My junior year of college, I got into a little bit of trouble.
My girlfriend and I were driving from Atlanta to Savannah for St. Patrick’s Day and about halfway there, in a little town called Soperton, GA, I pulled off on an exit to let my girlfriend drive. That’s when I saw the flashing blue lights. What could they have wanted? Was I speeding? On an exit ramp? Is that even possible?
Apparently my license tag light was out. Yeah. And this cop was pulling me over to prevent this disruption of the social order from continuing.
I was nervous. Very nervous. I was 20 years old and I had never been pulled over before. It’s embarrassing. All cars passing you, judging you, wondering what you could have possibly done, thanking God they’re not you. They take your license back to their car for what feels like hours. Plus, I don't know about you, but I like to make good time. Once you get pulled over that dream is dead. You’re at the whim of the officer. All for a busted license tag light.
Little did I know that what would happen next would be one of the great regrets of my life.
The cop came back and asked me if I had any drugs in the vehicle. What kind of a question is that?? I was a Junior at the College of Charleston! Of course I had drugs in the vehicle. What kind of theatre major do you think I am?! But still, that was not the question I was expecting to hear.
And it is important to point out that I did not have a lot of drugs in the car. I would say the “street value” of what I had was about $3.21. I had the smallest amount of marijuana imaginable. Like if I had brought that to a party, I would have apologized for not being able to share.
But there he was, asking me this question. “No,” I said instinctively. “Drugs? In this car? How could you possibly think such a thing?”
I guess I had not been paying enough attention in my acting classes because he didn’t believe me.
“Can I search the car?” That was the next question out of his mouth.
“Yes,” the officer continued, much to my chagrin. “Do you mind if I search the car?”
The casual way he asked the question threw me off. Do you mind? Like he was asking for a soda out of the fridge. Because of course I fucking minded. It was my car and there were drugs in it! But I was nervous and I was 20 and this guy was a cop and if I said no that would make him suspicious and angry and if I said yes then he would know I had nothing to hide, right? Yeah. Of course. If I said yes he would think I had nothing to hide and he would pat on the shoulder for being so honest and we would go to Savannah and get really wasted as we had planned and everything would be fine. Right?
So in a dismissal of the constitutional protections that my ancestors fought and died for, I said, “Sure. You can search the car”
And he found our $3.21 worth of drugs.
We tried to hide this from our parents. We both came from good Catholic families and getting arrested, even for something as tepid as a little bit of pot, was going to be looked upon harshly.
We kept the charade going for about three weeks when one day, my girlfriend called me.
“They mailed the court information to our permanent addresses,” she said.
“What?” I asked. My heart beginning to palpitate. “They did what?”
“Yeah, my parents just called and they are pissed. Have you heard anything from yours?”
As she broke this most unwelcome news to me I looked over at our answering machine and there it was- the red right was flashing. One new message. I sunk down in my chair. That was it. They knew. The jig was up.
The next time I saw my parents the reception was, shall we say, icy. While they were obviously upset about me getting arrested, what upset them them most was that I had lied to them.
“You had so many chances to tell me,” my father said, “and you didn’t.”
That’s what sunk me the most. A part of the trust they had in me…it was gone.
After a few months everything was more or less fine. I felt horrible for what happened and they could see that. But things were slightly different. They knew I was capable of that kind of deceit. They had seen it. There was no turning back.
I thought about that story yesterday as I sat in a coffee shop in downtown Greenville. My hands and feet were still feeling a little numb from my treatment. My head was feeling a little woozy from my blood pressure medicine. That’s when it hit me- this thing, getting cancer, it’s something that happened. Luckily, because of the medicine and my doctors, I’m doing well and seem to be moving past it. But if I live another 5 years or another 50, I’ll always be a little suspicious of my body. Of what happened. Of what it did.
That it had so many chances to tell me…but it didn’t.
But I’ll deal with the new reality. Like my parents did. Because like I’m their only son, this is my only body. We can forgive. But it’s really hard to forget.