Excerpted from “The First 22 Years Are the Hardest” – 1997
The backdoor slammed against the trailer as Nate took off running. The older officer of the two that came for him chased for a moment, both he and Nate passing around front.
Then the officer just stopped, rested his hands on his expanded hips, and yelled, “Way to go! Now your wife is going to jail.”
Just another tactic, just another way to get Nate to stop. But he didn’t.
“That’s a fine husband you have there,” the officer said, and then read me my Miranda Rights.
I just stared at him. “You’re not really arresting me.”
“Oh yes I am,” he said, and the younger officer looked at him with wide eyes.
“For what?” I cried. “You came here for him!”
“Obstruction of justice. And what that means is, you got in our way.”
“I…but my kids….”
“You got someone to watch them? Because if not, I have to call social services,” the younger officer said. Maybe he was trying to be helpful, but I hated them both right then.
They allowed me to find a friend, sure that I wouldn’t run and leave my kids behind, although their father didn’t think twice about doing so, and then they led me to the back of the car. “At least we’re not putting you in handcuffs in front of your kids,” the elder officer said, as if I should thank him.
All the way to jail, I bit back words and tears, refusing to give them the satisfaction of breaking me. I also held onto the hope this was still just a scare tactic to get me to talk. There was no way they were really arresting me. And as the older cop pressed on and on, trying to get me to tell them about Nate, where he might be going, I stared out the window in silence.
My wall remained in place until we arrived at the jail and they handed me over for booking. The booking officer took one look at me and said, “Honey, what could you have possibly done?” I shook my head but I couldn’t speak. My sobbing became a second language as she fingerprinted and photographed me. As she finished, she looked over the paperwork and then up at me. “Was that your husband? Did he run? Did you lie?”
I looked her in the eye, shook my head, and lied again. No to all the questions. As far as I was concerned, they didn’t have Nate, and so I wasn’t going to be the one to tell on him. He was out, running loose, and here I was, getting locked up, away from my kids.
Another officer escorted me to a holding cell, and as I stepped through the barred door, something deep inside of me snapped. This was real. It was really happening. And worse, I agreed with the arresting cop: What kind of husband just runs and lets his wife go to jail in his place?
The cell was cold, sterile, but also thankfully empty. A row of benches lined the cinderblock walls, and I took a seat as far from the door and the toilet as possible. I wrapped my arms around me as the reality of it all set in. A man hollered down the row of cells, “Laurie, Laurie, talk to me, baby!” and I ignored him. I tried not to breathe through my nose, to touch anything, to be tainted by a long history of bad decisions. But the truth is, as I sat there, I knew in so many ways, this was my fault, my own bad decision. I should have never come back to him. I should have taken my chances in Florida. I should have taken a chance on me.
“Laurie, I know you’re down there. I heard them bring you in. Talk to me!”
I wondered about Laurie and her bad decisions. I wondered about the nameless man. His voice slurred as he called out for her. What did he do? What did she do with him?
“Come on, Laurie. Don’t ignore me.”
“I’m not Laurie,” I said, needing him to just shut up so I could deal with my own troubles.
“I. Am. Not. Laurie.” Anger was taking over. Good. Maybe it was time I finally got angry enough. The longer I sat there, the more the smells hit me, the coldness, the end of the road resolve. As soon as I got out, I was going to confess it had really been Nate who ran out the backdoor and where he might be. I’d just deal with the consequences later. Hopefully much later, if he got as much time in prison as he should.
This was no way to live, and I wasn’t going to lose my kids over him.
I was out of jail by midnight. My neighbors made sure I didn’t sit in overnight; to do so would have meant an automatic call to social services and possible loss of my babies. As I walked out of that cell with its stainless steel toilet lacking any privacy and ghosts of too many bad decisions to count, I vowed never to be back, never to take another hit for or from him.
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