This post was originally published on June 12, 2015.
It all started in February 2014 when I got pulled over for a broken tail light and the officer gave me a fix-it ticket. At the time, I was driving my roommate’s car because I still hadn’t dug myself out of the financial hole I was in when I first got sober.
So I fixed the tail light for about $7. And all should have been fine after that, right? Not if you forget to write down the day the ticket’s due.
On May 22, 2014, I decided to check and see when the ticket was due. After hunting for the citation through all of my disheveled papers, I finally found it—due May 21, 2014. Instead of rushing downtown to the Metropolitan Courthouse, which is a nightmare, to take care of it, I just threw my head in the sand and hoped by avoiding it the problem would disappear.
I heard nothing from the court for at least a month. Being terminally vague and completely delusional, I decided the powers that be had pardoned me. Yep, they’d written it off and all was fine.
Until something did show up from the court. A fine. A fine for $400 because I “failed to appear.” I was still working as a lowly kitchen slave at the time—or pastry chef, to be exact—and on a $11-an-hour wage, there was no way I could afford to pay $400. Pissed off and overwhelmed, I shoved the notice in a disheveled pile with the other “important stuff” I ignore and hoped the problem would really go away this time.
Unfortunately, the problem resurfaced, this time in the form of an $800 fine. Not only did the court want to charge me $800 for another “failure to appear,” but they also planned to suspend my driver’s license if I didn’t pay up. But what was I supposed to do on $11 an hour?
Once again, I shoved that paper in the same pile with the other notice. But by that time, I was pretty sure the problem wouldn’t disappear magically. No, I was screwed, but I just didn’t know what to do about it. And I conveniently “forgot” to tell anyone about it.
Then came a letter from the DMV telling me my license was suspended. For some reason, I managed to justify to myself that it was not only okay to ignore the notice, but that it was okay to drive in my roommate’s car with a suspended license since I needed the car to get to work.
All went well for a few months until one day, after a particularly brutal shift at the restaurant—and during a bad case of PMS—I decided I shouldn’t have to make a full stop at a stop sign a mile or so from my house. I sort of rolled through it, and that’s when I saw the flashing police lights.
Immediately, I panicked. I figured I would either get arrested or they’d impound the car once they found out my license was suspended. So I did the logical thing—I sped away from them, taking a sharp right turn, then plowing up the driveway of a small duplex that led to two tiny parking spaces. Thankfully, one of them was empty.
I sat there for a good five minutes, adrenaline shooting through my body, my heart pumping.
After five minutes, I really thought I had lost them.
“I’m such a badass!” I thought.
As I was congratulating myself, I heard a car engine. Slowly, the black and white vehicle appeared in my rear view mirror. I was doomed.
“FUCK!” I screamed.
I contemplated hiding on the floor of my car, contemplated getting out and making a run for it. But the truth was, I was totally trapped.
“Get out of the car, ma’am,” one of the officers said. I obeyed him, at least being smart enough to sass back.
“Are you on probation?” he asked.
“No.” I said quietly. It was one of the lowest and most mortifying moments of my existence.
“Is there anything in the car I should know about?” he asked. He was actually quite kind, and almost empathized with my distress.
Did Trader Joe’s “Super Greens” powder or allergy pills count?
“No,” I said.
“I’m going to need to search your car,” the other officer, who seemed like a much bigger hardass, searched my car. “Do you have any illegal substances in here?” He growled at me.
“No,” I said.
“So why did you drive away from us?” the good cop asked.
“My license is suspended.”
“Why is it suspended? From a DUI?”
“Because I forgot to pay a fix-it ticket.”
The absurdity of the whole situation became very apparent to me in that moment. Who does that? Who gets a fix-it ticket, fails to take care of it, gets fined, gets fined some more, gets their license suspended, and then flees from the cops? Me, of course.
“Why are you driving like that, blowing through stop signs, if you have a suspended license?” The good cop obviously had a sense of humor. He seemed slightly amused.
“That’s a very good question,” was all I said.
He and his partner checked my records, which took like 15 minutes. Thankfully, I don’t have any kind of criminal record whatsoever, not even a DUI. I got lucky with that, actually, because I drove trashed constantly.
At that point, I started sobbing uncontrollably. It all hit me.
You’re a loser, you’re a mess, you’re a fuck-up, you’re crazy, you’re not worth anything, you should just drink.
I was appalled to find out they had to impound the car, even after I insisted that it wasn’t mine. They threw two more citations at me, for blowing the stop sign and driving without a license, and had the car towed. I walked away in hysterics, petrified of telling my roommate.
And then I decided that the only logical thing to do was drink. There simply was no other solution. This one I couldn’t handle. I knew there was a liquor store right around the corner, and I started heading there, until this gentle little voice whispered in my ear—and I’m sure it was my own insanity—”Have a fucking cigarette.”
Oh, yeah. A cigarette.
I’d been off smokes for three years, but what the hell, it was better than taking a drink. After lighting up, I sat on the curb, tears still soaking my face, and tried to think of who to call. I was too embarrassed to call my sponsor, too embarrassed to call my boyfriend, too embarrassed to call my friends. But I scrolled through my phone anyway to see if there was anyone, in or out of AA, who I felt comfortable being honest with.
And there was one woman—an old AA friend of mine who always took my calls, a woman who had been sober 25 years.
I decided to call her up. After I’d confessed my rotten sins and that I almost bought a bottle of booze, she just said “Well, you’re sober. Let’s start there. You’re sober and you didn’t kill anyone.”
For some reason, those simple words snapped me out of it. We hashed it out and she gave me some suggestions about how to talk to my roommate and what steps I should take to fix the mess.
After three trips to the courthouse, I got it all straightened out. And no, my roommate didn’t kill me. Once I actually showed up to the court and spoke with a live person, I discovered I had options. In fact, all I had to do to get my license reinstated—and the car back—was book a court date.
Not only have I learned my lesson, I’ve dug myself out of the financial hole by writing for a living (which is a shocker in and of itself). In total, all the fines came to $1,500. Thanks to a higher income and ticket extensions, I’ve paid it all off.
And I’ve even got my own set of wheels.