The reality of what was happening didn’t register at first. I thought we had been hidden from the road and couldn’t imagine what had drawn the cop to find us. For a moment, I willed myself to believe he wasn’t really there. Then, as I watched the door of the patrol car open from the rearview window, a spark of realization lit deep within my chest: it was the flame of my lighter, the cherry on my cigarette. I don’t know where the cop had been hiding not ten minutes before, but he must have seen me smoking. This was my fault.
The spark ignited and my blood began to heat. An uncomfortable, heavy warmth spread through my veins and suddenly, I felt faint. I shut my eyes so tightly I thought I might black out. When I opened them again, it took time to refocus, and all I could see were stars in my periphery and the flashing lights of the cruiser bouncing off the walls of the office, bathing my world in reds and blues. I was stunned to the point of being unable to move. I wanted nothing more than to be back in my bed. I did not want to be there. I did not want to be there, next to some pervert in the passenger seat of his fancy car with a cop approaching us, seemingly in slow motion, and most of a gram of cocaine in my pocket. With a cop approaching us and most of a gram of cocaine in my pocket…
The officer was already at the rear of the car when I finally snapped to. I did not want to let go of the coke, and for a brief second, I shamefully considered stuffing it into my sock. Once it struck me that I would probably be arrested within the next thirty minutes, I just tossed it under my seat. I didn’t care where it went, as long as it wasn’t on me. I could blame everything on Michael if it were found. In my mind, I told myself that I was the victim in this situation, not the pedophile to my left. Surely the cop would see that. It seemed like hours until he finally reached Michael’s window and tapped on it impatiently, and I wondered if time seems so protracted to anyone who is awaiting certain demise.
To his credit, Michael remained amazingly composed given the circumstances. It wasn’t until later that I realized that it most likely wasn’t his first run-in with the law. It probably wasn’t even the first time he had been caught after doing far too much cocaine. Had he been pulled over with other young men in his car, boys even younger than me? Had Michael ever really believed that I was eighteen, or had he simply been willing to go along with the lie, providing I held up my part of the act? Once the questions started, I couldn’t stop them from flowing, and each new thought made me feel like I would vomit down my front. Yes, I had done this with so many men before him, but never had I thought about it so directly. Asking those questions to myself made me sick. I made myself sick.
While he was no longer visibly shaking, Michael answered most of the officer’s questions with a one-word response. Just as I had skirted around Michael’s questions about the life I had mostly fabricated for fear of exposure earlier that night, the less Michael spoke to the cop, the less he risked letting a fatal error slip.
The cop was not at all satisfied with the answers given and seemed to be growing suspicious, but when he turned his face to mine, his expression softened to one that read of sadness. I can only imagine how I looked to him: baby-faced, terrified, and probably not nearly as old as I thought I appeared to be back then. I always have looked older than my years, but I’m certain the officer could see very clearly what was going on. The very first question he asked me was, “How old are you, son?”
It’s much more difficult to lie to a police officer whom you suspect is about to arrest you than it is to lie to the pervert supplying you with coke. I stammered when I told him, “Ei-eighteen, sir.” So he asked me my birthday, which I should have seen coming, but didn’t. I had to think about the year, a dead giveaway to my pathetic scrambling. Then he asked me for my ID, which I told him I didn’t have on me. That was not a flat-out lie, as I had no form of identification to begin with, although if I did, it wouldn’t have matched the drivel that was emitting from my lips. I was digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole that would be very difficult to drag myself out of once I was in handcuffs. The only other question the officer had for me was my name and address. He told us both that he’d return to his car, look up my information in lieu of any identification, and if it checked out we’d be on our way.
By that point, I’m sure Michael understood. The cop had revealed the fact that I was lying about being legal, and Michael had nothing more to say to me. He simply stared out his window, crashing from the blow, all but recovered from his overdose.
