June 11, 2007

(Today’s subject is difficult to talk about, and I’m finding it harder than usual to make peace with the calculated risk of making this public. Consider this your impending-trainwreck warning.)

In December of 2004 I was arrested for drunk driving. This is what happened:

I was handcuffed and put in the back of a police car and taken to the drunk tank in downtown Seattle, which was filled with transients. I was filled with despair and anger and booze, and at one point I simply started screaming, over and over and over. They carried me, thrashing, into a tiny cell reeking of urine. I was held there until JB came and picked me up.

We met with a lawyer. I sat trembling and viciously hungover in his office. He was impeccably groomed and had beautiful photos of his family on the wall behind him.

I lost my license. I told everyone I was choosing to take the bus; it was not a choice. I rode four buses a day to get to and from work, JB had to take me to doctor’s appointments (at this point I was now pregnant). I made excuse after excuse to turn down invitations from friends, unless they offered to drive.

I went to many, many court appointments. I sat for hours in courtrooms waiting for my name to be called, in order to walk to the front of the room and attempt to control the shake in my voice.

Eventually I got a restricted license, which allowed me to drive to and from work. I couldn’t drive in the evenings or weekends, nor could I drive outside of my route to the office and back. In order to drive, I had to get an SR-22, which caused my insurance company to drop me. We had to buy new, expensive insurance.

I pled guilty. It was a damaging choice, but my alternatives were bleak.

I had an interlock device installed in my car at great expense. Before I could start the car, I had to blow in a tube. I had to blow in the tube five minutes after the car was started, and at random intervals after that. There was no way to do this with any privacy. If the device registered an error—if I didn’t blow with the correct amount of force or using the correct method of blowing (it was necessary to make a humming sound)—the car’s horn would be triggered. The device malfunctioned more than once, rendering my car unusable.

The court required me to attend a victim’s panel, where people spoke about the horrific repercussions drunk drivers had caused in their lives. I was also required to attend alcohol classes, and to get an evaluation from a bored, overpaid counselor.

I spent a night in jail, when I was about seven months pregnant (clarification: I was not pregnant at the time of the DUI, it takes a while to go from arrest to sentencing). I wore a prison uniform and was confined to a cell by myself. The cell was pale mint green with a stainless steel toilet and a bed that consisted of an itchy gray blanket and a flat pad. They never turned off the buzzing overhead fluorescent lights, all night long.

The judge made a decision that surprised my lawyer: he offered me a reduced sentence if I completed volunteer work for a nonprofit in a specific amount of time. When Riley was a newborn, I spent hours working remotely for a local cultural resources nonprofit to meet this requirement.

The whole thing cost thousands of dollars.

Today my record is clear, my insurance is back to normal, and I am sober. I could almost choose to believe none of it happened. Except, of course, it did.

Why did I tell you all this? One reason is that when a secret lives within you like a poisonous iceberg, its mass mostly hidden even from your own eyes—too painful to look at, too embarrassing to tell—it creates weight within your soul. I wanted to tell you this secret, to pull it from the frozen place in my memory, shine a light on its surface, and admit its truth.

The other reason is to tell you that I don’t want this to happen to you. The spectrum of Bad Things That Can Happen is far and wide, if you get behind the wheel after drinking. Being arrested is one of the better outcomes you can hope for, and take it from me, being arrested really fucking sucks. While in my case I had a massive problem at the time, all it takes is one night of perfectly non-pathological drinking to screw up your entire year, or maybe your entire life.

Put a cab company’s number in your cell, and use it. I wish like hell I would have.


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