Freshly showered, you stand naked—except for the small St. Michael’s medallion around your neck—and pull the next clean uniform out of the closet.  Black pants and charcoal shirt, a polyester/cotton blend. Several years later, the Chief will institute a French blue wool blend. Wool—in the swampland heat of Louisiana. You are allergic to wool, although the blue is more flattering to your skin tone.  The blue pants, like the black ones, will require alterations. Men’s pants aren’t cut for female bodies.

Black cotton socks.  You buy them three-to-a-pack in the men’s section at Montgomery Ward.

Men’s black Redwing lace-up shoes, size 6.  You own two pairs: one in better shape for funerals and for when the older pair become too scuffed to pass inspection.  You’ve considered ankle boots, which many officers prefer for carrying a backup gun, but shoes are more comfortable.  Use a slightly damp rag to remove any dirt from the last shift.  Polish and spit-shine.  Really, use spit.  It works.

If the Chief has determined it’s winter, you wear a long-sleeved shirt—cuffs buttoned, never rolled up—even if it’s 85 degrees outside. Clip any loose threads; your Captain can be a stickler.

Collect the items you’ll attach to the shirt.  Polish them first with Brasso and a soft rag: P.D. pin and 2nd District pin (one for each collar); name tag (L Drummond, just above the right pocket); Expert Marksman pin (a 297 out of 300 earned you this, and it goes above the name tag); and your badge (number 0175, above your left pocket).

Decide whether you’ll wear your bulletproof vest tonight, the one your mother purchased because the department doesn’t supply vests.  What are the chances you’ll get shot or stabbed tonight?  Think about Linda Lawrence. Think about Warren Broussard.  Slip the vest over your head and pull the two straps on either side tight.  Try to ignore the slight gap between cleavage and vest; they haven’t yet started making women’s vests.  Try not to remember that gaps between skin and vest can kill you from the impact, even if the vest stops the bullet.  Try not to think about bullets that penetrate Kevlar.

Zip the shirt up, and tuck it in.  A black tie is mandatory with the winter uniform.  Push the top of your vest down, button the top shirt button—the tight discomfort will intensify over the next eight to ten hours—and clip on the tie.  Attach the revolver tie clip your brother gave you for Christmas.

Men’s black belt—cinched tight, unless you’ve got menstrual cramps.  Next the fourteen pounds of gunbelt: gun, holster, two speed loaders, two sets of handcuffs, PR-29 holder, mag flashlight.  Attach the four keepers, thin leather straps that hold gunbelt to pant belt with Velcro.  You will remove and reattach all of this each time you use the bathroom.

The black badge wallet goes in your back left pants pocket with your driver’s license, police ID card, insurance card (regular and Accidental Death & Dismemberment), emergency contacts, and organ donation card.  In the back right pocket, a twenty-dollar bill, nude lip-gloss, eight or so quarters.

In the right shirt pocket: cigarettes and lighter.  There’s room for one OB tampon, too, and a fold-up comb.  In the left pocket: small brown notebook, two pens, chewing gum, four Tylenol.

Pull your still-damp hair into a French braid, pin it up, use lots of hair spray. Small pearl stud earrings.   Wristwatch.  You never wear rings anymore, not since one caught on a door jam as you swung yourself hard around a corner in hot pursuit, and it gouged your finger deep enough to require stitches after you’d caught the perp.  A touch of waterproof mascara, maybe a smudge of eye shadow if you aren’t running late.

The hat that gives you headaches, cuts a double red horizontal line into your forehead, won’t go on your head until you work your first call.

Take a deep breath, set your face, walk out the door to your unit, and put yourself 10-8, in service.

Laurie Lynn Drummond, a former uniformed officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is the author of the linked story collection Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used against You, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award.  Her essays have appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, Fourth Genre, and Brevity.  This essay is an excerpt from her memoir-in-progress, Losing My Gun.

Artwork by Gabrielle Katina