My tax job was, well, taxing. It was a good distraction, however. I was on a regular schedule. Six days a week, I woke up, ate breakfast, went to the gym, went to work, came home, and checked the LA Superior Court’s website, hoping for my divorce to be finalized.
Every day, the status read: PENDING.
Pending. The next chapter of my life was pending.
I tried to forget about my sister wife, and my husband’s failure to follow through with the divorce settlement. I was tired. I needed rest. Yet, even rest seemed to be pending.
One Thursday evening after work, I drove to my girlfriend’s house in Hollywood. Several of us were getting together to enjoy some wine, hors d’oeuvres and girl talk. I was so stressed out with work and my “pending” marital status that I didn’t really realize how desperately I needed to relax and socialize. It was a lovely evening. We laughed, talked, drank wine and enjoyed each other’s company. Around midnight, the “party” wound down and we all headed home.
As I drove back to Pasadena, I was overcome with thankfulness for my friends. I impulsively reached for my phone to send a quick text of thanks and love to one of the girls.
That was mistake number two.
I had just made the transition from the 101 to the 110 freeway when I saw the red and blue lights in my rear view mirror. My immediate reaction was one of indignance, and then the slow, sinking realization hit me.
Oh, shit, I’ve been drinking.
“Lord?” I spoke aloud, as I carefully pulled off the freeway.
I’m not drunk. I’ll be fine. I should NOT have been texting! Stupid!! Still, I racked my brain, trying to remember how much wine I had drunk – also, how much I had had to eat that day.
I rolled down my window to greet the fresh-faced CHP officer. He was cute.
“Have you been drinking tonight?” he asked, after the formal introduction was made. He shined his small flashlight directly into my eyes. The combination of the red, white and blue lights hurt. I blinked, and tried to adjust to the brightness all around me.
I smiled, and decided to be honest. I can’t be anything other than honest.
“I had some wine, yes,” I admitted. Mistake number three.
The 20-something CHP officer immediately asked me for my license and registration. I nervously fumbled around and presented them both, but the officer wasn’t satisfied. He asked me to step out of the car.
Oh, come on.
I went through the motions of the field sobriety test. I was happy to cooperate, because I had never been in trouble. In fact, I had only received a few tickets in my driving career, fought every one of them, and won. I wanted to get through the damn thing as fast as I could. I was tired. All I wanted to do was go home and get into bed.
I was asked to hold my head back and balance on one leg. I did it in 3” heels. I was also asked to close my eyes, count aloud and estimate 30 seconds. I did it in exactly 30 seconds.
Still, the officer motioned to his younger, blonder partner, who approached me with a Breathalyzer. Was this really happening? Surely I wasn’t drunk. I felt fine. I would never get behind the wheel if I had had too much to drink. Furthermore, I was doing so well on my tests! I was actually quite proud of myself. Those tests can be hard to pass even without alcohol involved.
I smiled and blew into the machine, confident that I would pass this one last test. I longed for my comfy bed.
The officer looked at the result.
“Okay, Spencer, I’m going to ask you to turn around and place your hands behind your back,” he commanded.
What is THIS test?
I shrugged and obeyed, and immediately felt the cold metal snap around my wrists. My heart sank.
Great job, Les. You’re going to jail. Way to go. Way to fuck your life up. Awesome.
My thoughts ran wild as I stood, handcuffed, on that sidewalk in Chinatown. It was almost 1:00 a.m. I watched as the officers searched my car. They rifled through sheets of music, empty water bottles and dirty gym clothing. My body remained calm but my thoughts ran wild as they escorted me to the back of their black and white vehicle. As we pulled away from the curb, I immediately passed harsh judgment against myself.
Oh, my god, I’m that person. I’m a drunk driver. Oh, my god, oh, my god, oh, my…I AM SUCH A BADASS.
No! Wait! You’re not a badass! This is stupid! You’re drunk! You’re NOT drunk! This isn’t happening! But of course it’s happening. Why are you at all surprised? Your life is such a fucking disaster, and now look what you’ve gotten yourself into. Stupid choice.
You got what you deserved, you idiot.
