Safety: A Letter to Colusa County California Sheriff's Deputy B.
The handcuffs were unnecessary. I was easy subdued and harmless. You were a little too happy, your face lit up like a blackjack player at Vegas that had just hit twenty-one with a stack of black chips on the table. You stopped me because I was "going too slow" on I-5. So you said. Then the fun routine running of the driver's license through the computer system and my name popped up with a fix-it ticket that had gone to warrant on a car I no longer owned. I had neglected to fix a broken taillight. My papers were not in order. The republic was in peril.
"You're under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be used..."
My first wife, five-months pregnant, stood on the freeway shoulder shivering in the January darkness, the Central Valley fog closing around the three of us like a damp gray skirt. My blue heeler Emmie Lou barked and bared her teeth at you. I didn't tell her to stop. A decision had to be made about the truck, a Ford 1960, F-100 with a short bed that held all of our belongings. A Guild guitar, journals, cast iron skillets, too many books of poetry, and the teak nesting tables that my wife's grandfather had brought back from the Orient. You called in a tow truck.
"On our way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan," I told you, as if the sheer impossible distance ahead of us would cause you to take pity and release us.
"To take a dairy job. Coming from Astoria, Oregon." Where it rains all the time. Where I had planted trees in a clear-cut moonscape. Where one day our landlord unexpectedly took away the refrigerator so we made a pretend one out of boxes. Even painted a handle on it and made cardboard cartons of milk and eggs. You padded me down, went though my pockets and pulled out crumbled twenties, guitar picks, my step-father's pocket knife.
"You got drugs, son? " No, reality is hard enough. (This being a good example.)
The cuffs hurt my wrists, but when you placed me in the backseat, you were considerate enough to bend my head down so it wouldn't hit the top of the door. You allowed Shari, Emmie, and the Guild to ride in the front seat on the way to the county lockup. I would spend the night in a cell with two Mexicans, who also didn't have their papers in order. I was told to strip and then given an orange jumpsuit and sandals. The pillow smelled like semen. The toilet didn't work and I was too embarrassed to use it anyway. I waived my right to see an attorney. I didn't eat the breakfast of oatmeal, white toast, and thin coffee. I was twenty-four-years old.
But I didn't know all this when you locked me in the squad car. The heater was on. Shari and Emmie sat next to you. You drove above the speed limit. The amber dashboard lights lit up your face and I could see you were pleased with your catch. The dispatcher announced a robbery in Grimes; a bar fight in Yuba City. For the first time in months, I suddenly felt safe, relieved to be shackled in the backseat. For now, the long drive was over.
There would be flat tires, shot bearings, ice storms and an ugly scene with a mechanic in Wendover, Nevada, but for the moment we were all together in a car that ran smoothly. And, in our usual raggedy fashion, we would eventually make it to a new home in yet another new state. Sixty cows with full bags to milk twice a day. Seven days a week I would spread manure in fields ringed by wild hardwood forests and carry wet baby Holsteins from the field. Daughter Rose would be born at home during a gentle rain. The land would eventually overwhelm us with its rawness -- the small clear creeks that tasted like iron ore; the fat pine snakes as thick as rope that curled under the porch boards; the wavy purple lights and violent electric storms that swung down from Canada. We would live in an creaky farmhouse, get our milk and meat free, and have a little cash left over at the end of the month to treat ourselves to eggs over-easy and home fries in Escanaba. No one should ask for more from life.
You turned off at the Colusa exit and radioed that your were bringing in
the perp. But just ahead, back on the interstate, over the Sierra and
across the plains, a new life was waiting. A place to begin again, this
time with a clean slate.