“Don’t you know to listen to an officer when he’s talking to you!”, I realized he said. I had no idea yet what was going on; and yet I somehow understood it all more perfectly than I ever would again.
“I didn’t see you or hear you sir!” I said, still on the ground, and he said “Oh” then helped me up. My glasses had fallen off when he threw me out of the car; he picked them up and handed them to me. I didn’t mention that they were now bent in half. My best friend was about 200 feet away, handcuffs on, surrounded by police, next to two squad cars and a white van. I now recalled having seen the van when we pulled up and was stung with some vague impulse that I should’ve seen it all coming. The kid who’d set up the meet to buy the coke, nine grams, was chatting casually with the police; my self-hatred intensified.
“Sign this to let us search your car,” said another officer I was seeing for the first time. He continued, “Anything else in the car we should know about?”
I was confused. “Weapons, more drugs,” he said. Apparently he could tell now I wasn’t picking up what he was getting at, so he said, “Look, if you tell us now what’s in the car, and you sign this saying we can search it, we won’t confiscate the vehicle.” Without really thinking about it I divulged, “Just some weed in the glovebox,” and the officer held out a clipboard with a waiver and put a pen in one of my cuffed hands so I could sign. “Reeks of pot in here!” another cop said, as he pulled his head out from my passenger seat.
Almost as if I was attempting to emphasize my own naiveté, I asked, “Is my college going to find out about this?” It was barely four weeks before the start of my first semester, freshman year, at a small liberal arts school in Ohio. I had just turned eighteen a few months prior. “I’m not going to tell them,” the cop said, and for a moment he looked at me like I was a human.
* * *
“OH MY GOD HE’S IN JAIL!” my crying mother screamed, and I heard my dad yell fuck in the background, just before I handed the phone back to the officer so he could hang it up. Astonishingly, it wasn’t hard at all to tell her, and I realize now I’d already more or less left my body. For the rest of the process, until I was sitting in the county bullpen all by myself, my physical form would basically be on autopilot. I would come to rely on that defense mechanism more and more in the coming months.
“Did these two just come in from the middle school dance?” one of the COs said the night we got to county, which got big laughs. “Co-caine!” said another, looking down at a clipboard, and “they were selling the shit!” added a mustached cop with a thick south Jersey accent. The action then finally settled on the toad at the front desk, who without hesitation announced that my friend and I should both be shot; “dead!”
Again, strangely, this had no real effect on me. Instead I just shot eyes at the desk CO, who locked eyes with me; his expression suggested I should look the other way, which I did more so out of instinct than because I felt fear. But this wasn’t fearlessness: much closer to the opposite, rather – what I’d describe now as the numbed shock resultant from a physiologically intolerable release of fear, a complete inability to internalize the situation, to envision myself as the one participating in the moments apparently constituting my “present”.
I’d begun to watch my life like a movie, a mode-of-consciousness I’ve never been able to fully shake, and one which has both some very beneficial attributes as well as others that have left me rather detached from those in my surroundings. At the time, however, it may’ve been the only thing that allowed me to endure psychologically. It was like it was happening to the movie character, “Me”, when the guard said bend over and spread your ass cheeks so he could make sure there weren’t any weapons or drugs in there, just before he poured the delousing powder and instructed, hop in the “fucking shower”. The movie character “Me” stared icily and disgusted back at the toad CO when he, laughing, threatened that there was a likelihood in jail of “getting raped by a black guy”, and “Me” shook his head at the implausibility of the scenario the toad CO described, whereby dad was beating mom and telling her the arrest was all her fault; somehow the movie character, again, knew exactly how long he could stare back and get away with it. It even made “Me” hysterically laugh, all of the things my best friend/co-defendant and everyone else in the county bullpen were saying.
And then the two of us were split up. Despite my constant attempts to dissociate myself from them and push them all away over the previous years, regardless of the fact that, at that point, I preferred the thought of staying in county to whatever shitstorm was going to ensue upon being brought into contact with my parents again, it had seemingly never occurred to my parents to do anything but bail me out of jail. My friend’s dad, by contrast, apparently never considered doing so for a minute. I returned finally to my body. I realized, I knew absolutely nothing about the world.
* * *
Tears at last flowed, and when they did they were all I could feel. I was exiting Somerset County Jail with my parents. The tears were, I think, related entirely to the overwhelming embarrassment of the situation; all the things that had gone unsaid that were now irrevocably out in the open. All of my secrets humiliatingly laid bare. I don’t know that I was capable of being conscious of anything else.
Consciousness settled in about the middle of the ride home. The first time I truly felt something, connected to any of the events going on outside me, was when my father called me “a criminal”. Certainly not everything, but still one, quite significant thing, came into focus at that moment.
Impulsively, I insisted, “I’m not a fucking criminal!”, and the sound of tears fluctuated along with my convulsions. As I said it I wasn’t sure why, because clearly I was “a criminal”, to whatever extent that word is legally defined. Yet looking back I can also understand what I meant by that back then, and I’m sure anyone else can as well. “A criminal” is one of those words that can’t be fully captured by its mere technical definition.
“You drove him to the park, you knew he was gonna sell drugs, and that is criminal!” I suddenly shut my mouth as it appeared my dad was only aware of one of the crimes I had ever committed, and that even this one he was framing in a relatively (and fictitiously) innocent light.
“A criminal”, the two words on a loop in my brain, and I realized that’s how the whole world was going to see me from now on. “A criminal”, that was me, and there was no one who could make the situation any better.
“And you’re going to name every name they want you to name, and do whatever they tell you to get you out of this!”, and I announced I wasn’t a snitch, more yelling, more tears from my mom, and the whole process began, the entire aftermath. “A reality where I am not a criminal”, so much to unlearn, and that was when I first watched the world slip through my fingers.