Step Out Of The Car, Please: Eileen’s Story -The Toast

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Previous entries in the DUI series can be found here

The night I was arrested on my first drunk driving offense, I was chauffeuring a car full of teenagers and a 30-pack of beer from a keg party on the eastern outskirts of town to another keg party on the western outskirts of town. As I drove along Highway 16, I turned my attention from the road to the center console, scanning my CD collection for something party-worthy. I decided on a Three Six Mafia CD and popped it in the player. When I looked back up, I saw flashing lights in the rearview mirror.

I swore up and down I hadn’t had a drop to drink that night. Weeks later, I saw my arrest report and realized how foolish I must have sounded. I “swerved in and out of lanes,” causing the people in the car behind me to call the cops. When the police pulled me over, I had “bloodshot eyes” and “reeked of alcohol.” I failed my sobriety test with flying colors.

I was eighteen when I got my first DUI, just a few months shy of high school graduation in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I should have been embarrassed, but getting a DUI was sort of a rite of passage among my friends there. The only thing most of us had in common was drinking. In fact, exiting jail the morning after my arrest, I had phone messages from several of my friends “welcoming” me “to the club.”

I blew a .23, almost three times the legal limit. I was definitely drunk, but like a lot of teenagers, I thought I was invincible. Nothing bad had happened to me yet, I thought, so nothing bad ever would.

Not that adults didn’t try to educate us. In my junior high health class, we were shown a gruesome video about the dangers of drinking and driving. In it, teenagers wearing high-waisted jeans and scrunchy socks tipped me off that the video was at least a decade old, with production values to match. One poorly executed train collision and a decapitated head later, the head and I were both rolling on the ground. A simple face scar would have been easier to pull off on a limited budget and probably hit closer to home. We were teenagers; we were vain.

After two hours in my very own cell at the deserted city jail, I was allowed to call my father. There was no one else. He answered the phone on the first ring.

“What happened? Are you all right?”

“I’m in jail.”

He didn’t sound surprised.

I still vaguely remember the time I drove home with a twisted right ankle when I was 16, the year my parents divorced. I was at a keg party on the outskirts of town (of course) when I stumbled walking down a stair. Not a flight, mind you, but a single stair off the back deck. In a drunken haze, I misjudged the distance between that step and the ground. When I finally hit it, the weight of my body came down hard on my ankle and I collapsed in pain. Thankfully, one of my fellow partygoers saw my performance and came quickly to my aid. I couldn’t stand back up without help. I definitely couldn’t walk on it. My friend Laura helped me to my car, strapped me to my driver seat and sent me on my way with a “good luck.”

I don’t remember the drive. I do remember arriving home at three in the morning, trying to limp into the house as quietly as possible so as not to wake my mother. I made it all the way to the bathroom before I collapsed backwards into the tub, pulling the shower curtain down on top of me with a loud clang. I laid still for several minutes, hoping the crash hadn’t woken my mother. When I thought the coast was clear, I clawed my way back out of the bath and limped the rest of the way to my bedroom.

Once again, my alcohol-soaked centers of balance betrayed me and I fell heavily against my bedroom door, slamming it into the wall behind it. I fell so hard the doorknob smashed completely through the sheetrock. My mom appeared before I could stand back up. By then, my ankle had swollen to three times its legal limit and was beginning to turn fall colors. She helped me into bed and put a pillow under my ankle so it would be elevated throughout the night. She brought me water and Ibuprofen and brushed the hair off my forehead. “Well, you obviously can’t help with the garage sale now. You did this on purpose, didn’t you?”

The garage sale was scheduled to begin at 7:00 a.m. that morning. It was the last step before my mom, brother and I vacated the only house I ever lived in. My mom decided to sell it and move to California to be closer to her family after she and my dad got divorced. I didn’t do it consciously, but yeah, maybe I did do it on purpose.

One of the culprits was boredom. There wasn’t a lot to do in the dim lights, small city of Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Baptists kept busy with sports and spent their weekends going to movies. The hicks spent Friday and Saturday nights cruising the strip mall parking lots along College Avenue in pick-up trucks. The rest of us, hippies, preps and floaters, drank. Usually from a keg. Usually in a clearing on someone’s uncle’s land on the outskirts of town.

My dad showed up to the city jail in the middle of the night to pick me up, but he didn’t come alone. On the ride home he tried to give me the “I’m disappointed in you” speech, but I was not going to let the man who left my mom for a student half his age teach me a lesson in ethics. Not in front of Her.

I found out about Dad and Amy’s wedding after the fact. When I asked my dad why my brother and I weren’t invited, he explained they didn’t want “anything to go wrong on their big day.”

After my parents divorced, I couldn’t get punished if I tried. I drank the expensive champagne in my dad’s fridge that he and Amy had been saving for New Year’s Eve. I threw illicit parties at my dad’s house in his absence. My guests and I took down the picture of chili peppers that hung on the wall of Amy’s kitchen to cut coke. I could still make out faint razor scratches in the glass years later. I filled my closet with clothes stolen from the mall. When my mom asked me where I got so much new stuff, I claimed my dad bought it for me.  I think my mom was too afraid of losing another person so soon after she lost my dad. My dad felt too guilty to come down hard on me.

I was only a month shy of my twenty-first birthday when I was booked on my second DUI. I had been visiting my boyfriend and some friends at a campsite outside of town, but decided to return home to sleep in a warm, familiar bed. I was pulled over for a missing taillight on the same road where I got my first DUI.

This time, I blew a .08.

I cried. I pleaded. I begged the officer to let me go. I would turn 21 in February!

I was thrown in the county drunk tank. The intake officer made me take off my jewelry and hand over my purse. I watched her make a list of all my personal belongings, “$14.00 in cash, two rings, one neckliss.”

“Hold on,” I told the clerk. “I know I’m being arrested for getting my second DUI in three years on the same road, but that is not how you spell necklace.” It was a long night.

There were 6 or 7 other women in the tank with me that evening in a room the size of my studio apartment. Two levels of concrete benches lined the walls of the room. The toilet was located in the southwest corner, my nemesis. The seat had been removed, so there was nowhere to perch but the dirty metal rim. There was no clean toilet paper. Clumps of dirty paper littered the floor.

I asked the guard for toilet paper, but I never received any. I never received a pillow or blanket, either. I guess the guard and the intake officer were old buddies.

The toilet was in plain view of everyone else in the tank. In fact, the benches were lined up almost like auditorium seating, oriented so the audience could enjoy the best possible view of the show. I waited five hours to go. By then, most of my cellies were asleep on the benches.

Once again, my dad bailed me out of jail. Once again his wife tagged along for the ride. “Why is she here?” I wondered. It was like volunteering to watch someone else’s pet get euthanized.

This was all terribly familiar. If the first one was a cry for help, the second DUI was closer to an honest mistake, but the inevitable result of the same bad habits.

We rode home in silence, too tired to fight.

Tired of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Eileen Beard is an aspiring television writer living in Los Angeles. She spends her spare time listening to cheesy R&B music and dreaming of being a late night talk show guest, but definitely not chugging keg beer. She never chugs keg beer anymore, Mom.

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