Never in my life would I have imagined that I’d be arrested for anything. Yet, there I was, sitting handcuffed, in the back of a cop car, heading to jail, for driving under the influence.
I remained silent as the two officers handled me — a criminal. They explained that my car would be towed, and that I could get it the next day. They also explained to me that I’d be held in jail for at least eight hours, until I sobered up.
I’M NOT DRUNK! I wanted to scream.
But I WAS. I was legally drunk, and so ashamed.
According to the law, you’re a drunk driver if your blood alcohol level is .08. I would later find out that mine was at .10.
My wrists started to chafe and bruise from the pressure of the metal handcuffs, but I silently endured the pain. I exchanged somber yet witty banter with the CHP officers as they drove me to their field office to administer a second test on the bigger, more efficient breathalyzer.
All this time, I hadn’t shed a tear. I was strong. I was a big girl. I was responsible. I wasn’t going to cry.
I sat on a plastic chair in the CHP field office, shifting my hands uncomfortably behind me, trying to alleviate some of the agonizing pain. My wrists would remain deeply bruised for days.
I fiercely fixed my eyes upon his.
“Not anymore,” I answered, and then averted my gaze.
Suddenly, to my surprise, I burst into massive, yet silent tears. Shame, fear and embarrassment overcame me.
I am a criminal.
“I’m sorry,” I managed, as snot and tears streamed down my face. I wasn’t able to use my hands, so I raised my shoulder to my nose to sop up the fluid.
“This…is just…hard for me. I made such a stupid choice.”
The officer — clearly ten years younger than me – looked at me knowingly. “You’ll be all right,” he offered. “This kind of thing happens to good people, too.”
But I’m not good. I’m broken. So broken.
And then they took me to jail.
Upon arrival, I was released out of the handcuffs, booked, and stripped of my personal belongings. The last item taken was the string used to tighten the hood of my cozy, fur-lined sweater.
“What, do you really think I’m going to hang myself?!” I joked with the booking officer. She glared at me, clearly not amused.
For a moment, I forgot that I was a prisoner, and not her equal. I wasn’t ordering a hamburger or buying stamps at the post office – I was checking into JAIL. My sense of humor was not appreciated.
The TV behind her blared loudly and her co-worker sipped black coffee out of a small, stained, Styrofoam cup.
“Oh. I guess so. Well, here you go!” I gave it to her, cheerfully.
“Don’t worry. You’ll get it back,” she retorted, dryly. She then twisted her full lips and shook her head.
My arresting officer gently touched my elbow. He had been standing there the whole time. I realized I had started to become attached to the man.
“We’re almost done here, Spencer. I need to ask you a few questions first, though, okay? They might seem a little weird, but just go with it…” He was almost apologetic.
“Okayyyyy,” I responded, and tried to exercise my cheerfulness once again. I mean, if you’re going to spend the night in jail, you might as well have a good attitude about it, right?
The officer cleared his throat, and poised his pen above a sheet of paper.
“Do you have Hepatitis, VD or Chlamydia?”
I burst out laughing.
“Uhhmmm, NO. Should I be worried about contracting that here, though?”
Wait — where am I, anyway? I had no idea where I was, or how I was going to get home. I hadn’t thought that far ahead.
He shot me a sly smile. I was secretly glad he appreciated my sarcasm.
“Have you ever had TB?”
“Do you have any special medical problems that we should know about?”
“I really hope not.” Wakka, wakka!
“Are you pregnant?”
“Hell to the no, and I don’t have any baby daddy prospects, either. Thanks so much for reminding me of my plight.”
He half-laughed, signed his name to a pink slip of paper, which he then handed to me.
“Okay, Spencer, follow me.”
He led me to a small, concrete room with a large, heavy door at the end of the corridor. It held a cold, hard bench, a gleaming steel toilet and an observation camera in the corner of the ceiling. An obsolete payphone barely hung onto the wall, and chunks of black hair littered the floor. One other woman occupied the cell. She jumped up, eyes blazing, as the guard opened up the door to deposit me inside.
I clutched the pink paper – my Prisoner’s Receipt — as they shut and locked the door behind me.
Over the next several hours, I would hit rock bottom, and that bottom would continue to give way.