IMG_0113I was 22 and always in a hurry. I drove a dented red car too fast through a Northern California neighborhood on a foggy afternoon. I was no angel, but I was innocent-looking, freckle-faced. No piercings or tattoos, nothing goth or punk about me. When you pulled me over, you looked nice enough. You said simply, “License and registration.”

You didn’t flinch when I opened the glove box. As you surveyed my ID the open window let in the chill of the coastal fog. I shivered in my thin t-shirt. I rubbed my hands together, then nestled them between my legs. In a split second, you screamed “Freeze!” and had your gun trained on my head.

To say that I froze was an understatement. All these years later this scene is locked in my mind like a still from a movie. A furious young cop in straight-armed academy position. “What did I do?!” I shrieked. “I didn’t do anything!” These words fell out of my mouth involuntarily. We’ve all heard them now. We hear them all the time. They are the instantaneous reaction of the innocent.

“Hands up!” You yelled. I lifted my cold hands.”A little lesson when you are dealing with an officer of the law,” you said as you lowered your weapon. “Never, ever reach under the seat.”

I shouldn’t have said anything in return. But I had a smart mouth and you were wrong.

“I didn’t reach under the fucking seat! I reached under my ass! My hands were cold!”

If I had not been who I was, this may have been the biggest mistake of my life. You looked at me oddly, took a deep breath, and delivered the real lesson with your awful reply: “Doesn’t matter what you did. It matters what it looked like.”

You wrote me the speeding ticket. I paid what seemed like a very high price at the time, but which I now know was nothing, absolutely nothing.

Very Sincerely,

Woman Who Wonders If You Learned Your Lesson Too.