I got separated and divorced in the early nineties. I smoked a pack of Marlboro Lights every day in the early nineties. Even though I lived near Seattle, I had not yet tasted a Starbucks. I had a cellphone that was larger than a football that I carried for work that looked like a bread box with a strap. I was a social worker for the State of Washington.
Sinead O’ Conner, Madonna, and George Michael played on the radio. Songs from the eighties like I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2 and Need You Tonight by INXS still got stuck in my head and I would crank them up when I heard them come on the air.
AIDS was an epidemic, and a week didn’t go by without a friend, or a friend of a friend or a relative of a friend dying by suicide or passing away from complications from a depleted immune system.
It was a Friday night. I drove a white Subaru hatchback. I had missed the ferry from Seattle and drove around through Tacoma and Gig Harbor. Once in Bremerton, and close to home, the stress of being at my brother’s house where death dark and stigmatized and like the plague was close to his partner, caught up with me.
In my car, I forgot how to drive. I forgot that I could pull the keys out of the ignition. I forgot that I could hit the brakes without hitting the clutch and the car would sputter and stop. I forgot there were brakes.
I lost the ability to think through any of my options. I turned toward the 7-Eleven, put my hand on the horn, jumped the curb and came to a stop with the nose of my Subaru inside the cereal aisle. The people who were in line at the store surrounded my car. The glass from the front of the 7-Eleven was scattered across the store, the hood of my car and the sidewalk.
Not knowing what else to do, but having regained my capacity to reason and deal with the mechanics of driving, I backed my car out of the store and off the sidewalk and into a parking space. The police had already arrived. The first officer was a jerk. He spoke to me in a harsh tone and asked if I was drinking or using drugs. I told him no and offered to take a test. After a few more questions, he turned the situation over to an officer in a second patrol car, and he drove away.
The second officer was funny, but I was still shaken up and scared. I asked if I would have to spend the night at the hospital getting drug tests and he said no. While he was filling out his report, he asked me where I worked. I told him I was the on-call worker for CPS (Child Protective Services) and he could not stop laughing while he was still chuckling a call came over his radio of a child endangerment case and the person on the line said they needed CPS. The officer picked up his radio and pretended to respond by saying, “Don’t worry, I have her in my car.”
Those were the early nineties, and somehow I got out alive.