I had a decision to make. I had a decision to make, and I had to make it not soon, but right then. I had no time to waste, for if the cop looked up my information and saw quite plainly that I was lying through my teeth, then I’d no longer be looked upon as some sort of frightened kid, but a punk. I reasoned that the truth is better told late than not told at all, though I had no intention of breathing another word to the man sitting next to me. I stuffed my cigarettes in my underwear, hoping to hold onto them once we were both inevitably taken down to the station, cracked my window and called the officer over. I asked to speak with him in private.
The cop seemed to find my request a bit strange, but he indulged me nonetheless. He walked me to his car and asked me what I needed to tell him, what it was that demanded privacy. I blurted out, “I’m not eighteen. I’m sixteen. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. I’m sorry I lied, but I was scared. The man in that car doesn’t know I’m sixteen. I was scared and I lied, so I’m telling you now. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
He looked at me long and hard. I didn’t say anything else because I was doing everything I could not to cry for the second time that night. I sniffled, and a small whimper escaped me. The cop sighed, and told me to get in the back of the car. He did not restrain me. Once he shut the door, he briefly got into the driver’s seat, got on his radio, and asked for backup. He left me there with my face pressed against the window, watching as he returned to Michael’s Jag.
I could only guess the conversation that went on between Michael and the officer, though I will never forget what I saw. I could see Michael in silhouette, clearly becoming agitated again. Michael, making a motion with his hands like he had just touched something very hot, shaking his head in disbelief. Michael, pointing to the car in which I was sitting, raising his voice to such a volume that I could hear the muffled shouts through the closed doors. Michael, opening his door to try and get out and the officer kicking it shut, reflexively putting his hand on his gun. I couldn’t help but scoff at that. Michael was no danger to anyone but me, and considering that I refused to call 911 when he was overdosing and the mess I had gotten us into with the police by foolishly smoking outside the office, I’m not sure which one of us was a bigger threat to the other’s safety and freedom.
Though it had felt like hours since Michael and I had first gotten into the car to try and leave his office, judging by the clock on the console of the cruiser, it had only been about twenty minutes. The seriousness of the situation up until that point had all but destroyed my high, but it wasn’t until I was completely alone with my thoughts that I had time to notice that I was coming down hard. I slumped against the seat and stared at the roof. I heard more sirens in the distance and wondered who else had gotten caught doing what, but then the sirens got louder. They were coming closer. I then realized that the wailing cries belonged to the backup for Michael and me.
For the second time that evening, the parking lot exploded with light. Three more cruisers arrived at once. As I looked out at the pine trees lining the side of the parking lot, the needles twinkling with fractured bits of color, the last remnant of coke left in me said, “I guess that’s kind of beautiful.” I watched as two of the cops got out of their cars, walked over to meet the officer still standing by Michael’s door, and escorted him out of the Jag. Michael was put in handcuffs. In some ways, this relieved me, not because Michael was being arrested, but because I was ready to leave. I still ached to be back in my bed, though by then I knew that wasn’t going to happen any time soon. I had crashed back to reality and understood I had miles still to go. There was no sense in wanting things so far out of my reach. The best I could hope for was for the night to keep moving. I just wanted it to be over, and getting out of that parking lot was the first step of many unknowns.
I didn’t really pay attention to how the cops rearranged themselves other than the fact that the first one to arrive on the scene got back in the car I was sitting in and told me that Michael and I would both be taken down to the station to give a statement. I could only hope and assume that Michael did not consent to any kind of search of his car, but reasoned that if the coke came up, I’d just play dumb. I asked the cop to turn up the heat and as we started forward and turned out of the parking lot, followed by a cruiser I guess held Michael, I closed my eyes once again.
So many terrible things had already happened and I knew they would only get worse. My night was far from over, yet my mind was nearly clean of thoughts. I had no energy to think about what had just occurred, or what would happen once we reached the station. I shut it all out. I could only think of just one thing, but it played in my mind over and over again. I could not shake it. I could not turn it off. For the duration of the ride in the patrol car, one single thought all but consumed me: I am so far from home.
To be continued...