“Hey, how are you?” That’s how I walk into my Father-in-Law’s house and greet him as he sits on the couch watching us arrive for a weekend visit with bags of things, me carting my always present laptop, the child already unpacking in her designated room and Slasher pulling up the rear.
“I’m good, how was jail?”
“Well, you know four bars and I make bad choices.”
I’m quick to be self-deprecating about my recent trip to the pokey. Slasher obviously couldn’t wait to tell his father — not like I could wait either, I was thrilled to be a free woman; ecstatic about putting on real shoes instead of the leopard slippers I’d been wearing throughout my journey from broken down car in the middle of the street to shackle-belted, Nick Nolte-esque drag queen standing in front of a judge debating not my freedom per se but how much of a fucked up mess I am in life as well as selecting morning attire.
The important part you need to know is: I didn’t kill or harm anyone, I wasn’t driving drunk or high, the outcome is entirely because I’m white, and I got here because I was poor. I spent almost two years living in Atlanta and in that time, three warrants for my arrest were issued and my license was suspended because I failed to pay tickets on expired registration and emission stickers in Pennsylvania. When you’re poor, you roll the dice.
The radio turns to static, I continue driving. The digital speedometer flickers and goes dim then completely turns off. I stop for a red light and the Buick rolls back, I hold my foot on the brake panicking. I have no cell phone, I am in slippers and there’s no discernible place where I can use a phone. I turn the key, nothing — not a flicker of life whatsoever. I get out as cars maneuver around me and hope the bowling alley around the corner has a least one person inside, and they’ll be kind enough to help a stranded, soon-to-be criminal with a messy bun.
I appear non-threatening enough when an older woman pokes her head around the corner of a glass door responding to my knock and “emergency?”
I don’t know what to say, so I say emergency like I’m confused if I’m in one or not.
She lets me in and I dial my father. This choice was a mistake. He wants to know if a belt’s intact, maybe it’s the alternator, what are your coordinates? Speaking to him in a crisis where every second counts is like freebasing meth and then sitting down to watch paint dry. He focuses on the minutia of details when all you really need is someone with an iron foot on the gas.
In retrospect, he asks me about the belt because he was supposed to change it and didn’t. Always looking out for his ass, that’s my father.
Dad calls Slasher, a tow truck is on its way and I thank the lovely bowling alley manager and I’m back outside heading to the Buick. A police cruiser has arrived. If I put on adrenaline like lotion, I’m smothered in it as the police officer approaches.
“What’s going on here?” he asks.
“My car died. Just shut down,” I say.
I’m having a hard time forming full sentences and then releasing them. My heart is pumping like a jackhammer, my mouth’s gone dry like a menopausal vagina and I know there’s a pretty good chance I’ll eventually end up in handcuffs.
Another police officer arrives and where the first officer probably likes donuts, this cop is right out of Terminator 2: all clearly defined chin, gate with a purpose, he takes exactly zero shit and has the air that I’m going to be the warm up for all the racial profiling he has to do later.
“I’m going to push you into the parking lot. Put the car in neutral and guide it in,” Terminator Cop tells me.
We tandem drive into a parking lot and I sit. He’s running my name. The tow truck arrives, and I get out of the car. Together we stand without any movement for what seems like the length of Franco and Hathaway hosting the Oscars. Every minute is waterboarding my soul because I know I’m a goner, and the tow truck driver is utterly befuddled it’s taking this long.
The cruiser door opens and out comes the police officer walking with the kind of reverb you’d expect to feel as a T-Rex approaches. He stands in front of me and says:
“Well, Ms. Henry today is not your day, I’m placing you under arrest.”
In a movement that’s usually reserved for magicians, he seamlessly turns me around and lobster claws my hands to my back with two metal bracelets. He walks me to the cruiser and my father arrives. At the exact moment I dip my head and the door shuts.
It is at this point that I surrender. I think most people would cry, I just give up. This is exactly what Sheryl Sandberg meant about Leaning In. I leaned right the fuck into accepting my arrest.
“That’s your Dad in the station wagon?” Terminator Cop asks.
“Yeah, that’s my dad.”
“He told you to pay the tickets, that you couldn’t ignore them?”
“Yeah, that’s him alright.”
We drive away and in two minutes we’re at the jail. It’s quiet like I expect. This is suburbia. I hand over what dignity I have left along with my glasses, ring, cardigan, hair tie and purse. And I get my one phone call. It’s to Slasher. It goes to voicemail.
I’m put into a dark cell because of course it’s dark. Just like my future. I’m handed a tissue-paper blanket thing and then the iron bars close. To really drive home the point I have no freedom, a medieval door closes over the bars.
And I just sit there. Vacuum sealed.
I’m basically a blinking cursor on a screen waiting for something to happen. I don’t think about where I’ve gone wrong, what I could have done different, if orange is going to be my new black. Nope, none of that. As far as I’m concerned jail is my new address, and I’m going to roll with it.
The doors open. The constable has come to take me to the town that issued my warrant.
I stand in front of two men. They pull out a shackle belt and I look down. Then I look at the shackle belt. And all I can think is, I hope this thing fits.
Suck it in, Liz. Suck. It. In.
And really that’s the moral of this story, the shackle belt fit me. Because the arrest part happened but the true indignity wouldn’t have been the loss of my freedom, it most certainly would have been asking for a shackle belt extender.
Because seriously? Fuck my life if that happened. I would have immediately, upon release, been on a cleanse, signed up for surgery, fucking anything. I’d have hired a trainer to dangle a shackle belt in my face as motivation. Some women have a little black dress, I’d have a shackle belt. Some people run marathons for health; I’d be running marathons so I could slip in and out of my shackle belt like a boss. Jail to 5K–that’d be my program.
But it fit, so I’m just as lazy as the day I was arrested.
I’ve learned nothing.
When I arrive at the courthouse with the constable, I’m perp-walked through a crowd of at least thirty. I’ve been to this courthouse annex and have never seen a soul except the clerks. Why, on this day, there’s an audience is my luck. I can’t ever humiliate myself on the down low. There’s always a massive crowd ready like I’m Downtrodden Miss U.S.A and, yes, I did it — a perfect 10 — in Downward Spiral.
I stand in front of the judge in my leopard slippers, sweatpants and Nick Nolte hair with probably one eyebrow, and he just wants to know can I pay.
Haven’t I already done that?
Oh, he means monetarily. Actually, yes, I can. For the first time in my life.
I write the check and there’s Slasher in the lobby. I pass him and he just looks at me. Doesn’t shake his head, doesn’t point out what he did or didn’t tell me to do.
And that’s when I know this guy is a lifer. He made it here and sat. Waited. And then said, once I officially gained my freedom, “It’s always exciting with you.”