What a beautiful day it was! The mid-winter sky was bright and blue, and the sun was finally showing its shining face after days of inclement weather. Driving home from work, I gazed around me at the gorgeous landscape. A thick blanket of fresh new snow covered the fields on either side of the back road home, softening the stubble-covered terrain. Intermittent stands of woods were silent with insulating white, trees sleeping silent beneath a delicate frosting that broke loose in passing breezes and showered to the forest floor in a sparkling cascade. Babbling brooks flanked the country road, here and there, cascading cheerily down rocky beds, icicles dangling from sticks and grasses which hung close enough over their splashing course to catch — and instantly freeze — splashes from the snow-melt swollen streams.
I was on my way home from my new job to my new house, and as I gazed around me at the beautiful scenery, it felt as though my life were being made new again. The stress and strain from the recent move from the suburbs to the country had tested my endurance sorely, and all but exhausted my strength. The transfer from my old job had not been without some challenge, as well. Change is never easy for me, and adjusting to not only a new home in a new place with new neighbors, but also a new job with new responsibilities and new coworkers, had turned my post-holiday season into a see-saw of elation and despair.
But after weeks of settling in, getting acclimated, developing my new routines, and finding better ways to drive to and from work than the freeway filled with aggressive drivers, I was finally starting to feel my balance returning.
That day, as I motored happily across the countryside, making it home before dark (for once), everything seemed like it was falling into place. I had the radio on — loud — and my spirits rose with the energetic dance beat. My little car — a late model hatchback with a funky heater — had finally warmed up, after running for 10 minutes. I was making good time, and I’d be home soon.
Or was I? I suddenly looked up at my rear-view mirror, and lo and behold, there was a local cop with his lights flashing… coming on fast. I instinctively took my foot off the gas and glanced down at the speedometer. The needle drifted quickly south from around 45 mph… and I looked up as I passed a sign that said I was in a 20 mph speed zone. Shit! I had been so busy listening to music, and thinking about getting home, I hadn’t even noticed the speed limit. Maybe he was after someone else, I thought for a moment… But no, as I slowed down, so did he. I braked, signalled, and pulled over to the side of the road, and he pulled in right behind me.
*&%! I thought to myself. How could I do something so stupid?! I knew that this stretch of road was where the local cops hung out. I’d passed them plenty of times before, as they lay in wait of commuters taking the back way home. A wave of angry frustration welled up in me, and my head began to spin as the officer got out of his car and approached. I could feel my pulse quickening, a roar in my ears starting, and my gut churned as I started to build up a head of steam. All I wanted to do, was get home. All I wanted to do, was get through this town. All I wanted to do, was put the tough day behind me and relax in front of my fireplace. I didn’t ask for much. And I didn’t mean to speed through this town. I just lost track of how fast I was going! What the hell was this cop pulling me over for? Didn’t he have other real criminals to catch? What the fuck?!
I could feel the indignation rising in me, with every approaching step of the cop. Strings of profanity coursed through my head, and my gut continued to constrict as my hands tightened around the steering wheel. I couldn’t believe I’d been stupid enough to speed. I couldn’t believe this cop had been that stupid to pull me over. Everybody was a fucking idiot. Jesus fucking Christ.
The cop reached the side of my car, and I rolled down the window.
“Do you have any idea how fast you were going?” he asked.
“Too fast?” I heard myself say. It sounded smart-assed, and he didn’t like that.
“License and registration please,” he said, and I pulled my license out of my wallet and handed it to him. Still seething, I reached into the glove box to find my registration. I always kept it in the same place — in a long sleeve that held my insurance papers as well. But as the crashing ocean of agitation crashed in my head, I had trouble finding my papers. I couldn’t find my registration. I couldn’t find my insurance stuff. I couldn’t find anything… and I started to lose it. The cop at my window was getting impatient, and when he prodded me to come up with my papers, I snapped at him that I was looking as fast as I could. I finally just pulled everything out of the glove compartment and spread it across the passenger seat.
“Is this your car?” the officer asked, with a wary edge in his voice.
“Yes, it’s my car!” I barked. “I’ll have the registration in just a minute. I know it’s in here somewhere…”
My vision was getting cloudy and blurred, as I sorted through the mess on the seat beside me. Finally, I found the sleeve, pulled out the registration paper, and handed it to the cop. But after taking a look at it, he handed it back to me.
“This isn’t current,” he said. He sounded like he was talking to a criminal.
A wave of resentment washed through me, pushing to unleash some crack or curse.
I took the paper from him and examined it more closely. Sure enough, it was from a few years back. Consternation welled up in me, and I bit back the curse that sat on the tip of my tongue. I ran through the rest of the contents of the sleeve — there were plenty of registration papers there, but none were current.
The cop pressed me for the papers, and I snapped at him again, “I’m working on it!” I couldn’t believe this shit. I rummaged once more through the pile of stuff on the seat beside me — ice scraper, breath mints, tissues, various receipts, notepads, souvenirs, tools, more papers… where was my goddamned registration!?
“Are you sure this is your car?” the officer asked.
“Yes, it’s my car!” I snapped. “Just give me a second…!” I cringed at the edge in my voice, knowing — from past experience — that police officers don’t respond well to aggressive disrespect. I’ve had several run-ins with cops over the years that escalated when I spoke out of turn or got verbally aggressive with them. A few times, I came close to being arrested, and I couldn’t afford to have something like that happen today. Not when I had this new job and a new house. I just couldn’t afford to get on the bad side of the local cops.
If only he would give me a second. Just one more moment…
But he wasn’t having it. I heard him turn and go back to his car, and when I looked up in the rear-view mirror, I saw him back in his car punching something into his onboard computer. He kept looking at my license plate and then back at his computer, and it looked like he was talking on his radio, too.
What the hell…? I couldn’t believe I’d gotten pulled over… I couldn’t believe I couldn’t find my registration papers. I distictly remembered renewing my registration just a few months before, and I distinctly remembered putting the papers in my glove compartment. Where the hell were they? Where the fuck had they gotten to?!
Suddenly, as though by magic, an envelope from the Registry of Motor Vehicles appeared before me. Inside was my current registration. It wasn‘t in the sleeve where I always put it. It wasn’t in the one place I was sure to find it. Like an idiot, I had just tossed it in the glove compartment. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I pulled out the paper and double-checked the dates to make sure I wasn’t going to make an ass out of myself — again. Then, I waited for the cop to return.
He did… with a citation in hand.
“Here’s my registration,” I said, using as neutral a tone as I could muster. I handed him the delinquent paper.
He took a long look at it and then took a longer look at me and my license.
“You should have found this sooner,” he said, handing them back to me, along with the ticket. He sounded like he wasn’t sure what to do with me — let me off the hook or cuff me and haul me into the station.
I shrugged, biting back words that I was afraid might provoke him even more.
“I had to run your plates, so now I have to have a record of this stop. I’m just giving you a warning, this time, but it’s on your record.” He sounded a little regretful, but also irritated with me. “If you had gotten your registration, I wouldn’t have had to run your plates.”
I wanted to say, “If you hadn’t been in such a godawful hurry and had given me a minute or two, I might have found it in time!” But I held my tongue and just nodded.
As he drove off, I started to shake, my stomach in knots and my torso damp with sweat. I felt like I’d just dodged a bullet… a bullet I’d stepped right in front of.