I remember the exact moment my thinking changed. .
Most often in life people are altered by many moments that shape them so subtly they don’t see how it’s defined them till after many have occurred. Less often are the other times they can remember the exact moment: The exact moment they fell in love with someone by something he/she said or did, the exact moment they decided what career path to take after being inspired by someone’s life story, or the exact moment something horrific occurred that changed everything. So it was with me. I remember the exact moment my thinking changed. The exact moment I decided my life wasn’t working for me anymore. The exact moment I began to believe there could be something more. The exact moment after a lifetime of disappointments that I actually began to get it.
She wasn’t my close friend. Not really a friend at all. She was just someone I was familiar with who frequented the same bar that I did. We were cordial enough to each other, always exchanged a greeting, but never really took the time to get to know one another. I don’t know why. Perhaps we were too much alike: Always on guard around another female, setting up boundaries to see if they dare be crossed, and preferring the company of men, rather than dealing with the drama that seemed to accompany drunken women. I wish now that I had gotten to know her; now that her life seems so important to me.
I’d been drinking. I admit it now as I admitted it that Friday night when the officer pulled me over. Driving down a dark highway after midnight impaired, eating Taco Bell, and trying to maneuver my vehicle. Is there any question as to why he would have suspected I might be intoxicated? So pull me over he did, and when asked, I told him honestly that…yes, I’d been at the bar earlier. Why argue with the facts? Did I think at the time that I’d had too much to drink that I couldn’t drive? No, I probably didn’t. But then looking back, who was I to gauge at that point how much was too much? Impaired is impaired, after all. So I admitted to drinking, was cooperative with answering his remaining questions, took the breathalyzer test, and found myself in jail. Apparently, whether I believed I could drive well or not, Pottawattamie county law enforcement didn’t think so.
I can’t say that being in jail was miserable, but it wasn’t a pleasant night spent by no means. I’d opted not to make that phone call to the outside, knowing that waking my husband or sister and having them come bail me out at that hour was far worse than allowing them a good nights sleep before springing the inevitable on them. So I tried to bunk down in that cold, holding tank, making the best of it. I had company, another woman who was already there when I arrived, but found under those conditions that neither of us was real chatty. We merely rolled over facing the wall on our concrete blocks that served as beds, and tried to get some rest while passing the time.
Morning came. Not that you would know the difference in that place other than the officer showing up at your cell with breakfast. I managed to get through a cup of coffee, and attempted to drink a carton of orange juice which ended up in the metal facility at the end of the cell; Not once, not twice, but all morning till there was nothing but dry heaves. I should’ve known that would happen. Apparently, Pottawattamie County can’t afford real orange juice, but rather gives the inmates a syrupy-sweet, orange drink, that I might add doesn’t sit well on a stomach filled with beer and Mexican food that had been covered in fire sauce. Yeah, that was lovely, knowing that my face was inches away from something that half the county had urinated and defecated in and every officer that was watching me on camera knew it.
I finally did make that call they’d offered me. It took me several attempts, trying my home number and sister’s, till finally getting through to my daughters house. I left word with her to get a hold of someone and gave her the bond information. Within a couple of hours an officer was calling me out. I stood there at the desk in front of all the other inmates that could see me from their cells, retrieving my belongings and signing papers. I tried to smooth back my mussed up hair and hold my head high, but found it hard to retain any dignity with the stink of vomit on my breath and hot sauce down the front of my white shirt. I found it best just to avoid eye contact, hurriedly chicken scratching my way through the paperwork so I could get out of there.
I asked the officer as he was escorting me out who it was that had come to bail me. He said that he didn’t know and asked if it mattered. I joked that it might. If it were a man instead of a short, middle-aged woman, he might want to just put me back in my cell. I knew my husband was going to be angry. As we neared the door he peered out the window at my husband who was standing against the car arms folded, and asked if that was him. I gave him an uneasy smile, thanked him for being so nice to me, and walked through the opened door into the sunlight. I knew the easy part had been my night in jail, and the hard part was going to be the long, ride home explaining to my husband why I’d ended up there in the first place.
I had a lot to think about over the remainder of the weekend. My husband didn’t seem to have much to say, nor wanted to hear an explanation at the time, but instead dropped me off at home that Saturday afternoon and left—I can only assume, finding it easier not to have to deal with me at the time while he was still fuming. After arriving home I tried to bring some normality back to the day, attempting to wipe away the previous night by showering and sitting down to watch some television. Try though I may, I couldn’t concentrate on anything but what was in store for me. I knew I messed up and was going to have to pay for it. I’d already been stripped of my driver’s license on the spot, my car had been towed, and there’d be the expense of getting it out. The paperwork I’d carried out of jail said that my license would be suspended for six months; living seven miles outside of the nearest country town, and thirty miles from the big city I’d already foreseen a future problem getting around. Also, in my short discussion with my husband in the car on the way home, he’d informed me there would be large fines, an alcohol evaluation and drunk-driving course I would have to attend and pay for, probably a couple more nights spent in jail, and more than likely additional counseling. Yes, at forty-five years old, after having a perfect driving record, I had to go and foul it all up to prove a point: The point being that if my husband wouldn’t take me out, why then…I would just go out by myself. How foolish. Even more foolish, because I could’ve called my sister to come and pick me up from the bar and slept at her house, but attempted to get home myself because I didn’t want him to be angry that I’d stayed in town. Maybe I should’ve concentrated more on him being angry that I was going out in the first place; As I said, how foolish.
