I park my car, grab my lunch, throw on my nametag and make my way into the building. Sometimes I don’t see anyone until I get to the 6th floor, sometimes I see friends and co-workers. Wish them well, have a good sleep (night or day is irrelevant with shift work), and wish them a safe shift.
I get to my locker, grab my headset, find a chair (not too big, not too small… a shiny one, it’s cooler for the 12 hours I’ll be sitting in it), and figure out the desk at which I’ll be sitting. I drag my chair over, get the rundown of the day from my co-worker, and wish them well. Sometimes, it has been a slow day, sometimes they’ve just taken a call that will stick with them forever… but it’s always the same, “Have a good sleep.”
I sit down, the emergency line rings, I answer. It’s a person complaining about their neighbour’s dog… it’s been barking all night. I try to explain that unfortunately this isn’t a life or death emergency or crime in progress and I will have to transfer them… They are very angry at me. They call me names, cruel names. I transfer them, and laugh… what can you do? All is silent for a few moments, the emergency line rings again. It’s a young mother. She is cowering in the bathroom with her children. Her husband just got home and is angry. The reason never matters. He is screaming and trying to break down the door. Her children are crying. She is crying. I am crying on the inside but on the outside I am calm, I am getting her address, confirming whether or not her husband has a weapon, and whether or not anyone else is in the house that didn’t make it to the bathroom before he went ballistic. I am trying to keep this woman’s attention, to answer my questions while she cries “Please, just get them here.” I sigh with relief as I hear the voices of the officers on the other end of the line, silently wishing them Godspeed. I disconnect the call. Silence… ring. “A man just walked in front of a train.”
My friends, my co-workers. These are the only people who truly understand. These are the people whom I have sworn to return safely to their families at the end of my 12 hours. These people are my responsibility. Every single time I send them to a call, I am forced to think about the worst case scenario. The officer with whom I just joked, who just brought us coffee, might not come back from the next call to which I send him/her. I weep when I see the news, another officer killed. Firefighters shot at responding to a call. I know the hurt that will seep through the lives of those close to them. I weep for the dispatcher who sent that person to that call. I know that they will blame themselves. And I know that brave soul may not survive the blame.
I became a dispatcher to make a difference. I drive home at the end of my shift and call my mom. She doesn’t ask specifics. We talk about my nephew, my plans for days off. She knows, she worries. I get home, I make dinner, and take my dog out for a walk, hug my boyfriend. Tomorrow’s another day.
On your darkest day, you will never see us, but we are there.
We are the thin gold line.