I learned a couple of years ago in a memoir writing class that it’s good to put some time and distance between certain incidents in your life and when you attempt to write about them. My instructor said that you would get a sense when you started writing as to whether or not you’re ready. I’m thinking that twelve years is enough, and I can finally write about the time I got arrested.
I’ve told the story dozens of times, each time laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole event, but something has stopped me every time I’ve attempted to write about it; probably because it was humiliating. Putting it down on paper just makes me remember how awful it felt to see the neighbors drive by as I was handcuffed on the side of the road, how stunned I felt as I sat in the cold, barred-off back seat of the trooper’s cruiser and how angry I felt when my name appeared in the local newspaper’s police blotter the following week.
I hadn’t thought about the incident for quite a while, but it came back to me recently when I watched the video of a reporter getting detained by the security guards hired by a certain Alaskan politician. The two young security men in the video were trying to keep other members of the press from talking to the hand-cuffed reporter. Their buzz-cuts and their determination to look official reminded me of the trooper, (I like to call him BabyTrooper as he looked like he was about nineteen years old) that decided to cuff me on the side of the road all those years ago.
Before I go any further I should reassure everyone that I am not a criminal. Really I’m not. And I wasn’t at the time of my arrest. I was a stay-at-home mom trying to finish up my Bachelor’s degree. I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten class. I took my three year old to play group and I looked after the neighbor kids on a fairly regular basis. For fun I was learning how to knit and how to make awesome homemade bread. And no, I wasn’t one of those moms that lived an “after hours” life of partying and carousing around town. My evenings were spent doing things like reading and watching movies.
It all happened because I didn’t deal with a fix-it ticket. Two years before my arrest I had been pulled over when I was driving home from Soldotna because a headlight was out on my Subaru. I got the light fixed within a few days, but I failed to take it back to the Alaska State Troopers office to have them check it off as having been repaired. And for that oversight they put a warrant out for my arrest. Little did I know that the next time I would be pulled over for a minor traffic violation (yes, another headlight out on the same Subaru) I would end up getting hauled down to the station until my husband could pay the $40.00 to bail me out. (And before you start to imagine me behind bars please know that it didn’t go that far, thankfully.)
Now, I understand the importance of headlights. I realize they are significant safety features on cars. And believe me, I’m quick to get broken headlights fixed these days. But honestly, is not dealing with a fix-it ticket an arrest-able offense? Apparently it is. I do believe that BabyTrooper could have handled it differently though. Perhaps he could have asked me to follow him to the station, or at the very least he could have let me ride in his car without the handcuffs. But I think he got a little charge out of humiliating the hell out of me. And I blame him for the split-second of panic I still feel whenever a trooper drives past.
I’ve learned a lot from this incident and I hope in my writing about it I can pass on some of my hard-earned insights. First of all, if you own a Subaru that was manufactured anytime between 1983 and 1995 just know you’re going to go through a lot of headlights. It might be a good idea to keep a few spares at home. And, should you get pulled over for having a headlight out, don’t forget the very crucial step of driving it over to the police station so they can officially make note of its repair.
Also, it’s a good idea to have an open mind when reading the local police blotter. When the Homer News and the Homer Tribune reported my particular crime to the general public they didn’t explain that it was all over a minor traffic violation. They left out the part about how the trooper, fresh out of trooper school, was trained to follow protocol but had not an inkling of common sense. All it said was: Teresa Sundmark, 29, arrested for outstanding warrant. Which leads to the most important lesson I learned from the whole getting arrested event; sometimes, even though you’re a law-abiding citizen and all around good person, people will treat you otherwise, and at such times it’s helpful to hold your head high and not let the bullies and the uninformed make you feel bad. And if they do, just tell the story lots of times and laugh about it a lot. Then, when enough time has passed write it all down and hope that you can finally put the whole thing behind you.