Remember when I told you I was rebellious? Maybe you wouldn’t guess by the way I geek out hard over aggressively cute stuffed animals or maybe I’m more transparent than I think, but I’ve had a couple of brief run-ins with the po-po. In really…the most innocent of ways, but run-ins nonetheless. While it’s not the highlight of my becoming, I believe in nothing more than I believe in sharing human experience honestly. Plus I got three tickets in the last 24 hours for the same sticker being out…so I’m feeling like throwing a watermelon at the next bike cop I see.
What could you possibly have worth protecting in a McDonald’s that needs a 12ft-high chain-link fence to guard? The streets were getting a little darker the further we drove. It reminded me of the scenes from horror films – I was running down a hospital hallway and the lights were shutting off, chasing me, only I was chasing them. I was always a glutton for adventure and danger.
I parked on the street a half-block away from the bungalow and re-read the house number to be sure – although I didn’t have to, thumping techno led my way.
Something about the way I saw things that night felt very cinematic, like a camera panning fluidly down the block, up the small stairway to the porch and into a house filled with kids my age and younger. I might have been the oldest at 17, save Kate, who knew the host.
We put our Smirnoff Ices in the fridge and started off on a couple of warm ones and scanned the room. Kate rushed toward a guy about our age and jumped into a hug, where he caught her and kept a straight face.
People got younger and younger from room to room. I saw a glimpse through a cracked door of a couple of 15-16 year olds using a guest bedroom; I saw cocaine for the first time in my life. I might have been a rebel, but only relatively. I went to a small, uptight Christian school from preschool through senior year – I had just graduated. I was about as rebellious as they get there: I was suspended from school double-digit number of times, I smoked, I drank.
This party wasn’t the place for me. I didn’t belong. The youngest of the partygoers might have been 12. That was my cue: Back to the car. Kate was concerned that I left, but she had already been drinking so I offered to be designated driver and take a nap in my car until she was ready to leave. I don’t know how long I was asleep.
Tap-tap-tap. Someone was knocking in my dreams. Tap-tap-tap. “Turn off that light,” I mumbled, then sat straight up, fully awake. A flashlight so bright it felt like daytime was shining through my driver’s side window. “Oh, my God.”
I tried to roll down my window, but the car was off. I only had 1/2 of one mixed drink at the party and left about an hour and a half earlier, maybe he wouldn’t know? Am I guilty by association for being this close to the party? Would he believe me if I told him I hardly drank anything and I learned my lesson?
“Ma’am, step out of the vehicle and put your hands on top of the car.” No, he wouldn’t believe me. His voice was harsh and he had had enough of teenagers for a while. He wasn’t in a forgiving mood. The deep-set and visible wrinkle above his brow told me so.
“Shit.” I got out of the car and turned my back to him. I could see other sirens now and there were police standing at ease around the house’s perimeter. They didn’t have their guns drawn – these are just drunk teenagers we’re talking about here, but they were there and ready.
“Don’t open the door,” I could hear someone screaming from inside. “We’re fine, officers, thank you. We’ll turn down our music.” I never checked the house party laws in Chicago, but I’m pretty sure they can’t just enter your residence because they think there are underage kids drinking in there. None of that mattered in a moment though. While the officer patted my sides, the air got very still. I could hear my mom’s voice, distorted in my head. I was done for.
“What’s your name, young lady?” The officers on the lawn took another step toward the house in a way that left me half-expecting a cymbal rhythm to begin in the background while they snapped their fingers and took coordinating steps forward.
“Yep.” I was shaking. I didn’t have an exit strategy. The police took another step forward. But I made a good decision tonight, I pleaded with God, yeah, I had one drink, should I really get caught for walking away? How is that fair?
God had nothing to do with the way I got out of it. I’m positive it wasn’t the way out He provided.
“Lisa what? What is your last name?”
I was trying to keep the details similar to the truth so I could claim he misheard me if I couldn’t think on my feet fast enough. My heart was beating near my esophagus.
Everything happened in one fluid motion. The officer was standing in front of me, then he was on the lawn. The door opened to the house. Someone tried to make a run for it through the side door. An officer tripped him with his foot and his chin must have broken against the ground. Another officer held the door open and all of the blue suits piled into the house like ants running toward a few drops of sugar water.
I was alone. The officer didn’t know my name. I could hear the raucous from inside. I slipped into my driver’s seat and drove away. A siren followed me for a moment, but he wasn’t too determined. I made a few opportune left turns and pulled behind that 12-foot chain-link fence that kept McDonald’s safe. I waited for Kate’s call. I waited and waited. At around two in the morning, I panicked at a couple of shadows and metal against metal sounds and called my mom. I know, I was a badass.
She didn’t pick up. I don’t think I ever did tell her what happened. When my phone rang, it was almost 4 a.m. and Kate was ready to be picked up. She wasn’t mad at me. I was a little mad at me.
They were charged a $50 fine and given a ticket and everything was over when we pulled into her driveway and crashed together on her twin bed. “I’m sorry I left.”
“Don’t be, you weren’t at the party, technically. I should have left when you did, earlier.”
“J.D. got arrested.”
“Yeah…with all of you, right?”
“No. He was arrested arrested.”
“He had a bunch of coke.”
“Kate…you don’t like him, right?”
“I don’t know, we’ll see. He’s cute, right?”
“I don’t know…he seems dumb, Kate.”
“You just don’t know him.”
In the morning, when my mom called back, frantic at 7:30 on a Saturday, I answered through a cough.
“Are you okay? Tell me you’re okay. I didn’t hear my phone.”
“I’m fine mom, I must have pocket dialed you.”
“Okay…Are you sure? When are you gonna be home?”
Sometimes when you’re too busy being a rebel, being risky and accepting the general risks of mischief, you don’t realize that the person you put at risk isn’t always yourself. You can see down the fork of telling your friend her coke-dealer crush is really cute and offering to stay another night and go back to party 2.0. You’d be foolish to piss on your luck like that. You hear your mom’s voice, frantic just at the thought of you being hurt or lost, and you mean more than the words when you say, “I’m leaving now.”
I choose you. I’ll be good. I’m sorry.
Image: Australian police photography from early last century from the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia found on Pushed Buttons Burning-In