The Right Kind of Hero

It was a day like too many other days in that house on Milburn Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio.  A day that was filled with fear. Yelling, hitting, choking, knives being thrown and kid’s being locked upstairs for hours in bedrooms were on the menu.  An environment that could turn hostile and toxic at any given moment.  The kind of place where the youngest committed suicide to escape.

I don’t talk about how bad it was that much because it takes me down so far when I think about it.  It was a battleground that endured my entire childhood. Yes, there were good moments and memories, 4th of July parades, birthday cakes, picnics and happy extended family gatherings but the abuse was overshadowing.  Trust was obscured in lieu of survival. As soon as I turned 18 I was thrown out-all my stuff tossed on the porch-with the police telling me I wasn’t welcome to live there anymore. My mother wanted me gone.

But before all that happened I was growing up-trying to protect my little brother from the abuse-unsuccessfully as it turned out. I was just a kid and the adults and professionals in the city did nothing to stop it.

When I was 16 I worked as a waitress at a Bob’s Big Boy restaurant. A blonde guy with blue eyes came in and started sitting for coffee in my section. He had a broken arm with a cast on it.  Soon we started dating. He was so kind to me. He went to all my basketball games, drove me to school after breakfast at McDonald’s everyday and was teaching me how to drive.  I never truly trusted his kindness always waiting for the other shoe to drop. It never did.

One night after a particularly bad fight at my house he let me cry on his shoulder. I remember just punching my fists into his leather jacket as he held me.  The next time my parents wanted to “discipline” me he refused to leave when they told him to.

“I’m not leaving,” he said, and stayed long enough for them to calm down. 

He was taller than my father and that day I didn’t get hit. A witness-outside of the 9 family members who lived there- was not what they wanted. They continued to treat him coldly when he came over but I don’t remember ever getting hit by my father again.   My mother’s yelling, hair-pulling and slapping continued and I was routinely locked in rooms but by then I had learned how to cut screens and climb out windows to escape.

The day I was “evicted” with no notice, I called Mike at work crying and he came over. He picked up what was left of my stuff from the porch (after my mother had rifled through and taken things) and let me move into his new apartment.  For the next  3 years he helped a traumatized teenager who drank way too much alcohol turn into a less angry and better adjusted adult. I eventually left him and went off to college. He became a police officer.

I wish I could accurately describe what it felt like that day he stood up for me to my father in the kitchen of my house almost 40 years ago. That day in that house, the boy who would later become Cleveland Police Sergeant Michael Rybarczyk was my hero. 

My parents were “pillars” in their church. They were super religious fanatics,  like many families more common than we want to admit,  love had warped into control and domestic violence. Later in life my parents and I and the rest of our family came to find some peace with the past.

Throughout the years I have been proud of the progress Mike made on Cleveland’s police force. He said to me once when I ran into him that seeing what happened to me in my home helped him help others as a police officer. One day on the job he became a hero again for his community helping take down some criminals on a highway road in Cleveland. He grieved along with the family and his department for a colleague killed in the line of duty on a joint police event late one night. 

For almost 30 years he protected the ungrateful people of Cleveland.  The politicians, including the mayor, who couldn’t even be bothered to put fresh cheery paint on the inside of the dismal and depressing  buildings that house their police districts. The same hypocrites who are quick to demonize a hero who has been through and seen so much shit that they wouldn’t even have the balls to deal with.  Instead of helping a hero they have collectively attacked- cowards that they are- to avoid addressing the real problem:  Your police are as traumatized as your city’s citizens, criminals and victims.

Instead of helping you hide from the problems.  You reflect the poorest leadership of the city and apathy toward the damage you have mitigated among your police and first responders.

There is no such thing as a perfect hero. Everyone has flaws. When you take pleasure in taking down a true hero, who maybe made some human mistakes, it makes you look like spineless losers instead of leaders. You all need to be voted out of office. Mayor, Judge, Prosecutor…and a certain low quality print journalist who doesn’t know enough to ask the right questions.  

Time to Retire.

The courage Mike showed that day so many years ago to stop some of the abuse going on in my childhood home was life-changing for me. The unconditional love and kindness Mike gave to me helped me go on to finish second in my college sequence and led me over the years to be just a little bit of help to other first responders hurt by tragedy.   The authorities in Cleveland at the time did nothing to stop the damage going on to me and my siblings in that home yet they now crucify this man who tried to put a stop to the child abuse they ignored for my entire childhood.

This city and our country really should take a good hard look at how badly they treat their own first responders.  Or maybe someday soon no one will want to be one. What will we do then?



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