My run-in with the SF Police

I was scared. I’d never had the police at my door before. Ten seconds earlier, I couldn’t have predicted that I’d be standing in my towel, hair dripping wet on the floor, defending myself to a couple of police officers.

Jackson had been having a tough time falling asleep and was up late that night. We hadn’t lived in our apartment long, maybe a couple of months, so he was about three years old. He was generally a great sleeper and I put him down without incident. That night he was sobbing, while I was exhausted and desperately in need of a shower, so I told him he could sleep in my bed. I finally calmed him down and told him I was going to take a shower, and that he needed to go to sleep, pronto. I normally showered while he was sleeping but it was a damp November night, I’d had another crappy day at work, and I couldn’t wait any longer. I gave him a kiss on his tangled head of curly blond hair and said goodnight.

I had just turned off the water, when the doorbell rang. I popped my head out the bathroom door and said “Just a minute!” while I put a towel around me. I was about to pull on some sweatpants when he doorbell rang again, along with a knocking. I peered through the peep hole to see two policemen, so I opened the door. There’s nothing quite like seeing San Francisco Police Department’s finest on your doorstep. How quickly my brain worked, thinking of all the terrible news they could be delivering. My stomach started churning before a word was spoken.

“We’re here to check on a disturbance that was reported anonymously.”

I told them I had no idea what they were talking about, that I’d just gotten out of the shower.

“Do you have any children in the house?”

“Yes, my son. But he’s sleeping.”

My bedroom was right off the front entrance and the door was open. Jackson was sitting up in bed, staring at the men with guns holstered to their hips. One of the policemen turned on his flashlight and shone it into the dark room, onto Jackson’s red, tear stained face.

“Are you alright in there?”

I told them he was fine, that he’d just had a hard time going to sleep. They told me that a neighbor was concerned for his safety, as he’d been “screaming and crying for 20 minutes.” Twenty minutes? I hadn’t taken a twenty minute shower for at least three years, so that was bullshit. Maybe I’d lost track of time in the shower, daydreaming. Although I was impressed at how quickly the police could show up, if needed.

“Has there been any hitting going on tonight?” He asked in a conversational, almost friendly tone. It was as if he wanted to appear as someone I’d be at ease with, and admit to hitting my son. I hadn’t, and was suddenly terrified at the notion they thought I had. Once he laid out the allegations, the pit in my stomach grew to encompass my intestines and I immediately needed to use the bathroom. They were looking at me as if I’d abused my child. Jackson was too little to say anything convincing without also crying because at that point, I believe he was more afraid of the two policemen at our door.

I realized that my breath had quickened and I could feel my heart pounding in my throat. I held my towel’s knot tighter to appear that I had my composure about me, while inside my tightening stomach and twisting bowels were doing battle. I’d watched too many crime shows on television and knew that real panic in this moment wouldn’t serve me. I calmly and quietly asked, “Is there anything else?” They said something about “better to be safe than sorry” and started walking to their car.

I closed the door, barely making it to the bathroom in time. I sat on the toilet longer than I needed to, crying quietly, while Jackson stood on the other side of the door doing the same.

My turn

I was in the first grade, sitting in a tiny orange chair, fit for a six year old. We were seated in a circle. It was time for Show & Tell and today it was my turn. I can’t remember exactly what I brought, only that it didn’t matter, because today it was my turn to stand in front, my turn to talk, my turn.

Mine.

I heard the teacher call my name and I looked at her, smiling, but I couldn’t move. She repeated my name and her expression changed as she looked down at the floor below my seat. As I turned my gaze down, I noticed for the first time that I was hot and wet in my seat. I saw the pale yellow puddle forming below my chair and I couldn’t look away. I was sure that children were laughing and the teacher was saying something to me but all I could hear was the drip from underneath the chair releasing to the puddle below. The tiny drops were loud like thunder and I felt my face flush with embarrassment. I didn’t want to look at her. She was going to tell me to get up. And then what? I imagined that everyone would be going outside for recess soon and I would be free to remove myself without further humiliation. But they were not moving and she was not telling them to and I hated her. I heard her say she would call my mother and then she asked if someone else had something they would like to share for Show & Tell. Another child started speaking and the teachers’ aide lifted me up from the pool of urine collected in the seat of my chair. I could smell it now and it reminded me of the dog next door who always peed in our azalea bush, turning the pretty peach blossoms brown. My pants were cold, the warmth was gone, and they bunched between my legs as I walked. When I got to the school office, the secretary gave me a look full of pity and told me that my mother would bring me clean pants shortly and then handed me a pair of too-big gym shorts to change into. She ushered me into the bathroom and pat me on the head before closing the door behind me. I stood in front of the mirror above the sink, only able to see from my nose up, and realized that I had been crying. I was still holding my Show & Tell item in my hand and I was suddenly infuriated that I didn’t get my turn. I wanted to run back and tell them all to shut up and listen because it was still my turn.

My turn.

But instead, I peeled my wet pants off, pulled on the gym shorts, sat on the toilet seat and cried.

My life before me.

It was 1982 and I was 12 years old, holding a tattered photograph in front of my mother. I’d found it in a box of old photos in the garage. I’d been working on my Autobiography, an assignment from my 6th Grade teacher that seemed a bit premature.

In the photograph, there is a young boy in flannel pajamas sitting on the back of a frosted blue upholstered couch. He is beaming while holding a board game of The Jungle Book. Next to him sits an adolescent girl, in a blue nightgown fit for a princess with matching lace and satin blue robe. She holds her hands folded on her lap and smiles at the camera with lips pursed and head cocked slightly to the right. Sitting in front of them is a teenaged boy in his green and blue plaid bathrobe. He is barely smiling at the camera and looks as though he was woken up far too early. Next to him is a girl of four or so, bundled up in a puffy, satin pink bathrobe holding another board game. This one is Winnie the Pooh, and she is smiling wildly. Above their heads hangs a string of Christmas cards against a backdrop of bamboo styled wallpaper, with vertical lines seeming to grow out of the couch. The date on the photograph is January 1969. I recognized the first three children as my older brother and sisters, however, I did not know this fourth child, the one holding The Jungle Book game, which is why I was standing in front of my mother with the photograph.

“Who is this boy, Mom?”

“What boy?” she replied. My mother was not looking at me. She was standing at the stove, stirring an enormous pot of spaghetti sauce. It was Wednesday, spaghetti night at my house, and the smell of fried peppers and onions permeated the kitchen. When she finally looked at the picture in my hand, I saw something in her eyes that I had never seen before and it confused me. She immediately turned back to the stove to add the meatballs to the sauce.

“That was Steven. He was your brother. He died.”

She continued to stir and I continued to hold out the photograph, trying to understand what she had just said to me.

“Set the table, dinner is going to be ready soon.”