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14 August, 2008

Chronicles of a Lesser-Known Writer: Part VIII - Stopped By The Police...

Some people dread the flashing lights. See for yourself how Lena, JUMP's main character, deals with run-ins with the police...

The flashing lights take me back in time. Blue, red and white, all swirled together, looking pretty against the night sky, but still making my heart skip a beat. Suddenly, I feel the need to get home as fast as I can, to lock myself inside my apartment and close what is happening out of my mind. I turn my head and stare at Beige’s profile, see her sitting still as a portrait, refusing to meet my eyes. I need her to look at me, so I know everything will be okay, but she doesn’t.

There is a tap on my window and I am afraid to move a muscle. I might be shot if I go to press a button and lower my window, but the officer standing outside my door might break the window if he keeps banging on it with the metal flashlight he is holding. It is a toss up and I eventually opt to chance a bullet rather than risk Vicky’s wrath.

“Yes, officer?” I say as the window clears my mouth and disappears completely. He shines strong light in my eyes and I turn my face away from the abuse. Beige is next, but he is forced to study her profile.

“Are you aware you were going forty in a twenty mile per hour zone?”

“Um…no, I didn’t know that. I guess I wasn’t paying as much attention as I needed to be.”

He looks around the inside of the car. There are grocery bags on the backseat, a Target bag full of shit, shower and shave stuff on the floor behind my seat, and a box of paperback books I bought from a flea market earlier on the floor behind Beige’s seat. We look exactly like what we are, two people on their way home after shopping. One of them driving twenty miles over the speed limit.

“Let me see your license and registration,” the officer barks. Beige goes to retrieve my purse from the floor between her feet and he puts her in the spotlight. “Keep your hands where I can see them, young lady.”

“She was getting my purse,” I butt in. I don’t like that he snaps at my baby. Don’t like it at all. “It’s on the floor and the registration papers are in the glove compartment.” At least I hope they are. I want this to be over like yesterday.

I hand him my driver’s license and the registration paperwork for Vicky’s car, watch him walk back to his patrol car and let out a long stream of nervous breath. I am like millions of other people in the world. I don’t like cops. But my reasons go beyond having superficial issues with authority.

“This will be over and done with in a minute or two,” I say to Beige. “Damn, I hope Vicky didn’t buy this piece of shit from Bey-Bey the crackhead.” She giggles and I feel better about what is happening. I feel like an average, run of the mill Joe, being stopped by the police. The urge to throw the door open and take off running lessens.

The cop comes back and I think Beige and I are about to be set free. I give him a mildly expectant look and get a frown in return. “I’m going to need you to step out of the car.”

“Why? Is something wrong?”

“I’m not going to repeat myself again, lady. Get your ass out of the car. Now.”

I’m not getting out fast enough for him and he grabs my arm and hustles me toward the back of the car roughly. He spins me around and takes my head to the trunk. I feel cold metal against my cheek and wonder what the hell is going on. He has his hand pressed against the side of my head to hold me in place, so raising my head to look around is out of the question.

“What’s going on?”

“Where’d you get the car?”

“It’s my sister’s. Please, what’s going on?”

“I’m asking the questions here, all right?” His nightstick makes contact with the backs of my knees. “Spread your legs. Come on, you know the drill. Spread ‘em. How long you been out?”

“S-Six months,” I manage to say. The lining of my throat is raw and cold now. “Almost seven months. We weren’t doing anything wrong. Trust me, this is my sister’s car.”

“Is that your sister in the passenger seat?”

“My daughter.”

Another cruiser screeches to a stop near us, lights spinning all over the place, and another officer hops out and comes toward us. My keeper motions him closer and tells him to get Beige out of the car, to shake her down. I stop being afraid for myself and become afraid for my child.

“She’s a child,” I say, but no one is listening.

“Don’t look like no child to me,” the other officer says. I roll my eyes up in my head and see him marching Beige around to my side of the car, making her watch what is happening to me. They make her spread her legs and submit to a body search. My breath is humming in my throat as I watch alien hands glide along her legs, smooth over her ass and linger a second too long. A hum turns into a moan as those hands go near her breasts. She still won’t look me in the eye.

