said, then grabbed his car keys and disappeared into the night.

He never called. I imagined him in a shootout with prisoners or held hostage in a dank cement room, tortured by cop-hating felons. I drove to the police station and interrogated the dispatcher.

Hours later, the back door of the police station flew open and my husband marched in.

"The boys are back from the war," he said, smiling.

He and the just-in-case cops spent the night sipping prison coffee, waiting for instructions that never came.

"That's it?!" I whined.

"Be grateful," he said.

On his dangerous days of arresting drug dealers and two-strike rapists, I am grateful for his keen skills and intuitive wisdom. He is trained to protect citizens through his split-second choices — choices that could change our family's life, too.

When a person drove by gleefully waving a gun toward my uniformed husband, my husband's split-second decision was to reach for his own gun. Then a toddler's head popped up from the back seat; my husband did not draw his weapon, but pursued the car.

The taunting man who brandished the gun, a toy gun, went to jail.

That night I screamed at my husband for not drawing his gun. I yelled about life insurance and widowhood.

Screaming is not healthy stress management. Cops themselves often use humor.

When an angry citizen yelled, "I pay your salary!" the officer waved his partner over.

"Get over here! I found him, finally. This is who we've been looking for — the guy who pays our salary. We have a lot to talk about!" he said.

Bystanders laughed, the cops bantered, the man calmed down.

After 30 years, I have calmed down, too.

But I know that keen skills and intuition may not protect even the savviest officers. What sane person would suspect danger while sipping coffee with colleagues or pausing in a patrol car to review a traffic stop?

The Canadian Mounties have marched home. Law enforcement families return to routines with mournful hearts.

I sip tea next to our Christmas tree as a siren wails in the night; I know someone's life has been changed forever by a fatal crash, a missing child, a crisis. A police officer may soon deliver a death notice or arrest a bad guy.

I wait.

I climb into our empty bed. I glance at the clock as I whisper into the night, praying that my uniformed man, a husband and father, will soon open our front door and arrive home — safely — one more time.

Catherine Johnston has been married to a police officer for 30 years. She lives in Olympia.

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