On the ten year anniversary of my fatal OIS
By: Kirk Lawless
The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book: PTSD/Putting The Serpent Down: One cop’s battle with PTSD, his fight against a corrupt system, and his mission to save police lives
This story has been a work in progress, 10 years in fact. That’s a long time to reflect on a life-changing event. Today is July 19, 2019, and at approximately 23:15 hours it will be exactly 10 years since I shot and killed a gunman, up close and personal, before he could kill me and another officer.
Having PTSD is not what I would consider a “glorious wound,” like getting shot or stabbed. You can’t pull up your shirt and show the scars, but your scars are there down deep in your soul. Nobody wants to see it, and those who bear that type of scar tend to keep it hidden, just because. To me it has become my “secret wound.”
The catalyst that would ultimately end my 28-year police career happened on the driveway of 2821 Cranberry Court with a 19-year-old gunman from the “Murderville” neighborhood of North St. Louis. We fought in the dark, and that is where he died.
The best way to describe my PTSD is to have you imagine waking up supine, in a deep hole, staring up at the sky. Sometimes it’s night with stars overhead, and others it’s daylight with trees rustling, sounds peaceful?
Then it begins, the nightmare, the crunching of shovels, splaying the dirt above me and out of sight. I realize I’m in my grave, six feet down, and I don’t want to be there. I smell the loam I lie upon. I feel the coolness of the earth. I can see the creeping grass hanging over the edges of my grave; I see it all in Technicolor, I hear everything in stereo.
When I say the nightly fight begins, I mean it is every night, and it lasts all night. It’s a life-of-death fight, and I’m all too familiar with it. I am literally trying to climb out of my own grave. I didn’t dig it, somebody else did, and they want me stay in it. The dirt clings to me mixing with my sweat. I am suffocating. I spit out great mouthfuls, I pull it out as fast as it rushes in, all the while clawing at the earthen walls that keep giving way. The harder I dig and claw, the faster it pours in. My fingernails are bloody and torn because I want so badly to get out and I’m thinking, praying that God will send someone to help me. I cry out, but there’s no sound. I am on my own. Still, the ground gives way as my hands are reduced to bloody shreds, as I hear voices above and out of my sight. Mostly they are laughing or taunting, I know the voices. I am all too familiar with them.
I hear the spades as they start raining dirt onto me and still I keep fighting to get out. I never quit. I’m not just terrified. I am anxious and mad. Let the monsters come! I will get out!
Flashes of my family appear in a rapid slideshow and I continue to claw harder with a ferocity that leaves the bones of my fingers exposed, and I grab hold of fleeting clumps of grass and roots until I am halfway out of my grave, lying on my stomach, screaming, cursing and spitting out dirt, crying out for help while something unseen, from inside the grave tries to pull me back in. I scream “No! I refuse! I’m not dead!”
This is usually when I am waking up, slick with sweat, my heart racing. Sometimes I vomit. I have seen things so horrific in my nightly visitations I sometimes wake up in my own piss. The pillows on the bed touted as “twist free” are clearly not living up to their expectations.
Every night a new nightmare, equally horrific, bloody and violent comes calling. I’ve never shared this with anyone until now, not my wife, my family or my friends. I’m sure some will be heartbroken because I haven’t shared it. For 10 years I have chosen not to, because really, what can anybody do to help me? Nothing. Will it ever go away, will it ever stop? It hasn’t even eased up.
I don’t want anybody to be sad for me, nor do I want pity. It physically hurts to write this. If you don’t understand this, good for you! If you do understand it, then you and I, we are living proof of the reality of PTSD.
If you are haunted by shit like this, you are not crazy. I am not crazy. You and I are merely a by-product of a broken system.
After 10 years, I’ve just accepted it as part of the package. It has kept me motivated to help other cops in a similar situation. I’m turning the hate into positivity. I can’t change the past, but for the most part I’m in control of my future. I’ve been through the fire. I’ve been crawling out of my own grave for 10 years, and you can do it too! Don’t “opt out.” Stay alive!
If you find yourself in your own grave with folks shoveling dirt onto you, look for that one hand, and that my brothers and sisters will be my hand. I’ll pull you out. It’s what I do. Please reach out!
Kirklawless@yahoo.com. (314) 302-0511 (you can call me as well, leave a message if I don’t answer). Feel free to friend me on Facebook, or Twitter.