I had my squint-like gaze fixed on Diamond Street for who knows how long when something managed to remind me that I wasn’t the only person in the universe.
It was the lights.
I kept driving even as they caught my attention in the rear-view mirror. They were red, and also blue, they were swirling, and they were directly behind me. I smirked. They were beautiful; the most colorful thing to touch a 2 AM city street.
Blissfully unaware, the next thing to catch my attention was the sound. Weeee-oooo weeee-oooo. It was the only sound capable of rising louder than the CD I was playing.
It was a mix CD I’d made for my friend, back when you made mix CDs on your parents’ computers. That friend owned this car. She wasn’t with me, though. I was alone.
Weeee-oooo weeee-oooo and those lights still danced, just for me. Red, blue, red, blue. And they kept up, they were following me. We were going the exact same speed. Just me and my own personal carnival.
I was being pulled over, but that was still unclear somehow.
Still, as I do with most important events, I struggled to piece together how any of this had to do with me.
I was 19 and filled with retard-strength angst. Can I get away with a lot? Which rules are important? Was Kurt Cobain’s death really a suicide? None of it made sense.
I wasn’t sober enough to be scared. Then the little sliver of my conscience that hadn’t been diluted by an entire bottle of Cruzan mango rum and a few rips of low-grade college weed realized that my light show was actually a police officer who wanted to speak with me. Directly, and probably immediately.
It should be noted that I didn’t attend the college- just went to their parties for the low-grade college weed. What a time to be alive.
I pulled to the side of the road, moving the rear-view mirror to meet my own demon eyes reflected upon it, and honestly thought I’d play it cool.
I was wearing a friend’s wool sweater over my tank top and the sleeve had a bunch of barf on it. It was my barf, relax.
I am invincible. I turned down the music. The special CD was playing Just A Friend by Biz Markie. I have eclectic taste.
A flashlight shines into my window, which I now realize I have not rolled down. The car was turned off, so I start it in order to use the power operated window. As I do this, the officer panics a bit.
“No, no, ohhhh no, no, no. Turn off the vehicle,” he says.
I realize he thinks I am going to make a break for it. Who does he think I am, John Travolta in Urban Cowboy? I get the window down and flash my best baby bullshit smile.
Listen, I’m a genuine person, but to this day I am still a great bullshitter if need be. A smile, a bit of the old razzle dazzle and I’m away. It’s like, this little bastard, you know? The way I see it, adults would pity me but still respect me at the same time. That’s a unique trait.
I was the kid you were skeptical about letting your kid play with, but I had geuinely good manners, was personable and enjoyed reciting Sophia Petrillo’s lines from the Golden Girls. I could blend into your household for maybe two years without any real issue.
Anyway, I faced the cop smiling, actually having no idea why I was being accosted and too drunk to realize that I was drunk and driving a car that wasn’t mine.
“You ran a red light back there, just flew right through it,” he says.
He sees my face and my long, brown-blonde highlighted hair with little bangs in the front. “Jesus, what are you doing in this neighborhood?”
This area of Philadelphia is low-key what nightmares are made of. Like every city has, it was just a scary part. The part where loud-mouthed alcohol-intolerant 5 foot 1 white girls dare not go. But I went, and many of you did too. Boldly. And I commend you.
“Wow, really? I didn’t realize. I’m coming from campus, my friend lives there.”
There are only three things I remember now about being under arrest:
1. The second officer to arrive, a woman, repeatedly referring to me as Miley Cyrus. She was trying to be mean but joke’s on her; I love MC. I was tickled by the compliment.
2. The sobriety test. I was asked to walk in a straight line.
3. Believing in my truest heart-of-hearts that I nailed the sobriety test, passed with flying colors.
I failed and they called for backup.
So it was time for yours truly to be taken into custody. I had just ran a red light without managing to, unfortunately, notice or, fortunately, kill anyone. I reeked of cheap liquor and little dreams which had not yet been manifested. Oh, and weed.
“What about the car? Where do all the cars go?” I asked, kinda like how Alice in Wonderland would only she was covered in the sleeve puke and too much eyeliner.
“It’ll stay right here. You can come back here and get it after you’re released. If it stays too long it’ll be impounded”, my fellow Miley Cyrus enthusiast informed me.
I ho-hummed into the back of a paddy wagon which had been dispatched in me olde royal honor. I sat down and leaned against the van wall. The back doors shut and I was alone. Two young-ish men were in the front operating my personal shit-show on wheels. They seemed like friends.
