I was pulled over for speeding in a western state whose name I will not share here, because god knows what could happen next if I spilled that. The ticket was legitimate, as I was going 87 in a 75, I think. I didn't like the colors or the sky where I was, and the landscape was weird and foreboding to me. I've always had a lead foot, I really wanted to get out of there, and I stopped paying attention to my speed at the most inopportune time.
It all felt all wrong.
The trooper asked me lots of smarmy questions about my trip that I answered, because, whatever. Yes, I went to California. Yes, I was there for several days. I was a writer. I had lots of friends where I had been. Yes. No. No. Yes. Whatever. No. Yes.
Apparently in the middle of this conversation he decided that I may well be transporting drugs in my vehicle. When I saw a k9 car drive across the median, it didn't even occur to me that it was meant to check me out. I thought they were going to talk about lunch, maybe, or what was up later, not really understanding that they have radios for that kind of communication.
I am not the swiftest for someone who has watched a lot of police dramas in my lifetime.
It was clear when I saw the dog sniffing around my bumpers that they had concluded that I was shady. And while I looked out the window and thought, "Oh, puppy!" the damned dog slammed himself against my half-open passenger side window enough that apparently they took this for "signalling" narcotics.
"There's fried chicken on the seat," I said, which based on the human snarl I received back was a bad idea, but hey, I was eating my lunch when they stopped me.
Maybe people read or hear "Maryland" and assume that even a bedraggled white woman in yoga pants and a tank top is Omar in training, because have you seen me? Have you talked to me? Yes, I had my several bottles of wine from the Napa grocery store in the WAY BACK of my car. Wino all the way. Was I drunk driving? No. Am I a drug mule?
I'm trusting that these drug dogs are trained well enough that he may not have been reacting to the chicken, but I'll never believe that that wasn't it, because, fried chicken. He's a drug dog, not a superhero, or police dog beyond Thunderdome. Nor am I one hundred percent certain that he would have mistaken the sage I'd picked up off of the ground in New Mexico -- long since dried out and fallen down on the floor and the seat -- for weed, but it's possible. The cop told me he wouldn't, while I stood by the side of the road and his counterpart riffled through my driver's side, and said he saw "shavings" on the floor.
Shavings of imaginary weed.There's drug sage in them there hills.
I had the ghost of Georgia O'Keeffe in some dried up sage, plus a whole bunch of other accumulated crap in my car, but no drugs.
They then proceeded to take out almost everything I had in there because they said they had cause, while I completely freaked out on the side of the highway. Picking my hoarders-level car was too bad for them, because it's not a job I'd wish on anybody. They smashed up my Whole Foods cookies which sadly contained no weed, and asked me where I'd been and with whom during what they seemed determined to cast as the shadiest cross-country trip ever. Maybe it was the big henna tattoo on my hand. Maybe it was that I looked crazy. Maybe they were bored, I don't know.
At a few points during this rather humiliating exercise, I panicked. I asked them what was going to happen to me. I had no idea how I'd get home. I was afraid that my brother-in-law, in particular (I have no idea why I thought it would be him, although he should take this as a sign of his ultimate capability) would have to come to the middle of this hellish expanse of highway to bail me out for something that I didn't do. I also started to wonder if I HAD done something, or if someone had put drugs in my car. In my exhaustion I wondered if I'd done it and forgotten it, although I knew that wasn't true. I worked myself into tears, after they told me that depending on the amount of drugs I had in my possession (although I had no drugs in my possession) I would either get cited and have to come back there (where is here? How would I ever find it again?) for court, or if I had more I'd go to jail.This is the henna tattoo of a person with fried chicken on her passenger seat and no weed in her possession whatsoever.
I was going to get arrested for drugs I didn't have, I thought. This was the last and final insane straw in life's own mindscrew.
I told them that I had never purchased drugs in my life, which is true. I told them that I had been around some because in the place where I was people smoke pot at indoor concert venues, as openly as we cannot smoke regular tobacco cigarettes inside at home, so. I told them more things than I ought to have told them, I've since been told, because I was afraid, quite honestly, and I am trained to answer authority figures, especially those who have dogs on leashes and holsters full of guns and are grilling me about an ancient antidepressant pill they found wedged long-forgotten in the side of one of my makeup cases.
No, I didn't have the prescription on me, I said, as somewhere Tom Cruise cackled shrilly. I didn't even know that it was in there. Is this what is going to send me to jail, a long-expired Celexa? Because that would be utterly appropriate for my life. Also, no, I didn't have any cocaine in the car, or methamphetamines. No, I was not transporting a large sum of cash, say, oh, $10,000?
I laughed out loud at that last one, which didn't go over well at all, but come ON.
It was ultimately quite surreal and ridiculous. As I stood by the road and watched these guys go through my shoes and my computer bag and the pathetic flotsam of my life, I looked at them at one point and said,
"Sir. I am a mess. I am not a criminal."
