I was recently challenged to "befriend my sadness," and in order to befriend something, you must be able to call it by name. This my attempt to do that.
Prior to May 25, 2020, I tended to think of helplessness as a passive state of being. For example, by nature, my baby and toddler are helpless because they can't do many things without help. But then I experienced helplessness in the form of being unable to defend myself and those I love from the intentional actions of others.
In addition to being unable to defend ourselves, we were expected to sit back and take it, in order to appease the masses. And two years later, I'm still not OK.
It's taken me almost a full two years to even attempt to describe how the George Floyd riots affected me as the wife of a Minneapolis police officer. As my husband experienced the reality of the riots, I was told I could believe "whatever fit my narrative." As large objects were hurled at my husband, as our friends were ambushed and firefighters were attacked so that buildings were left to burn, I was told this was worthy retribution for the actions of another.
I watched on a Facebook livestream as the Third Precinct was overtaken, then soon after realized my husband was there: abandoned and unprotected due to a supposed oversight on the part of those he worked for.
This alone was enough to make one feel helpless, but I also have children who didn't understand why they hadn't seen their dad in days or why their mom was in a panic every time she said goodbye to him. We mistakenly chose to watch "The Good Dinosaur" that week and came to the scene where the dad was swept away by the river. My 6-year-old said, "I feel like that's what happened to our dad." I had to reassure him that his dad would come home, when in reality I wasn't sure myself.
Our "narrative" (rooted in reality, mind you), is that we are still reeling. As the riots ended, and the rest of the state, country and world moved on, we were stuck in the shock and the pain. As shifts went back to normal, we had to cope with the fact that the Police Department had failed us. Rather than supporting the officers of the city, the MPD pandered to and pacified an angry mob. Then after the "return to normalcy," it left us in the ditch without tending our wounds.
It surprises people that we aren't over it yet. Even those we are closest to can't quite understand why certain aspects of it have such a visceral effect on us. Let me note that I don't say "we" or "us" because I identify myself with my husband's job. I say "we" because while he was the one in the riots, I was the one who sat up waiting for him. I rubbed his back in the early hours of the morning when he questioned why he was risking his life for a group of citizens who wanted him dead.
And still, I am the one who holds space for him as he tries to piece back together other people's broken lives, when he feels like his own might be falling apart.
I've been through grief, heartache and loss, but have never felt so helpless as I experienced it. We are this week marking the second anniversary of George Floyd's death, where again Floyd is honored and cops demonized. So, I've decided to call out the pain that's been with me all this time. To publicly say that as the world notes this anniversary, my blue family is reminded of the horrors, and our wounds are still fresh.
Cecelia Bunnell lives in Lonsdale, Minn.