The police officer validated that what I had told him was true, and so, he asked, “Why had I done this?”
I had been unemployed for months, let go from a job I had liked and was really good at, and the searching for a new one had been excruciating. I was terrified. I had lived in my car a year ago, getting showers at the gym and parking at a 24 hr Walmart to pee. I couldn’t go back. My daily Craig’s list search had been tiring and depressing until one night, late, I saw a posting for a writing position, one clearly above my requirements.
My heart opened up and beat fast as I read its description. I would be paid to learn SEO, to drive up traffic writing blogs, would be connected in a safe and friendly environment of writers, encouraging and pushing each other to our best.
One of the requirements was to enter work published which I cringed, my diary of a broken life was clearly unprofessional. So, I took a risk. I wrote an intro out of left field, meant to charm and if nothing else, make my reader laugh hard enough to want to meet me. It was desperate but so was I.
The next day I got a reply for a meeting on Skype, part one of the hiring process. I was shocked, panicked, and thrilled. The woman on the other end was an entrepreneur, a writer, a blogger, already a mentor. I wanted this job like a dream I never wanted to wake up from, to be a paid author was always what I wanted, since fifth grade.
The final day of the hiring process would be in a sky rise building looking over Atlanta, with clear glass windows and working professionals, and only a day away, I was anxiety ridden.
My demons came up to wrestle me. They taunted me, my worth and abilities, all my failures were thrown at me like dirt.
I looked at this police officer and I realized I had lost to them, that my dream was killed before it ever even started and killed by my own hands. I wanted to scream but instead like more a therapist than a cop, I told him I wanted to just escape them, the pain, the fear, the drowning. I told him through sobbing the truth of how I saw myself, the battle to love myself once again, was over.
I felt his empathy, saw him cringe as he placed handcuffs on me, his eyes avoiding mine as I sobbed, heart breaking sobs of humiliation, failure, loss and self loathing.
I had never been this far removed from my own integrity, the shame was unbearable, and I decided I would stay in jail till I rotted before this shameful day ever became exposed.
The car ride to the jail was dark and it was pouring, the rain pounded my window at the same rhythm my tears pounded my soul. He returned a small part of my dignity, taking the cuffs off, reminding me it was my first offense, telling me he wasn’t even going to pat me down. He even gave me a dixie cup of water.
Then he told me if I called someone, maybe I could be out by morning.
My ego and shame refused him before he could even try to explain. The demons had won. Let them rejoice.
“Well, let’s go meet the ladies,” he said half laughing, directing me to my cell. I started thinking of all the Netflix shows I had watched and my heart started to pound wildly. I thought I was going to fall over, my knees were certainly about to buckle.
Four pairs of eyes stared at me, four pairs of legs took up all the room on the bench so I plopped down on the freezing stone floor. I could see the curiosity so true to my nature, I broke the ice with a joke.
“Y’all in here for murder too?”
Three of them were just babies, the fourth was snoring, obviously bat ass crazy.
The middle two laughed, big mouthy grins showing white teeth next to their dark skin, the one on the end was a little older turned her back to me and faced the wall, kicking her feet in defiance. The old lady snored wildly, her face in between her skinny legs.
The one I nicknamed “Little” for being so young my heart ached for her glared. “Who gave you that water? I ain’t got water and I have high blood pressure.”
“Only serial killers get dixie cups of water,” I explained and offered it to her.
She wrinkled her nose at me while her sister/cousin/friend began to pace, yelling at the guards she wanted her phone call. I was clearly meant to be the group leader, age and mental health claimed it.
I told her to sit down and I would handle it. The yelling was driving me nuts. I had already eyed my easiest target, a young white male without any badge. I pointed at him and summoned him with my finger. “Officer Dan! We need you over here.”
He blushed, mumbled he wasn’t named Dan, and Little made fun of him, which I glared at her for.
“Your doing a great job!” I said sweetly.
And a little chit chat gave Middle a phone call, which I made her thank him for, which she did genuinely.
She came back and hugged Little, telling her that the babies were fine, that social workers hadn’t come and that Little’s baby needed her medicine.
They both started to sob, holding each other, and Little cried, “I want my baby!” over and over. Being a mama this just brought Kat and Lola to my mind and I told them anything that would ease the pain. They had been arrested for stealing diapers from Walmart.
Bat ass crazy lady awakened, mumbling things I couldn’t make out, which made her use the wall to brace herself to walk over to me, handing me two clues. One piece of paper ripped with scratchy writing and one calling card for ten dollars.
“I have cataracts.” she said.
So, taking her cue I used the jail phone to call over and over, punching in the ten digit code till I thought I would go mad. Each time, a recording came on. She was clearly sick, and Little had whispered she got left by a man on the side of the road when she stole a crock pot for her daughter.
She was trembling so hard and now it was almost violent, her legs and arms were involuntarily shaking. She told me she had breast cancer, fourth stage, and they wouldn’t give her the meds she had on her when arrested.
Like hell they wouldn’t. I yelled for a guard, who said basically tough luck and to watch her, that she may need to go to the E.R.
She was a sweet old woman and I told the other girls to help me as we surrounded her, each of us using our body heat and arms to warm her, which worked like a baby being rocked, finally she went back to sleep.
The room now became more like an Oprah show than a jail cell, each of us sobbing over our babies and lives, it was ironic to me we were a supposed risk to society.
Two had stolen diapers for young children, one had stolen a crock pot for her daughter who she felt guilty for having to take care of her sick with cancer, and I had stolen an outfit, for a job I would never make it to.
Or so I thought. The others had told me to call anyone, to not give up, but I couldn’t do it to my Dad, who had helped me so much. They championed me to try and so I was let out, all night of crying and shaking on that stone floor had brought out the survivor in me.
I had time. Not a lot of time but enough to run for my life, take a cab to my car and race to the house to shower, heels in my hand as I flew out the door and somehow, by the grace of the Almighty, got me there to the top floor of a beautiful tower, where lovely sandwiches and gourmet coffee was served.
“Your name tag is on backwards,” one of the writers said laughing, pointing to my chest.
“If you only knew”, I thought, turning it face up, I wanted to cry from a well of gratitude.
Even in the face of my greatest nightmare, I had deserved this. I forgive myself and tell my demons to fuck off, say a prayer for those women, who connected me back to my heart and to life. I hope they are safe and well, wherever they are.