When he pulled on those boots and tied them that morning, he’d no idea he wouldn’t be the one taking them off at the end of his day.
That was my first thought as my gaze drifted to his shoes.
They were brown work boots with scuffed toes, splattered with bright-red droplets. The owner of those boots lay in a soggy heap on the living room floor—the guest of honor at my first homicide.
He’d been fighting with his girlfriend after a night of barhopping together. And while he straddled her chest, pinning her to the floor, her eighteen-year-old brother came up from behind and stabbed him in the back seventeen times with a large butcher knife.
I couldn’t pull my mind from the boots—or the thought. He had no idea when he put them on—he wouldn’t be the one taking them off.
My eyes and mind always went to the shoes.
There were the tan Hush Puppies of the cabbie, shot in the back of the head by one of his three teenage fares for his thirty-two bucks.
The fuzzy blue slippers of the elderly husband, sitting on the toilet with his underwear around his ankles, who’d gotten up in the middle of the night thinking he had to shit, but was actually having a heart attack.
The white Nike sneakers with untied red shoe laces on the twenty-something crack dealer, who, on a blistering summer day, lay sprawled out on the baking-sheet asphalt of a tavern parking lot like a gangster-clad gingerbread man. A perfectly round bullet hole in the center of his forehead, and the “Oh” he’d uttered just as the trigger had been pulled, frozen on his bloodless lips.
There were the black motorcycle boots with silver buckles of a biker whose helmet wasn’t as hard as the curb he hit at seventy miles an hour.
The toffee-colored loafers of a young paraplegic at a New Year’s Eve party who decided he couldn’t live his life in a wheelchair. Fueled with a fifth of Jack Daniel courage, he tugged a .357 caliber handgun from his book bag, stuck it in his mouth and blew the back of his head off while his friends were sucking face in dark corners. They stood around their dead friend, whose head now resembled a deflated, gore-smeared football. Their faces pale and their eyes seared with the new-found knowledge that had burned into their minds like a drop of acid, down deep to the lobe where the illusion of youthful innocence had just been eaten away by the corrosive reality of life. That yes—they can die.
One time there were no shoes—because there were no feet, or legs, or arms, for that matter— just a head on a torso, lying in a dumpster surrounded by green garbage bags like a discarded CPR manikin.
And then there is the one that sneaks up and yanks my mind back to its overwhelming sadness.
The white crocs on a young mother of three, whose jealous ex-boyfriend—just as we were walking up the steps to her apartment, responding to an unwanted guest call—had slit her throat.
She was lying on the couch, an antler-handled hunting knife still sticking from the crimson gash. She looked at me as I entered the small living room. Her bright, desperate eyes blinked rapidly at first—then slowed and glazed over—and stared into eternity. I watched the color of life flee from her face, chased away by the grayness of death. I glanced down at her white crocs. She didn’t know when she put them on…she wouldn’t be the one taken them off.
The ringing phone jolted me awake at an hour that could bear no good. The voice on the other end said a traffic stop had gone bad. An officer had been shot. They needed help searching for the suspect.
I put on my uniform—tied my boots—buckled my gun belt, and walked out the door.
As I lay on a city sidewalk under the dream-like yellowish glow of a streetlight, the frantic chatter of fellow officers and the urgent wail of an ambulance mingled together like the music of a nightmarish song. And while my blood seeped from four bullets holes and pooled into a wet sticky puddle beneath me, I wondered as I looked down at my black, spit-shined uniform boots—will these be my death shoes?
Terry Dawley is a resident of Erie, Pennsylvania. He served as an Erie police officer for thirteen years and retired after absorbing too much lead through holes he wasn’t born with. He then decided to take up writing, where there is even a greater risk of getting shot down. He is a member of both Pennwriters and Fellowship of the Quill writing groups, and is an award winner in the Pennwriter Annual Writing Competition and the Memoir/Personal Essay category of The Writer’s Digest 80th Annual Writing Competition.