In 1988, I was a police officer. My best friend and frequent partner was Eric, a fantastic guy who should never have become a police officer, not because he lacked the skills, but because he was too big-hearted.
Eric and I went from uniform to narcotics together, and we both did well, but Eric...well, Eric carried the weight of bad things with him, while shallower, less kindly folks like me put them aside. Or maybe we just think we do, it's hard to say.
We did a search warrant one Friday night, came back to the office, ate Chinese takeout, and joked around as we finished up our paperwork. The norm. I remember it clearly, even now. Eric teased me about how I'd danced (badly) the last time we'd gone out. He was a brother from The Bronx, and he could really move.
Somehow it came out during our fun that he'd been drinking, which shocked me--Eric never drank. At all. I asked him about it when we had a private moment, asked him if he was okay, but he just shrugged it off. He said he was fine, and asked me to stop by his apartment that weekend, something I did most weekends.
But I was dating someone new at the time, and she had the majority of my attention, as young women do of young men that age, and before I knew it, Monday arrived and I was preparing to do another search warrant. But no Eric.
It could have been a hundred things that made him late, from court to personal time, but my gut told me that something was wrong, and my gut was right. Long story short, Eric killed himself sometime Sunday.
Eric was one hell of a guy, and his suicide is one of the hardest things I've ever dealt with. Death I understand. Death in the line of duty I could have handled, but Eric's suicide and the guilt I carry for not showing up at his apartment have plagued me.
No more than daily, I wonder what might be different if I had taken leave of that woman for a couple of hours to visit with my friend. Would he have waited? Would he have done it anyway? Would he have opened up about what was troubling him (a woman)? Would he be a dad, with children of his own, looking forward to pulling the pin?
I don't have any of these answers. I never will. I can only ponder the idea that if I had shown up, things might have gone differently. I can only live with the certainty that I failed my friend when he needed me most.
It's a wound that never heals.