And I think at that point the younger one realized that they really were barking up the wrong dumb SUV, that this was as much of a colossal waste of time as anything they could have done, moreso perhaps than sitting alone in one's cruiser jerking off to iPhone porn or playing hangman. (I AM MAKING THAT UP NO LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER WOULD EVER DO THIS.)
As our time together drew to a close, they told me not to hang out with people I met online because it could only lead to this kind of trouble (ha! You're telling me, Smokey! Haha, I said! Ha!) and also not to "smoke dope" either, which makes me wonder where in the hell they were when I was in college DECADES ago. They told me I'd gotten off easy, in the end, although I had nothing in my vehicle or on my person that would suggest I deserved anything else.
This was a real treat, let me tell you. A charming diversion.
But what did happen to me while this all went down is that I stood there on the side of that horrible highway, and I decided that this was bullshit, and somehow this translated into me wanting my life to be different and deciding that it must be. I decided that I was tired of chaos. I decided that, even though I'd probably move from there sooner than later, that I really just wanted to go home. I decided I was tired of being fragile and mutable and impressionable. I decided I was tired of people telling me about myself, something I combined in my mind in that moment with what was happening to me right then and there with those strangers with weapons and authority on the side of a thousand-mile highway.
I thought a lot, too, about how easy it is to get arrested, potentially, for something you haven't done. I really thought that that was going to happen to me. I wondered why, after this long trip, when I'd gotten so much of my brain organized and it had been so, so, so hard, that I needed one more violation to happen, one more unnecessary trip-up.
It exhausted me, and it made me angry enough that all I wanted to do was drive all the hours it took to get home, although it was far too many and still way too many miles to do that. I could make it to Ohio, at least, I thought, and stop there and not think. So I stopped at a Love's Travel Plaza and filed a post for a freelance job. I sat there in Subway at 3 o'clock in the morning with a congenial community of truckers, anonymous, willing off sleep, listening to a sandwich artist and a local rave about how Romney is getting robbed. I talked to an old, old friend in California who told me stories and made me laugh all the way through Nebraska. And by the time I made it to a McDonald's parking lot in the early morning, where I bought a cup of coffee and promptly passed out for an hour that gave me enough energy to try again, I was well and truly done. All adrenaline runs out some time. So I stayed awake long enough to spend a chill afternoon and evening in Davenport, Iowa, which is as fine of an anonymous refuge as any trainwreck girl could ever want.
Thanks, Davenport. I will always think fondly of you.
The whole trip itself was good, overall. It is not something I would recommend to anyone who isn't me, honestly, or who wasn't in the kind of shape I was in when I left. There was no poetry in it, or easily-wrapped lesson. A lot of it sucked. A lot of it was hard. But the value of using the opposite of my type, as a friend pointed out along the way, was extreme. I had to use my senses when intuition wouldn't work. I had to look inside and make decisions. I had to blow up my comfort zone, every day. I had no time to indulge my feelings, not really. They had to pass through and on pretty quickly. I have a lot of thank yous to send along to the people who helped me out along the way, because the list is long and dense and beautiful. I don't know how I'd ever repay, but I want to tell you some things about them, as the stories come to light.
I am still really happy to be home, although I came back, also, to a bit of a shambles (understatement.) I don't have very much right now. I'm broke, tapped out. I have a lot of repair work to do.
But I am clear, and I have ambition and one final push of energy. I am completely and totally aware of who and what and where I am. I have no idea where I'm going to go from here, but I know what I think now. I know that I need a job, and that I need to increase my income, quickly, and immediately. I don't know why it's so hard to acquire a job that will support me as a writer and an editor when that is a skill that I'm told I have every day of my life, more than almost anyone I know. (I'm sorry if that sounds jerky. I can't help it.) But I think that I have clarified my approach to getting that, that I know where I don't want to do it, and that it will all happen really soon.
I know that I can lose my apartment, if it comes to that. I can lose my car. I can lose anything material I have, except this computer and my phone, quite honestly, because I need those, plus my cameras. Everything else, whatever. But I have a tremendous support network that I know I won't lose, deserving of it or not, that I have to figure out how to honor and use for mutual good. I have a family and friends who are there for me in every sense of the word, and for whom I want to be more of a resource than a drain. I have been missing them in a very fundamental way, and that time is over.
I still have hope. I know that this is all possible, even if it looks so fuzzy right now.
When those guys haphazardly packed up my stuff and told me I was free to go besides the speeding ticket, I got back in my car. The older one leaned in my passenger side window, and asked me in an uncomfortable tone if I understood why this had happened to me.
I thought about it for a few seconds, and then I said yes. I said that I understood on a factual, practical level why it had happened, and that I understood on a deeper level why it had happened specifically to me.
He has no idea what I meant about either thing, but I'm sure he thinks he does. It is much more important that I do, and that I never forget it.