There is Someone Among You…

There is Someone Among You...
Who Is Just Like You
by Chad Campese

There is someone among you, standing in the master bedroom of an expensive home while other officers string yellow caution tape around the manicured lawn.  He’s staring at a note on the Victorian era dresser, sitting next to some items that mean nothing to him, but were left, one for each family member that survived her.  She, Mary, is in the garage, lying peacefully.  It was quick, painless even, at least for her.  Not for the daughter that found her, or for the husband consoling the daughter. Screams and sobs eco up the steps. He picks up the note, gloves on just in case, and begins to read.  But, maybe we shouldn’t start there.  

Writing can be a lonely endeavor.  Staring at a computer, or with pad and pen.  Outlining, reading, rereading, editing, agonizing.  Is it  good enough? Will anyone care? Is it even worth it?  Is this project just a giant waste of time? Is life just a giant waste of time? Yes, that did escalate quickly.  

I’ll never forget summers in middle school.  We moved many times due to my father’s job.  During those years I went to a private Christian school because my parents thought it would be best.  Had very little in the way of friends. During summer I’d escape by hanging alone in the woods, in my treehouse, with another Hardy Boys adventure, any Stephen King book I could get my hands on, and even traveling into the world of Narnia for a few great weeks.  

Thank God, literally, for those authors who were kind enough, talented enough to help me escape into other worlds during the days when I felt alone much of the time.  As I watch my middle school aged daughter now go through a bit of that, I stand by ready to help, but giving her space as she escapes into her own worlds.  For me,  the stories always ended, and it always was just me, in my tree fort, staring at a new book, and pretending to be someone and somewhere else for a while.  That kid became an adult, occasionally wishing I was somewhere and someone else, sitting with a whiskey, by a fire, thinking of the ways my wife, my kids, would all be better off if I simply rode into the sunset and they were free to pick another dad, another husband, one that suited the roles much better than I ever could.  

As an adult I still love to read. But an odd thing happened when I became an officer, who never intended to become one, at first setting out to be a Chef and realizing how hot it truly was in the kitchen.  After a few years on the stree,t emotions shut down.  Empathy runs out.  The life, feeling, love, is literally sucked out of police officers.  I tried not to let it happen, and there are others who have made more attempts than I, I’m sure.  Few succeed.  The career wears on.  Negativity, pain, the worst the world has to offer for forty plus hours a week, working odd shifts, getting held over on a whim or a late call, coming home to a wife and three young kids who always need something and don’t care about what daddy saw or dealt with, or how tired he is. Nor should they, I should add.  

When the uniform came off, I should have been daddy, and a husband, but eventually I just became, to be frank, an emotionless prick.  Cop was my identity 24/7.  I couldn’t turn it off.  To see what officers see and deal with everyday, emotions, feeling, they die off for reasons I’ll not get into here.  But it’s an unavoidable response.  The problems begin as you realize you can’t turn them back on, for anyone, on the job or in your life outside a cruiser.  Partners, children, friends, family, they need emotion, love, connection.  But eventually I just treated everyone like another call, another problem to be solved, another report to say how I made it all better for the moment while in reality not fixing anything at all.  

On the verge of divorce once, probably twice, I still thank God for a wife who held on.  Drinking too much, reading, watching movies because they let me escape, I questioned life, my faith, my purpose.  I was lonely, emotionless, going call to call, just moving on to the next worst day of someone else’s life, while not really being involved in my own.  But you’d never know it.  

What I was going through, what my family was dealing with, to everyone else I was good, great, fine.  To our friends, my wife and I were in love, happy, a picture of the perfect family.  In the neighborhood, at church, at parties, family gatherings, on Facebook. Life looked grand.  Wonderful pictures, happy posts and conversations, the best of our lives.  All the while talking of divorce, ignoring each other, possibly scaring my kids without even realizing it, or caring.  

And then one day I met Mary.  There were many before her, but she hit home for reasons I can only guess.  Mostly because she was honest.  Her story isn’t for show or entertainment. But simply to illustrate a point.  To her friends, she was great, fine.  To her family she was happy.  Facebook showed that she was living her best life.  But one day Mary decided to buy a gun, write a note, and call life over.  She did it in the garage, after a bottle of wine, over a blanket and beside her husband’s tool chest.     

I was upstairs in her house that day, after a bad morning at my own, still working second shift.  I saw the note on her dresser amidst the mementos addressed to her family.  Other officers were in the garage, stringing tape, dealing with loved ones.  Gloves on, I picked it up, read it.  It was in that moment that I found myself agreeing with a dead woman, supporting her points, nodding my head in her bedroom.  And I knew, then, I had a problem.  

Mary was right.  About life, about surface relationships, about who we are and what the world thinks we should be.  About fake people, the pointlessness of small talk and about spending time on so many unimportant things.  About covering it all up to be the package that is always good, great, fine, the package we think people should see.   All while never really being known, or being real, or having a relationship with anyone that’s worth anything more than simply what that person across the table, or phone, or computer wants or needs from you at the moment.  I’ve met many Marys since then, talked to them both prior to, and dealt with them after, they made a decision that ends it all.  The Marys called me out.  There were too many.  There are too many.  And every year since then the numbers increase.  

