Coming home from Crafty Book Club, I was tired. More than tired--it was nearing 10:30 p.m. and I'd been up since 5:00 that morning, when the cat had decided that a second can of cat food was worth more than her life, yowling outside my bedroom door for twenty minutes until I got up and banished her to the basement where she couldn't torture me anymore.
I followed the long straight line of the road, squinting at the too-bright lights of the car behind me. I was so close to home, so close! And I had a bag of Reese's Minis in the top drawer of my nightstand, where I hid them so Paul wouldn't eat them while I was at work. And I wanted to eat them. Also, there might have been food at home. Or maybe not. Probably not, because I didn't cook anything, but it would have been nice to find tasty food, I thought.
I rounded the curve in the road. The curve marked the location of a house Mom and I are sure smells like mold. We say this every time we drive by it. And since we have to drive by it every day to get to anywhere we want to go, we say it a lot. It's a kind of psychic automatic-speech triggered by seeing the house. It's built into a hill, right at river-level, so when the river floods, we think it must get in the house. It has to be like living in a basement all the time. And if it's anything like our basement...let's just say living there would be one long asthma attack.
And that was when the lights behind me changed color.
Crap. I thought. Crappity-crap-crap. That was my exact thought.
I pulled over. I put the car in park. I kept both hands on the wheel.
That's what they tell you in C.O.P.S., you know. Keep both hands on the wheel, so the police don't think you're going for a gun and tase you. Or so the police don't think you're going for a gun and shoot you. It could happen at any time, just like that guy who got tased at the John Kerry rally thing at his college. Not that we have a whole lot of police brutality cases out in the wastes of Indiana, but you never know. My cop could be a trigger-happy newbie. Anything's possible. I envisioned myself writhing like an injured snake on the pavement, post-tasing, and knew I had better keep my hands on the wheel, just in case. You can't be too careful. They have video cameras in their cruisers now, you know.
I had only been pulled over once before, by a state policeman who clearly wasn't from the area, because he thought I was speeding in a 30mph zone when I was driving in a 40mph zone. But I paid the ticket anyway, because I was too traumatized by the whole experience to care. I cried for two full hours, because someone had accused me of doing something wrong, and I couldn't stand it. I was crying the whole time the policeman was talking to me, so much so that I could barely hear what he was saying. In fact, he could have said "Purple asteroid refrigerator squeasel!" And I would not have noticed anything out of the ordinary. That was how traumatized I was.
You'd think when the policeman saw my horrible devastation, he would have given me a warning. I'd never been pulled over before! Clearly, if I was crying so hard, gulping for air like a fish, I'd learned my lesson. Seriously. I drive 30 from the sign that says 40 all the way to the sign that says 55 now, on BOTH sides of the road. If the State Police People don't know the road is 40 on one side and 30 on the other, that's fine. But I'd rather be safe than sorry. Other drivers hate me, but they can't write me a ticket.
Back to me, in the car, at the side of the road, Wednesday night, waiting.
In my small experience with being pulled over, I have noticed that it takes police officers a very long time to get out of their cars. I think they do it on purpose, to make people nervous or to make scared young women burst into hysterical tears. The plan is for the driver to go over the past few minutes in their minds, so they can figure out what they did wrong and feel the burn of guilt inside them, or the overwhelming wave of hysteria. Then, when the police officer comes over to the window, the guilt will show on the driver's face, and the policeman will know he's got them. Or the person will cry in great, gulping sobs for as long as it takes for the policeman to write a ticket and drive away. Either one.
While I waited, I considered the past few minutes of my life, to see where I'd gone wrong.
I had not been speeding.
It was late. Late enough that the two families of deer I know about were active. During the evenings, I can always count on seeing them near the river. So I only go 45, just in case. I already brutalized one car in a deer-encounter. I don't want to lose a NICE car. Also, deer are pretty and should be protected. Because it's BAMBI.
I hadn't been talking on my cell phone.
I hadn't been texting. That's DANGEROUS.
I had my new registration sticker. Paul stuck it on for me, because it came when I was sick and I couldn't risk not having it on the second it came in the mail. I was obsessing and being what I could only imagine was very annoying, so he took the sticker outside and slapped it on my license plate. Then, when I felt better, I checked to make sure it was okay. It was.