“She’s a child,” I repeat, ready to commit murder. Again.

Her keeper orders her to sit down on the curb and to keep her mouth shut. It is my turn to talk, to explain why I thought I should partake in liberties others take for granted. Shopping is as normal and non-threatening as it gets, but, apparently, I have no right to it.

I answer the questions hurled at me. “We were out shopping.” Then, “Yes, I’m sure this is my sister’s car. Call her, I’ll give you her number.” Then, “No, I’m not high or drunk. I don’t drink or do drugs. Never have.” And then, “No, there’s nothing in my bags I’m not supposed to have.” And then, “Yes, I have a parole officer and I keep all my appointments.” They radio in to dispatch and have the owner of the monotone voice dial the number I give them. They check with Vicky regarding the whereabouts of her vehicle and I am cleared. They should let me go, but they don’t.

Batman and Robin move from bad to worse. They are angry because I have no outstanding warrants and my breath doesn’t reek of alcohol. My box of books is dumped on the sidewalk and every page flipped through. My groceries are tossed here and there, right along with the books. A loaf of bread is stepped on, a dozen eggs dropped without a second thought. They rifle through a box of tampons, rip open a package of toilet paper and then dump both of our purses on the ground in the space between the cars. Beige’s lipgloss rolls away and disappears down a sewer drain.

They find nothing out of the ordinary and I am slapped on my ass for my trouble, given a ticket for speeding and allowed to come away from the trunk of the car and stand upright. Finally, Beige meets my eyes and what I see there makes me feel like shit.

“This is my fault,” I say after the officers have driven away and left us to clean up their mess. I throw food back into bags without worrying about economics and logistics. My hands shake. “This is all my fault. I should’ve let Vicky do the shopping and this shit never would’ve happened. What the fuck was I thinking?”

She helps me gather my books and takes the box from me, puts it on the backseat while I find the twelfth roll of Charmin and toss it inside the car. I will have to go back to the store and buy more salmon steaks. They are Aaron’s favorite and I promised to broil them for him tomorrow. My thoughts are scattered and out of sync. I think about Beige’s lipgloss and feel tears hit the back of my throat. It is such a small thing, but in this moment, it is everything.

I see the confusion on her face and my eyes slide closed for the space of five seconds. “Bey, I’m sorry,” I say. “I’ll buy you more lipgloss. Friday, as soon as I get paid, I’ll stop somewhere and buy you more. I’m…I don’t know what…This is my fault. I know that.”

I start the car, but we don’t move. I can’t make myself shift into drive and give the damn thing some gas. I can’t make my hands and feet cooperate with my brain. I am scared and shaking like a leaf. So thoroughly fucked up I can’t seem to get it together. Everything is a blur. I can’t see through the tears standing in my eyes. Can’t stand the fact that they won’t stay there. They have to betray me and spill down my cheeks.

“What the fuck was I thinking?” This is where I’m stuck like a broken record. I fall back against my seat and stare out the window, see a group of people standing on a corner, waiting for act two to begin. Rubberneckers looking for their nightly entertainment and, unfortunately, we have been it. I will always be someone’s entertainment source, I think. The epitome of an ex-con trying to live a normal life and blend in, and doing a lousy job of it.

I am not the woman I was eight years ago. A computer guru, making good money and being middle class. A concerned and attentive mother, dragging tired bones into school houses to meet teachers and talk grades and performance. Lecturing my motor-mouth child about talking too much in class. Cooking a balanced meal every night and giving baths. I am none of that. What I am now is a convict and I will never be able to escape the consequences.

“This is what it’s going to be like from now on,” I tell Beige. “This is my life.”

“Because you’ve been to prison,” she says and it is not a question.

“Exactly. Because I’ve been to prison. I can’t even vote in the next election.”

“Didn’t you know?”

I give her my eyes. “What?”

“I mean, I’m just saying, mom. If you knew this was how it might be, then why did you do what you did?”

I have no answer. I am speechless and we stare at each other for the longest time. If I could talk, I would attempt to answer her question. But I can’t and the cause of my sudden deaf, dumb and blind state is easy to diagnose.

She calls me mom.

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