When I was interviewing for my first job in law enforcement, the interview board asked the inevitable "why do you want to be a cop"? I don't remember my exact answer, but I do remember preparing my answer for several days prior to the interview so that I didn't give the typical "because I want to help people" line of garbage.
Fast forward a few years... in one of my previous lives, I was a street cop in a small city. During a particular sports season (we'll say baseball for the sake of anonymity), traffic is absolutely nuts. Gridlocked at 0700 on game day. Crazy.
Anyway, on a particular Saturday night following a game, I was working the side of town with the heaviest post-game traffic. It had been dark only a short time and the streets were packed with cars. I was approaching the largest, busiest intersection in town as the light turned green to allow traffic to proceed through the intersection toward where I was.
At the same time, I saw a small child with her mom and older brother, walk out of a store to my right. This child was about 3 or 4 years old. Mom had her hands completely full. Without warning, the little girl bolted away from Mom and into the street, crossing about 10 yards in front of me.
The next thing I can recall (I don't remember putting the car in park, taking off my seat belt, opening the door, or running into traffic) is catching up to her in the middle of on-coming lanes, scooping her up from behind, and getting tapped hard enough in the right thigh by a car that had slammed on the brakes in time to avoid mowing us over to plop me down on the hood with a little force.
As I got up off the hood of the car, the little girl looked up at me with a grin. I was grateful that she didn't start screaming.
I walked the little girl back to Mom, who had made it to the concrete median when I met her. She was sobbing and hugged her little girl tightly. She thanked me (I think, she was speaking Spanish) and I walked away. I was too shaken to really speak to Mom, even though I have roughly 7 years of Spanish education and can communicate okay, if I have to.
As I walked back to my car, I saw that my top lights were not on. Apparently, I didn't have time to get that little switch flipped as I was bailing out. I got back into my squad and drove for a couple of blocks, where I parked behind a building in one of my hidy-holes.
I can't really explain why, but I began shaking, teared up, and got sick to my stomach all pretty much at the same time. I had to lean out and evacuate my stomach contents before I could pull myself together.
After getting a grip, I went back to patrol, thinking about how horrible it would've been had I not gotten to the little girl before that car did. I kept picturing her getting hit and the emergency medical care I would've given her had it happened.
Several days later, I was picking up Code 7 (chow) from my favorite Sub Shop when a woman approached me. She asked if I had been working the previous Saturday night. I had a mental groan - the conversations that start this way generally don't end up great.
I told her I was and she said that she saw me grab that little girl. She said she was in the car behind the car that had tapped me. She said that she didn't even see the little girl until she was in the middle of the road and she was terrified that she was going to be run over. The woman thanked me and left.
Suffice to say I was a bit surprised. I didn't have time to call it out on the radio when it happened and I thought it was a waste of time to do it after the fact. I figured that Mom, the driver of the car, and I would really be the only ones that knew about it, and that was okay with me. But, after that woman approached me, it kind of sunk in how close it really was to turning out badly.
This is one of the handful of incidents that haunt me to this day. The rest are negative experiences - assaults, deaths, other violent stuff - but this one is the lone positive. The funny thing is that this has stuck with me more vividly than just about anything else. Even to this instant, I still get goosebumps when I think about it. On occasion, I'll dream about it, except the little girl in the dream is my daughter, and it doesn't end as nicely. Maybe that's why it sticks with me. Who knows?