“Please,” I whispered to the officer, “not in front of my Futuristic grandson.” Shaking his head, he leaned toward me with handcuffs dangling from his outstretched arm. Moments earlier he had told me, “I just want you to go downtown with me to answer a few questions.” And now he was handcuffing me and mumbling something about police procedure. He pulled the handcuffs back when he noticed five-year-old Tyler standing a few feet away. Tyler clutched a little red truck in one hand and the hem of his mom’s skirt in the other. My family stood frozen and stared at the six police cars backing out of the driveway. I felt the officer’s hand on my arm as he escorted me to the only remaining car. With each rapid breath, my heart felt like it was going to explode. Ducking into the back seat, I looked up at him and held out my wrists. CLICK. CLICK. The cuffs were securely in place and Tyler hadn’t seen.
I watched the officer walk across the driveway where my daughters stood, their arms wrapped around each other. Whatever he was saying to them didn’t seem to help. Juannie and Kathy just nodded while Tyler looked up at his mom, seeking reassurance. I slipped lower in the back seat and struggled to catch my breath. Hyperventilation! I needed to control it. Control one small thing in a world that was spinning off its axis.
Everything was happening so fast. It was far too much to be feeling in the space of a single moment, but that was the kind of moment it was. For years I had danced with the devil, but instead of waking up from a nightmare, I awoke in the middle of it. Peeking out the car window, I watched my family huddled together. I thought of my sons . . . my third daughter and her children . . . and Tommie, my boyfriend. When everyone came home that evening, Juannie and Kathy would tell them some version of what happened. They would probably stare at each other and try to make some sense of it. They couldn’t. Looking down at the handcuffs, I wondered if my family would forgive me. Could I ever ask them to? I loved them dearly, but I admitted to myself that I never allowed their birthdays or holidays to interfere with my gambling.
As the officer walked back to the car he shot a worried glance into the back seat. Satisfied that I would be okay, he climbed into the driver’s seat and started the engine. He must have sensed my bewilderment for he turned and in a gentle voice he said, “You remind me of my mother. She’s about your age.”
I whispered, “I am a mother, and look what I’ve done!”
The officer put the car in gear and drove slowly past my family, careful not to raise the dust stirred by the other patrol cars. I raised my head enough to see my daughters wave and attempt to smile. I couldn’t wave because I didn’t want them to see the handcuffs. We pulled out into the street and I closed my eyes.
We drove along the streets I knew so well. I thought of police cars I saw in the past, cars with some poor down-and-outer in the back seat looking, ashamed or defiant. I was that down-and-outer now. About ten minutes passed and I raised my head again and caught sight of the traffic light at Fourth Avenue. Around the next corner was the County Jail. The transport took about fifteen minutes. In that short time I began to file away the questions I would ask myself.
Menacing gray walls, ten-foot high fences, and barbed wire surrounded the narrow street that led to the alley behind the three-story building. The patrol car eased up to the gates. The officer got out and opened the back door and said, “Step out, please.” Swinging around, I placed one foot on the pavement but the other one didn’t follow. The handcuffs prevented me from pushing myself forward, so the officer reached in and pulled me upright. He pressed a red button on the wall and the iron door slid open.
A large, middle-aged policewoman came out and nodded to the officer. She looked me up and down, moving closer until her breath felt hot on my face. I remember thinking I could tell her what she ate for lunch when she yelled, “Put your hands against the wall and spread your legs!” I swallowed a scream! She’d probably given this command a thousand times, but I’ll never forget how I felt hearing it for the first time. My stomach tightened and I wanted to vomit. I held my breath as I felt her hands moving over my body. A woman frisking another woman was not what I expected it to be. I expected it to be rough and impersonal.
Since she could hardly be accused of ‘manhandling,’ she freely slid her hands around and slowly patted me down. She reached for a wall phone and said a few words I couldn’t hear. The door to the jail suddenly opened just long enough for us to step inside, then it closed with a thud. She walked me into a beehive of activity and pointed to a long wooden bench. All around the room, officers scurried back and forth, waving file folders and documents, gulping black coffee, and trying to eavesdrop on one another’s conversations. I didn’t realize the policewoman removed my handcuffs until she handed me a pair of paper slippers and said, “Take your shoes off and put these on. Someone will come for you.”
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