Ryan had finally tired of waking up in an empty bed. Grief had run its rollercoaster course over the last five years, and his life was just returning to normal, whatever that was. The bill collectors kept calling despite how many times he explained to them the person they were after was dead. He kissed his crucifix necklace, more for luck than true devotion, and tucked it into his shirt. Today, was his chance to begin again. The scraping of snowplows jarred Jay awake from a recurring dream. He was running in the state track meet, only this time he actually won. His father was there in the stands to see his success and could finally be proud of him. Disappointment sunk in as the euphoria from the dream wore off with reality. He knelt facing east and said a prayer that today would be the day that set him on a new path of self-love. 8:30 AM
Ryan stopped for coffee and a jelly donut at a mom-and-pop shop that was struggling to keep its doors open. The neighborhood was changing rapidly due to gentrification and Ryan was trying to do his part. As a white man, Ryan understood he had an extra responsibility to take action. Some days were harder than others to check his privilege, especially working where he did. Jay decided to take the train to his downtown office so he wouldn't have to dig his car out of the snow. He liked commuting on the train because he could switch off his mind for a half hour. He had a full caseload of clients for the day, most of whom were black, which meant he would have to relive his own trauma listening to their stories. As a black male therapist, he was a unicorn in the mental health field and attracted clients like himself. 1:00 PM After completing a pile of meaningless paperwork at his desk, Ryan decided to get outside the building and take a drive around the city. For the last year he had been looking up apartments on Zillow in small towns because it was still too painful seeing all the places he had gone with his spouse. He loved the city, but maybe it was time to move on. Jay took a quick five-minute smoke break between clients number three and four. He thought about canceling the rest of the day and doing some retail therapy for himself instead. He had been wearing the same clothes since grad school and they were getting tight. With his schedule, he didn't have much time for anything but work. If he was going to last, he knew he needed to put himself ahead of the job.
Ryan pulled up to a stoplight on Lake Street, the elevated train rumbled above, and his radio fizzled:
"There's an armed robbery in progress near the intersection of Clark and Lake. The suspect is a black male, six feet, last seen at a 7-Eleven in a black coat. He's armed and dangerous. All available units please respond."
Ryan grabbed the transmitter, "Copy that, Officer Miller responding. I'm at the intersection." To Jay's relief, his last client cancelled. He put on his black Columbia puffer coat and braced himself for the chill. The lake effect added a brutal burst of cold across his tired face. He was regretting his choice to take the train knowing the painful walk to the next station. Halfway there, he ducked into a convenience store to grab a warm coffee. On his way out, a man in a black coat bumped into him, spilling Jay’s hot coffee. "C'mon man!" Jay exclaimed. "Keep stepping," the man said, showing Jay part of the gun in his coat pocket before pointing it at the cashier. Jay backed out onto the cold street and dialed 911 to report the robbery. Then he hurried to the train. 4:35 PM When Ryan saw a man that fit the description on the radio running across the intersection, he pulled the cruiser over, and pursued on foot. The man was almost to the turnstiles of the train station when Ryan tackled him onto the icy concrete. The man had something in his hand, but Ryan couldn't tell if it was a gun or a cell phone. With one hand he held the man down, with the other he reached for his gun. Ryan felt a surge of panic as the man wrestled free underneath him. In that split second, Ryan checked his implicit bias as he'd been trained. Instead of grabbing the gun, he grabbed his cuffs and restrained the man. After reporting the crime, Jay jogged to a train stop to put distance between him and the gunman. He was standing on the train platform when someone grabbed him from behind.
"You're Jay Johnson, aren't you?"
Startled, Jay answered, "Yeah, why?" A black university student in a peacoat said, "I read your article on collective trauma among black males. I resonated with what you said about black men fearing the police because they think we all look alike." "I'm glad you liked it. Hey, I gotta catch this train."
6:00 PM Ryan saw a man sitting alone by the window in the restaurant, so he approached cautiously. "Are you Jay Johnson?" he asked, feeling anxious.
"Yes, you must be Ryan Miller," Jay said, feeling equally nervous.
"Well, I'm happy to see that you fit the description on your profile page," Ryan said, still hovering awkwardly over the table. Jay motioned for him to sit so Ryan wedged himself into the booth.
"I'm sorry I didn't have time to change out of my uniform before our date. I had to take someone into the station. Now that you know what I do for a living, I hope it’s not a deal breaker for you that I'm a white cop?" "No, as long as it's not a deal breaker for you that I'm an outspoken black man."
Shawn Casselberry sees the world in stories. He's written fiction and nonfiction books and has recently published a book of short stories called, "Strange Fire." He's the co-founder/editor for Story Sanctum and lives in the Chicago area with his wife Jen and their introverted dog Colin. You can check out more of his writing at: www.shawncasselberry.com.