I was wearing my seat belt. That's a law in Indiana, too.
So...that about covered it. I wasn't doing anything wrong. Plus--I have car insurance! It's the law too! So I was in the clear.
And that was why I wasn't crying when the policeman came over to talk to me. I was sure he would just say, "You have a light burnt out. Get that replaced as soon as possible!" And I would say, "Sure thing, officer!" Then I would do my idiot-grin that I get when I'm super-nervous about something.
But that isn't what he said.
"Hello," the officer said. He seemed kind of...nice. He was actually smiling. "Can I see your license and registration please?"
My license was in my purse. My purse was in the backseat. If I reached for it, I could end up a statistic, I thought.
"It's in the backseat," I said. "Is it okay if I reach back and get it?"
The officer gave me a quizzical look. "Yeah, go ahead. Where are you coming from so late?"
"I'm on my way home from the Wabash library," I said. "I work there."
"They had you working this late?" He asked.
"Not usually," I smiled. "We had a program. It was Crafty Book Club tonight. We made necklaces." I debated showing him my new necklace, but decided that might be oversharing, because he clearly believed me. I did not need to offer the necklace as proof, no matter how much I wanted to. I wasn't in court, after all...
I gave him the license and my new registration card with the empty spot where the sticker used to be before Paul pulled it off and stuck it to my license. He went back to his car.
Do you know they have all kinds of computers in their cars now? They're really cool. I saw it on the news. They can use them to look you up, right there while you sit in your car. That way, they know all your info. It's nifty. I kind of want a computer like that in my car, although I would have no use for it. It's the novelty, you know?
After a while, he came back. I had spent the time staring at the moving lights from his cruiser in my rear view mirror. They were the new kind of lights. I think they are LEDs. They are brighter than the old ones, and pretty, kind of. Hypnotic, even.
"We're checking people out for Operation Pull-Over," the officer said. "The reason I pulled you over is that you went onto the center line back there." He gestured toward the curve in the road.
Laura, Driving Hazard Extraordinaire.
That's what you can call me from now on.
"Really?" I asked. "I'll bet it's my brakes. I have an appointment to get them fixed."
"It's no big deal," he told me. "We have to pull over someone every hour."
I was likely the only person he'd seen in the last hour, since we were in the middle of nowhere, Indiana after 10:00 on a weeknight. I began to wonder if my wheel had even touched the center line, or if I was just alone on the road, with no one else for miles.
"But," he said, giving me a big smile. "You're CLEARLYnot drunk."
He handed me back my license, my registration, and a little printed-out warning from his car's tiny printer, leaving me wondering if I just have some kind of a sober face. The face of a teetotaler.
It's true. The hardest drink I have is Wendy's sweet tea, and yes, I am addicted. I don't even have coffee, not after the Thanksgiving Incident* and the Raspberry Mocha Incident.** It's just a bad idea. Starting the morning with vomit doesn't land on my list of fun things to do, and ending the day with vomit doesn't seem all that fun either, especially after the gallbladder issues.***
I finished driving home, very careful that my wheels touched no lines at all. And I waited for the deer family to cross the street. And then I arrived at my house and told my story to everyone who would listen, including Twitter, because that's what Twitter is about.
*Grandpa and Grandma brought Poison Coffee which I drank and then threw up seconds later. Still, I must have obtained enough caffeine from the experience to impact my consciousness, because I launched into a full-on Lady Gaga Is Having A Crisis of Identity and Losing her Sense of Self lecture during Thanksgiving Dinner, effectively killing the mood of thankfulness and family togetherness we all felt, if any of us was even feeling that at all.
**I had lunch with Rachael and Audrey, then I felt sleepy because for some reason cold cucumber soup made me sleepy, so I got a medium Raspberry Mocha and drank it down, then, wired, I went to see Jennifer at her elementary school classroom, and then I went to work and started to feel gross. Then I went home early because I thought I was dying, then I threw up the Medium Raspberry Mocha and the cucumber soup, which was not nearly as tasty on the way up as it was on the way down.
***It's possible that those two incidents were actually inspired by my gallbladder problems and that coffee is safe to drink again. But I am sort of afraid to try it again.