I was on top of the world that night. I just turned 16, I had my learner’s license and the wheel of my boyfriend’s car. Jack was 20 years old. He brought the six-pack and a big bag of dope.
He was trying to reverse our breakup. We had met a few months earlier and awkwardly ended our virginities in a damp room of his fraternity house, a house of rowdy barrels and smelly sweat socks, where we could always score a dime bag or one. acid shot.
Now I was ready to move on. But Jack knew of a big party in Dayton and said I could drive. Very cool. I told my parents we were going to a feature double in Fairfield, closer to home. Psyche to try highway driving, I only drank one beer. I succeeded all the way and felt like a champion on the exit ramp.
We approached a traffic light, a light green circle hanging in the dark sky. He said “Turn left here”, and I woke up in an ambulance.
With the siren whimpering above my head, my first thought was dope. It was 1973 and this bag could land us in jail. I smelled in my coat pocket. Nothing. Oh shit – the glove box.
They put me on a stretcher in the emergency room. A cop walked up and asked what had happened. I started to cry and told him I was a new driver and an idiot. He wrote on a small notepad. Then he asked about all the empty beer cans in the car – who drank them? I told him I only drank one, Jack drank the rest and that I was an idiot.
The neat, young cop said, “Well, I won’t mention the beer cans in the report.”
Phew. But had they missed the dope? When my parents arrived, I was still lying in the hallway, a deep gash on my forehead, my broken leg had not yet been x-rayed. “Daddy,” I whispered, “there’s a bag of dope in the glove compartment.”
It was the first time I had told one of my parents that I was using illegal drugs. He nodded.
Jack’s conservative businessman dad and dad went to the towing yard. Jack’s dad distracted the guard while dad found the broken VW, pulled the marijuana out of the glove box, and threw it away.
The traffic court a few months later was superficial. Fortunately, the couple that I tucked in were only bruised. My mom paid a small fee and the accident was gone, erased my record forever.
During my adult years of various encounters, the episode turned into a story sometimes told to illustrate my youthful wickedness and the long-standing kindness of my parents. The recovery of marijuana has been a reliable pleasure for the public.
It took over four decades before I realized the role of my white skin.
If I had been a black teenager my whole life would have changed. No amount of tears and remorse on a stretcher would have persuaded this white cop to ignore empty beer cans. No chatter would have given my black father free access to the car – which the cops would have searched anyway. I would have been thrown into the juvenile justice system and tattooed with a criminal record.
I used to think it was by accident that I had a nice cop. But my luck was dawning in the color of presumed innocence and second chance. This cop categorized Jack and I at a glance and let us down. I pulled myself out of the mess I had created and lived through decades of comfortable living, unaware that every minute – every academic achievement, every apartment deal, every job posting – depended on racism.
These enthusiastic fellowship boys must be retired from a successful career now. Do they, like so many others, forget about their own unpunished crimes while disapproving of any less than stellar behavior that gets a black person arrested or killed? He was drunk, he ran, he used a fake $ 20 bill, he replied.
Each of us with privileged skin color must try to imagine how furious we would be to live on the other side of this cruel division. Imagine the suffocating fear. We have to tear this wall down to the ground.
Susan Duerksen is a retired journalist who grew up in Oxford, Ohio, and lives in San Diego.