The order of events are still hazy at this point, but I know we drove around for a long time. It felt like a couple of hours. I grew very thirsty and also had to pee. Lethal combo. My brain was starting to buzz inside my head a little bit. My teeth hurt.
They stopped at 7-11 and the guy who had been driving came out with Fritos Honey BBQ Twists and sodas.
“You have impeccable taste, sir. Those are among my top three favorite snacks. Anywho, I have to pee, and could I have some water?” I said, hopeful, like a Bullshitty McBullshit.
“Can’t let you do that, honey. Can’t let you out,” he replied.
The crunch of the Fritos would continue to haunt me into early adulthood. I would’ve been too nauseous to eat them at the time, and these days I do my best to avoid processed foods, but the fact that I couldn’t have eaten them even if I wanted to bothers me.
“Then why do we keep driving around? Where are we going? How much further?”
I am an idiot. I might as well have said ‘ARE WE THERE YET? Ya know, JAIL! Why must I wait any longer?!’
“Listen, sweetie,” passenger-police-man-friend said as he turned to face me through the metal caging. That cage was the only thing that separated me from someone else’s snacks and my own dignity.
“We’re tryin’ to sober you up! Kill some time before we get you to the Roundhouse and they test your blood alcohol level. We can’t give you water cause we can’t let you pee and we can’t let you pee because you can’t get outta the van.”
Bascially this dude was saying, hey, WE ARE BEING NICE. You are a drunk twerp and by putting more time between you and jail, we are rendering you less vunerable to the major legal charges you are about to face.
I nodded and accepted my fate. I lay on the floor of the van and stared at the ceiling. I felt my body sway a bit with each turn. It was comforting. It reminded me of being in the back of a pickup truck, my uncle’s I think, except I couldn’t see the open sky and the trees whiz above me. Just metal.
I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, as the majority of 19 year olds don’t. But unlike the majority, I was going to extremes, and I was always getting caught. Throughout all of this, though, I still understood that it was all my own doing. I never blamed anyone else, I didn’t think anyone owed me anything. I just didn’t know how to be in my own skin.
We arrived at the Roundhouse; that’s the nickname for the Philadelphia Police Department Headquarters. Why such a shitty place was given a cool nickname, I will never know. It’s kinda like meeting a guy named Ace- awesome name in theory but the dude probably sucks.
I was then processed, fingerprinted and mugshot. Can I use ‘mugshot’ as a verb? Mugshotted?
Most of my close friends know that I’d do just about anything to find my mugshots. Yes, plural. Plot twist- this was my second arrest. I can’t find access to them and if anyone knows how, please tell me. I want them blown up and framed above my hypothetical fireplace.
Time to go to my cell. I shared this cozy space with one other woman. I forget her name, pretty sure I never asked, but she was wearing a hooded Ed Hardy sweatshirt. The back of it was bedazzled with rhinestones, a big skull with a snake coming out of its eye. The words LOVE KILLS SLOWLY were printed in olde English font across the top. I stared at this entire cluster-fuck of a shirt for longer than I would recommend to anyone.
During our time together, she pulled a cigarette out of her underwear then hugged the little metal toilet, smoking into the depths of the potty.
I fell asleep on my side then woke up to her digging through the pockets of my jeans. I sat up quickly and came level to her face. There was nothing in those pockets anyway, bitch. I looked at her. She looked at me. Neither of us spoke a word and in that moment, I felt like her stupid fucking sweatshirt was right about something.
Not long after, she lay on the floor writhing in pain from heroin withdrawl. She kept her head against the bars and yelled that she needed help, that she was dying. A guard pushed two bologna and cheese sandwiches through the bars and they sat there until I left about 12 hours later.
It was cripplingly light out when I was released. It was just me and vomit sweater against the world.
I got into my dad’s truck and my dog was in the backseat. I sat beside her, feeling like the most disgusting human on earth, and hugged her so tight.
I swear that hugging a dog is the best form of therapy out there.
I went home and I honestly cannot recall much of the events that followed. There were still a bunch of mistakes to be made and lessons to be learned the hard way.
These are my stories and I can honestly say I’m so glad they belong to me, no matter how much I had to pay to get them.
I want to thank Miley Cyrus because I feel like she would’ve believed in me, had she known me at that time.
I hope my cellmate found peace.
Don’t drink and drive.