I jaywalked last week. My boss and I knowingly crossed against the light, and cop pulled up just as we got to the other side. My boss kept his head high, authoritative. I waved sheepishly as if to say, “I knew that was illegal and I feel really bad.”
“Why do you acknowledge when you’re doing something wrong? You should just pretend you were in the right the whole time,” my boss said (why yes, he is a white dude of a certain age). But my reaction had nothing to do with gender-based humility. Suddenly, my mind flashes back to The Great Jaywalking Incident of 1998.
Act 1: I’m 14 and I am not cool. The marching band kids and I go off-campus for lunch and, as 14-year-old nerds are wont to do, we decide to walk to the grocery store for a sensible midday meal. We take too long and now we’re late for math. We don’t wait for the light; we sprint across the street. Immediately, the long arm of the law descends upon us.
The officer writes us tickets and informs us that we will have to appear in court on Nov. 23. I tell him I can’t because it’s my mom’s birthday. He laughs.
Act 2: It is my mother’s birthday and we are in court. My 11-year-old sister has been brought along as this is promised to be a “teachable moment.” My mother has the patience of Job, but she wants her birthday glass of wine, damnit, so we arrive an hour early, and I am the first to sign-in. This means I will be the first to stand up in front of the judge. As a rule, I do not speak in public; I do not like to be noticed. I am terrified. Everyone else in the courtroom is cool. They are there for speeding, running red lights, racing. The judge calls my name and I nearly throw up. My legs are shaking as I walk up to the podium with my legal guardian (dad).
“How do you plead?” asks the judge.
“To jaywalking?” I start to cry.
“Say, ‘Guilty, your honor,'” my dad nudges me.
I can’t. I barely choke out “guilty” between sobs. I am ruined. How could I be so stupid? How could I put my family through this? How will I ever forgive myself?
The judge is trying very hard not to laugh.
“Do you promise never to do it again?”
“NEVER! I will never jaywalk again!” I am in hysterics now. The packed courtroom watches, amused.
Act 3: The judge is satisfied that I have learned my lesson. He orders me to pay the $18 court fee. I do not have money. My dad writes a check as my sobs turn to whimpers. The court clerk looks at me sympathetically. “The worst part is over.”
Act 4: We are home. I am dehydrated and traumatized. My mother drinks wine. We eat cake.
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