I’ve already told you I’ve done horrible things.  Treated my wife poorly, been short and dismissive to my children, taken my family for granted and lived life in selfish ways.  I swore off a God I thought was there and had a plan, a purpose for life.  I’ve wasted time and money on things worth less than nothing, and traded time with the people that matter for pennies on the dollar.  Why does it matter, why do I confess it now, and why should you join me?  

Because confession is an amazing thing.  It does amazing things.  They say your first book is always about you, but I never realized this fully until I wrote my first book.  I wrote hoping to make sense of things, my life, sort of like Mary. Indeed, the writing, it was all about me, a confession of sorts, in a hero’s journey sort of story, and for me, a true portal to new life, and a new man.  And I can’t take any of the credit.  

It wasn’t the book that changed my life, though it did help make sense of things.  It was my family and friends, after I finally broke down having nothing to lose and not caring about the outcome, as I asked them to read it, to hear the confession, scared to death of what they would think and do and how they would view me forever after.  I just didn’t want to end up like Mary, like Jude, like so many others I’ve dealt with. The honesty that filled those pages had an impact on people I never realized it would, and it bonded me to them in a way I hadn’t imagined.  After reading it they wanted to share their own stories, stories of fake lives, tragedies, pain, even healing.  They felt comfortable, because they had already seen the worst in me, the honest through me.  I was free.  And yes, there was so much more to my redemption of sorts, but that’s entirely another story…

As an officer, one thing I’ve always noticed as people struggle, stress, and strain while they lie through all types of investigations, is the freedom and peace that comes with the final confession as they reveal the truth. No more hiding, they face reality head on.   It’s like a ton of weight simply slides from their shoulders.  Deep breath, relaxed posture, you can always tell when the honest finally comes out.  Now I suggest it’s your turn.  Why?  

Well, you’re a writer of course, or maybe you’re just staring out like me.  You live in other worlds and deal in stories that take people away from who and where they are. And if you let it, it’ll become a lonely endeavor.   Alone, lost in other people’s lives and stories, we get disconnected from others, from ourselves, from real life.  From the important things and people that are right in front and around us.  Stories, like the ones that kept me happy and sane in middle school, can also kill if that’s all we have as adults.  The stories we live in, the stories we project, the stories we share through photos and posts, and saying good, great, and fine to everyone that asks, all the while never really knowing who we are, or being known by others.  We become Mary.  I became Mary.  It didn’t end well for her, and it almost destroyed my family, and ended my own life.  

Stories are wonderful things, as long as we recognize that’s all they are, great stories, and we still take the time to live real life outside of them.  Being honest with people we trust.  Truly known by the people we love.  Emotion, connection, they make life worth living.  We were made for community, to socialize, to interact.  Even the most introverted of us, of which I am certainly one.  

Killer Nashville is a community.  Can you help make it an honest one?  A connected one?  A community of people that are known for the connection they have doing the thing they love, telling stories, but also for being actually known to each other, real, connected outside of just the thing they do, the story world.  

I’m free now.  Free to be honest.  Thanks to Mary, and so much more that happened after, I’m free to feel emotion and be bonded to people and have a depth in relationships and friendships that go so far beyond the Facebook posts, networking, and the small talk facade.  If you’re reading this, if you’re part of the Killer Nashville family, would you consider sharing your story, your confession, with me?  Not for entertainment’s sake, but for the sake of others’ lives who truly may be on the line, feeling alone, lost in a story they’ve created, the entire time knowing it is only that, a story, sitting alone at a computer and wondering if anyone really cares.  Are they good enough, do they matter?  Does life matter?  

If I sat with you over lunch, dinner, maybe over a drink, and just asked “How is it honestly going, these days, being you?”  All masks aside, the noise drowned out, the shell gone that you hold for work, or family, or friends.  If you felt comfortable looking me in the eye and revealing the truth, getting out of the story you project for others, how does it really feel being you? How did it feel being you during your darkest hour, day, or year?  

Honesty bonds us, pain bonds us, struggle bonds us, and, yes, so does success, especially if everyone knows the struggles prior.  The deep things, in the dark water.  Change never happens in the shallow end.  We bond over the things said and shared.  Confessions that sit on that shelf in the side bedroom beneath the cobwebs that we try never to look at, but that truly have or had a huge impact on who we are.  Who we’ve become.  

Everyone has a story.  We identify with each other through the darkest ones.  They are ones that truly create community.  Even if you don’t want it written about for others to see, if you feel like you can’t tell anyone else and you’re not yet in that place, if you’ve identified with me at all and need someone to share it with, reach out, I’d be happy to listen.  At least you’ll be known to someone.  You can confess, feel the freedom, enjoy the deep breath and sigh of relief as you reveal what it’s really like to live your story.  And bask in the knowledge that there is someone among you, just like you, who has royally screwed up, questioned life, treated people poorly, failed at many things, and still was able to turn the page.  And you, no, you are not alone….

There is someone among you, who is just like you.  

Chad Campese is a father, a husband, and a police officer extensively trained in peer support, CIT, CISM, and counseling. His first book currently sits with a few contests, so maybe one day he’ll have an award to speak of, or even perhaps have been published.  He enjoys hanging with his kids, his wife, and his friends as he comes to terms with who he really is while enjoying a responsible drink by the fire and staring off through the night sky.  His current passion is talking through real issues with others as they open up about their honest selves and walk forward together through this thing we call life.