The pink slip of paper with the worn creases neatly folded/refolded in my wallet serves as a reminder
Deep down, I wanted to get caught. I wanted to see the flash of lights in my rear view mirror. I deserved to be punished. Deep down, I truly believed it despite all of my words to the contrary. It was all my fault. I needed to pay.
I saw the police car waiting in the dirt road to my left. I knew why he was there. I saw the stop sign before me at the intersection. My right foot had a will of its own. My mind blocked my brain from registering the red before my eyes.
December 5, 2002 I was late. I had an important test. If I missed it, I would fail. If I failed, I would not do well in class. If I did not do well in class, I wouldn't land a good job. If I couldn't land a good job, I wouldn't be able to pay the bills and provide for myself and my daughter. If I couldn't provide for my daughter, I would lose custody of her. Everything hinged on that one test. It was a vicious self defeating loop where it was all or nothing. I put intense pressure upon myself. Hind sight is 20/20.
I possessed nothing. He had taken it all. He even owned the very car I was driving. He had forced me to switch vehicles with him taking his damned stick shift, which I had to relearn how to drive, while he took my automatic and the camper. His, he reminded me, they were all in his name. They were my last safe haven. They were my home. My hands were tied. I was a puppet on the strings of his callousness and whim. We were married still, though he lived with someone new. All of our possessions were in his name.
He calls that morning. The registrations were expiring on the vehicles. He wasn't going to insure the car I was driving anymore. He was demanding the plates back. I didn't know any better. I had no money, the car was not in my name so I couldn't register it. What was I going to do with no car? How was I going to get to school? How was I going to get to my part time job?
"This is all your fault", he said. "You asked for it. You're not my problem"
I was his wife.
My body is shaking with unspent tears
. I will not cry. I have to be focused. There is too much at stake. You will lose your daughter like you've lost your sons
I have to pass this test. I am late now. No time for grief. No time for anguish. No time. Focus, focus.
"License and registration please"
Breath held, on edge. Tight as a drum. Barely holding on. focus, do not cry, you need to focus
"Is he your husband?" The officer looks at my face.
"Get out of the car Ma'am"
My hands are shaking, my body trembling. So many worries, so many doubts. I will not cry. I will not.
"Why aren't you living with your husband, Ma'am?"
Tears well up, the damn threatens to burst. The hole in the dike too big. My hands struggle to cover the gaping hole.
"Please..., " I barely whisper, "Don't..." Don't let me humiliate myself by crying in front of you. Please don't. I couldn't take that too. Please don't ask me to bear anymore. It is too heavy.
"He left you didn't he?"
"And you're feeling pretty worthless, aren't you."
Silence. Looking at the crumpled leaf blowing in circles on the ground, caught in a vortex.
"It's all your fault, right?"
The tears come and the knees buckle. This officer with the clear eyes is stabbing me with the truth of what he sees plainly written on my face. The face that I do not want to face. Impending divorce, feelings of failure, humiliation, and worthlessness. What if my husband was right and I am crazy? I don't want to see. I don't want to know. I don't want to deal.
This officer catches me and lets me sob on his uniform making his shoulder all wet. Firm embrace from a stranger. Do you know how that feels after months of no contact? ...and then he pulls me to his car.
"Get in. I can't let you drive right now. You're a danger to yourself and others"
"But my test, you don't understand..." Panic sets in, struggling to breathe
"It will wait. It is not life and death. You need to be here right now."
And this officer pulls me into his car so no one else can see...so no one else can slow down his car and stare at me wondering what has happened...so no one else can witness my release. Then he talks and then he listens and then he talks some more. And I focus on the emblem on his glove box and the mud on my shoe that needs wiping off, and my hands wringing nervously in my lap as I answer his questions one by one , peeling away the layers that I have worked so hard to surround myself with. I am drained at the end, but no longer shaking with pent up unreleased emotion.
"It isn't your fault", he says, "Stop punishing yourself. It's going to be OK. There are people who can help you. You don't have to go through this alone"
I hear the words. He sighs.
"I have to give you a ticket. I can't let this infraction pass."
Yes, I know. I am already recalculating and mentally reshifting my meager funds to accomodate my penalty.
He hands me the pink slip of paper. It is a warning only. There is no penalty. There is only his phone number scrawled upon the back. I look up at him in surprise. Direct eye to eye contact for a fraction before I bend my head away.
"Call me if you need anything. You are not alone."
I nod as I carefully fold the pink slip of paper and tuck it into the pocket of my purse next to the picture of my daughter.
I take it out from time to time. I trace my fingers over the ink. I keep it there to serve as a reminder.
I wrote this one for me