We did retrieve my car the following morning, and I was able to drive it home myself as I had ten, additional days in which to drive before the suspension took hold. Both my husband’s mood and mine had improved by then, and we’d decided that it was an error of judgment that people sometimes make—a big one mind you, but still an error—and the only thing we could do at that point was to deal with the consequences. His forgiveness of my stupidity settled my mind. I rationalized that it happened, there was nothing I could do to change that, and it would just be another one of those lessons that you learn from in life. The remainder of that Sunday seemed far easier than the previous two days after I was able to put things in perspective.
Did you ever notice that just when you think you have everything figured out life throws you a curve ball in the way of new questions? That’s what happened to me that Sunday night as I lay in bed with my husband. He’d already fallen asleep, I was channel surfing and caught the tail end of the news. They were giving additional details to a wreck that had occurred in the early morning hours, and had finally released the names of the driver and passenger. As I heard them they sounded all too familiar. I sat there in disbelief. No, I assured myself, I couldn’t have heard right, and ran to my computer to pull up the local news website. There it was in black and white: Details, a picture of the accident, along with the name of the injured driver and his now-deceased passenger. Yes, they were familiar.
No, she wasn’t my close friend. Not really a friend at all. But as I sat there looking at her name on my computer I was suddenly filled with pain over the death of this person I barely knew. I was more than aware that whether she had been important in my life or not, that she was important to someone. Somewhere the loss of this life was tearing someone apart. And I knew as hard as it was bearing down on me at that moment, that was nothing compared to what it was doing to someone, maybe many other people out there. She had friends and family. She’d had a life I knew. I knew that, because I’d known her.
I’d spent that Friday night I’d gotten pulled over and sent to jail in a bar drinking down in the southern end of town. A bar I was familiar with, had been going to for years, and had tended bar in for a while. I knew mainly everyone that went in there—in a close or distant manner—and they knew me. She had started frequenting that establishment long after I’d stopped working there, but still we encountered one another enough, given that we both enjoyed shooting pool and were acquainted with the same people, that we’d exchange hello’s. She’d recently been seeing someone that had been a previous customer of mine when I worked there, which was all the more reason for me to stop at their table and make small talk whenever I saw them. On that particular night that’s exactly what I did after ordering a beer and chatting with a few regulars on my way to the back. I saw them both, cue sticks in hand, and said hello before sitting down next to their table at one of the gambling machines. They weren’t there very long that evening, just long enough to finish the game and drink their beers. The memory I have of her that last night is one of being happy and enjoying a game of pool with her boyfriend; something so simple and not uncommon from any other night. Something that we all do and take for granted. That’s what haunts me now.
She didn’t know when I saw her that Friday that her life would end the following night. She didn’t know it, and I didn’t know it. We were just two people enjoying an evening in a place that we always frequented. My life was not so different from hers in the way that neither of us could predict the future, nor saw the choices that we made as irreversible or possibly fatal. I sat at my computer and stark reality struck me in the face as I realized that, my eyes resting on the photo taken of the car they’d rolled. There were no details as to where they had been or what they’d been doing previous to that accident, but I had only to use my imagination to put two and two together: It was shortly after two in the morning when it happened, and they were mere blocks away from the places we all frequented, including that particular bar I’d saw them at. No, I wasn’t naïve. It didn’t take much for me to do the math and come up with a probable equation: Drinking had to have been a part of it.
I thought about her all that night, and have nearly every day since the weekend of my DUI arrest and her death. I think about her, and I think about myself. I think of all the what-if’s: What if the officer hadn’t pulled me over that night? Would I have been killed, or killed someone else while trying to drive the rest of the way home while impaired? Would a tragic error in judgment like that have affected her after she read or heard about it, the way her death is affecting me? If circumstances were different, would that tragedy have prevented her from making the choice she made of going out that night, ultimately leading to her death? I came to the conclusion after pondering over all the what-if’s, that the only real difference between that Friday and Saturday night and our lives, was timing, not choices; In my case, an officer being in the right place at the right time to pull me over. Had he not been there, perhaps today my life would be over and she would still be living hers.
I read her obituary. She left behind two, grown daughters, not unlike me who has three children of my own. Children, grand-children, a husband, and countless family and friends that would be devastated if anything were to happen to me. I’ve drove by the memorial of crosses that her loved ones erected for her at the site of the accident. I inquired how the driver of the car was doing, heard he recovered, but have to wonder what deep wounds he now carries inside that may never heal. I do know that he’s taking her death hard, and that’s something I myself wouldn’t want to live with. To me, my own death would be a better alternative than living with the responsibility that I might have caused someone else’s.
I feel fortunate today. More than fortunate, I am filled with gratitude to an officer who was out doing his job that night. Perhaps I could be like so many others, angry as hell that I got caught and had to go through grueling months of making amends, while still having the financial obligation hanging over me, but I try not to. I try to be thankful. I try to remind myself everyday when I begin to get discouraged knowing what my future obligations are, that I still have a future. I’m still here and have the opportunity to pay these fines, learn from my mistakes, and get on with my life. I still have a life. I try to remind myself that had it not been for this officer and his perfect timing, I might not. I also remind myself everyday of her: A woman I barely knew, who wasn’t really a friend, but in an odd sort of way has become the best friend I ever had. Someone, who like myself probably often times wondered if her life had made a difference. I’m here to tell you that it had. And because it had, perhaps now mine can too.
This story is true. I chose it as the first entry in my new blog perhaps to try and explain why I decided to write in the first place. You see, this took place nearly three years ago and yet has continued to alter my life in ways that I never imagined possible since. My drunk driving arrest and the chain reaction it caused stole many things from me. The most valuable, I believe, was my voice. I found silence in despondency. The gift I decided to give myself in this New Year was a new one. Pissykittyslitterbox is aptly named, because in my life it’s always the same shit…just a different story. Journey with me as I journal.