my wife wears a uniform
A rhapsody in khaki and green.
Before my wife was even my girlfriend, I used to watch her. We lived in the same building, and I had a front-facing apartment. I made it my business to pay attention to all the people coming and going, and when she moved in, it was impossible not to notice her. I’d see her in the afternoons, when she would get home from work and walk her dog. Admittedly, the 120 lb. megaladon of a German Shepherd might have been the first thing I noticed, but more intriguing to me was that she wore a uniform.
For a long time, I assumed she was some kind of police officer. She wore a duty belt and a badge, and I was never close enough to get a good look. It wasn’t until we started talking, many months after she moved in, that I found out she was a Park Ranger. If I had been intrigued by the uniform before I knew what my future wife did for a living, I became down right obsessed with it after I found out.
It wasn’t the uniform itself. The khaki shirt and green pants weren’t special. It was what the uniform represented. I could see her in it, and be reminded that this extraordinary woman I was quickly falling in love with was so much more than anything I could ever imagine being myself. She was a bad ass. That much was clear. But more, she was a hero.
It’s something I knew instinctively, before we were together. Over the past three years, it’s become something more tangible. The knowledge of who my wife is when she puts on her badge elicits a kind of pride that is absolutely palpable.
I have listened to all of her stories. I know that she worked as a mounted ranger at South Mountain Park in Phoenix—a place where getting lost might easily mean getting dead, if not for Park Rangers. I know that after being thrown off her horse, losing consciousness, and being disabled with post-concussive syndrome for six months, she went back to work—park ranging.
I have listened to her tell me all about her dreams for the Park Ranger program here. My wife built the City of Austin Park Ranger program—before she was even in her mid-thirties. I have watched her light up every time she’s been asked about what she does, and listened to her call her job the best job in the world, despite the fact that she works in a male dominated field, in a male dominated state. I saw her take on the city and win, when she was discriminated against because of her gender. I have the privilege of standing alongside her while she fights tirelessly for diversity, because—she likes to tell me—nature is for everyone.
I have watched her teach children how to say chiroptera, what it means to be a mammal, what kind of teeth foxes have—and I have seen the looks on their faces as she helped them make that connection between themselves and the world they live in. Those children aren’t just hanging with my wife; they’re learning from a super awesome Park Ranger, who comes with a mountain lion skin around her neck and a table full of animal skulls.
For years now, I have been in the room with her when her phone wouldn’t stop ringing, because she was, and is, the one to call when you have a problem. I’ve heard her advise distressed homeowners who found their back yards inhabited by coyotes—because, and let me emphasize this, my wife knows how to deal with a coyote (or a rattlesnake or a moose or a small alligator, for that matter). I have seen her work extra-long hours on weeks when she was fighting to protect the parks, taking on everything from irate homeowners with encroachments to wild land fires (which she is certified to fight). I’ve been on the other end of the phone when she’s called, after a long day, to tell me that she’s going to be late because she stopped to help a stranded motorist who didn’t feel safe. I’ve been here to hear the stories about the intoxicated man she called EMS for—a person whose dignity and safety she put first, despite the way he behaved towards her.
This year, when the greenbelt flooded, I watched her go in early and stay late to help flood victims and make sure people stayed safe. In past years, I’ve seen her get in the car and drive off to work in ice storms, because Park Rangers don’t get snow days. And when I’ve been angry at her for putting other people’s safety ahead of her own, she reminds me that that is her job. Maybe I’ve hated it at times. I’ve whined and complained and pitched unholy fits about long hours and endless phone calls and missed holidays. I have decried marrying into public service, if you are looking for any kind of normal.
But the truth is, I don’t need normal. As much as I have hated the inconveniences, I have loved watching her do what she does even more.
I still watch her.
Every morning, I see her lacing up her boots and tucking in her shirt, pinning on her badge, flattening her collar—transforming from someone who is just my wife into someone who saves people, who saves the world world a little every day. When I watch her put on her uniform, I feel so incredibly proud and privileged and honored to have been chosen to walk with her.
There are days when I also feel scared, because when she walks out the door in her uniform, I know she’s walking out into a world where people who wear what she wears are seen as the enemy. I know she goes to work every day with the possibility that someone will see her badge and mistake her for someone who is a threat. And even though I know she’s more than capable of taking care of herself, it’s hard not to worry when every day brings more stories of people killing each other just because. It’s hard not to worry when I know that her uniform puts her in danger, not just because she’s wearing it, but because at the end of the day, the person she is inside that uniform is someone who would not just protect herself, but would go to the aid of others.
I know my wife is a hero. In today’s world, that knowledge is scary.
In the past few weeks, I have grown tired of hearing all the rhetoric. It is exhausting and horrible. Everyone is so busy arguing about the finer theoretical points of the second amendment and the legal intricacies involved in the constitution that the real life people are becoming lost in the forests of theory and minutiae. Those things are great for the endlessly energetic. Me? I feel burnt out on outrage. I feel desensitized to the atrocities shown on the news. I feel as if I have compassion fatigue, numbed to everything horrible because of the sheer deluge of horrible things.
I can’t talk about the state of the world in any sort of theoretical way anymore.
But this morning, as I watched my wife get dressed, drove her to work, and kissed her goodbye before she went off to save the world, it dawned on me that I didn’t need the theory. How I feel isn’t theoretical—it’s base, it’s visceral, it’s simple. It’s a plea.
My wife wears a uniform, and I want her to keep coming home.