He had recently finished his probation period after becoming a law officer in the Seattle Police Department.
But he was wary to share anything about it at first because it had lost him his last girlfriend and a handful of people he thought were friends.
I could also tell they gave him acceptance and a source of purpose.
Teased when he was young, he hungered especially for masculine approval.
“I mean,” Keith told me, “I support his right to say what he wants.” The unspoken "but"hung heavy in the air. Good thing we both get paid when we are too banged up to 'play,' huh?
Keith sent me an open letter by retired officer Chris Amos, who wrote that he “had the misfortune of having to shoot and kill a 19-year-old African American male.” Amos bemoaned the paucity of his pay while he was on administrative leave and went on to say: “You know Colin the more I think about it the more we seem to have in common. ” Keith thought the letter offered a heartfelt alternate perspective to “liberal media coverage,” and I thought it was insulting.
Scott, a guy who had spurred Keith into becoming a police officer in the first place despite not completing the process himself, had recently started acting so bizarrely that Keith had broken off the friendship. I was thinking about a café owner I overheard saying that if he ever got a tattoo, it would be of his wife’s smile because he loved it so much. But I was also thinking about hot chocolate and our tent by a campfire.
But then Scott had overheard Keith talking about women with other officers, and had called him out for disrespectful language, saying Keith, especially as a former women’s studies major, should be ashamed of himself. I was thinking about the flowers Keith would bring home from his garden and about the sweet, connected texts he had been sending. He made me a bracelet of woven cedar strips I wore until it frayed apart.
"Police" and "policy" spring, after all, from the same root: the Latin word for "civil administration." We were lingering at sunset beside the Columbia River, when Keith brought me a few heart-shaped rocks and said he loved me. I had learned that Keith did not like to be confronted.When the optimism cracked, I caught flashes of anger and hypersensitivity.But he had been patient, too, holding me gently when I felt stressed about leaving. Then the National Anthem played and Colin Kaepernick took a knee and wore socks with images of pigs in police caps and suddenly a 6-foot-4-inch, 230-pound quarterback barreled between Keith and I. I just had to bounce back from a gunshot wound to the chest and thigh.The fears of split-second decisions and of being suddenly shot, like the officers in a training video he sent me.So far, he said, he was seeing mostly professionalism from his fellow officers, and he really did think the Seattle Police Department, which the Department of Justice in 2011 had reported had “a pattern or practice of constitutional violations regarding the use of force that result from structural problems, as well as serious concerns about biased policing,” had turned a page. I saw more little red flags, mostly examples of black-and-white, anecdote-based thinking.Even though I was not saying anything negative specifically about Keith or the SPD, it felt like I wasn’t supposed to express any real concern about police brutality.I was supposed to just cheerfully welcome him home instead. We had spent so many hours discussing policing and how much he loved it.I asked a lot of questions and learned a lot about the day-to-day triumphs and fears.The joys of keeping Seattle safe during a jubilant Pride day celebration.Keith wondered if there was any truth to the rebuke. Eventually Keith asked if I would hang out with some of his officer friends. He got serious fast, accelerating from "We don’t know what this is" to "I think I’m really falling for you" in less than three months, despite knowing I was leaving at the end of summer for a science policy fellowship on the other side of the country.We stood around eating veggie dogs with barbecue sauce, listening to shop gossip about a fellow officer who had recently said something socially offensive about a minority group. Before I left, I took him on a getaway to see the places where I grew up.