Even before the police officer opened the door, I was sobbing. I just knew that my life was over. How exactly it was over, I couldn't tell you, but being pulled over by the cops certainly was some sort of signal to the end of life.
The officer at first just leaned into the car, but surveying the situation and perhaps picking up a sign that I was distraught about the circumstances, he knelt down. As if to be friendly. Right. As if.
"Do you know what to do when the blue and red lights start flashing?" Clearly not friendly. Clearly patronizing.
I was too emotional to be offended. "Of course, I do. But you're not supposed to pull people over when they're just sitting at red lights. You're supposed to pull people over when they're moving." Surely he must see how unfair he had been.
He (thankfully) ignored my advice, and changed tactics. "How long have you been driving?"
"Have you ever been pulled over before?" I was horrified that he would consider me a repeat offender, and since I was crying too hard to answer, I shook my head in protest.
"Can I see your license and registration please?"
Oh. my. gosh. My license. I didn't have it because it had been stolen that Friday before, and I wasn't going to the DMV to get a new one until the next day. I was off to jail, I knew it.
"I - I - I - don't have my license," I stuttered out between sobs.
And then in one breath I told him the sad, sad story of my life. "My car was broken into on Friday - you can see the window is smashed - I don't have a CD player anymore and I'm not wearing my coat either and they took my wallet but they left my gloves and it - my wallet - had my license and my dad's senior picture and please don't get me in trouble because I had to drive to school without my license todaaaaaaay," and then the sobs overtook me.
"Do you have any identification on you at all?"
I pulled myself together long enough to think. What in my car had my name on it?
"Umm...uh...I have...I have..." I looked frantically around my car, "I have my math book." I pulled the Algebra 2 textbook out of my backpack and whipped open the cover to show him where I had written my name, complete with a heart dotting the "i" and everything. "Does that count?" Oh please, Lord. Let it count.
To his credit, the officer took the textbook and the vehicle's registration back to his car to do whatever it is they do in their cars (play solitaire? check their Facebook account?). He could have been gone for hours or minutes; for my part, I sobbed uncontrollably for the short eternity he was gone.
He returned with my textbook and papers, and said, "Your tags on your license plate are expired."
It was as if he was speaking a foreign language to me. I had no idea what he was saying.
"My what? My license is expired?"
"Your license plate. The tags are expired."
"I...but...my license...it's...tabs...what?" I was so confused. And distraught. And confusedly distraught.
"Your license plate, it goes on the back of your car, and there are stickers, and..." he didn't really want to be spending his afternoon explaining the technicalities of car registration to me, I could tell. "You just need to get them. Tags. For your license plate. Tell your parents. Send in verification that you've got this fixed and you won't get a ticket," and with that he handed me a yellow warning slip that was as good as gold.
The relief hadn't fully sunk in, and so I continued to cry and cry and cry. I think the officer might have said something else, but I wasn't listening. He closed the door and walked back to his car. I wasn't going to jail. I didn't get a ticket. And yet I couldn't stop crying. I leaned my head against the steering wheel, shaking with huge gasping sobs. The door opened again.
The officer was back, concerned that he was sending me out onto the road, I guess. "Do you want me to have someone come pick you up? Want me to call someone?"
I could only think of one thing I wanted most, and between my tears I said, "I...just...want...you...to...go awaaaay."
And bless him, he did.
Except, not completely because I never forgot that experience of being pulled over, of being unprepared, wishing I was somewhere else where I wasn't getting into trouble. It stayed me--that feeling--and made me a conscientious driver.
That officer has probably long forgotten about me, but I never forgot him. So for that, he did his job.