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September 1988

Drunk and Disorderly


Act One--1979: I screamed obscenities at the matron and rattled the door of the cell. "Let me out of here! I don't belong here. I'll kill you!"

Finally the policewoman came over to the bars, "One more word out of you, dearie, and I will let you out. You want to go a few rounds with me?"

Through bleary eyes I saw the outline of the other woman's body. She was stocky. She looked formidable with her legs spread wide apart, her hands on her hips. My bravado fled. Retreating, I crumbled to the floor and crawled over to the cot in the corner. I sobbed myself to sleep on the dirty, bare mattress.

A grinding headache woke me. The mattress was now on the floor and my face was in a small pool of vomit, blood, and God-knows-what-else. I reached up to my throbbing head and my hand came away covered with fresh blood. Dimly I recalled my rampage of the night before--hellbent on destroying my apartment and my husband, Will, in the process. My last vision of him was him sitting on the door step, crying and holding his bleeding head in his hands as I was driven off, handcuffed, in the back seat of the police cruiser. It was too painful to think about and I groaned out loud.

The matron yelled over, "How's the prima donna this morning? You can call your husband to come get you. Too bad about your head. You tried to throw yourself off the cot so many times we thought we'd save you another fall and put the mattress on the floor."

The matron unlocked the cell door and grimaced at the sight of my face. She pointed me to the washroom. "You'd better clean yourself up before I take you upstairs to call your husband."

Once inside the bathroom, I stood hanging onto the sink for a minute to steady myself before I dared to look in the mirror. I had always prided myself on my youthful good looks and I shuddered at the bruised, bloated face looking back at me. My eyes were swollen almost shut. There were several cuts on my forehead with blood congealing on one of them. I was afraid to look any closer and just cupped water in my hands and gingerly patted it to my face. I ran my hands through my matted hair and rummaged through my purse for a safety pin to try to repair my torn shirt. This was the once-proud young wife and mother who had been active in church affairs, a den mother, and vice president of the women's club--until it became impossible to cover up my drunken escapades any longer.

A knock on the door brought me back to today. "Let's go, ma'am."

I followed her wearily up the stairs to the telephone and managed to dial my number on the third try.

A hungover Will answered. I began my familiar litany.

"Will, I'm so sorry. It will never happen again, I promise. Spending the night in jail has taught me a lesson. I've never been so humiliated." I cupped my hand around the mouthpiece and lowered my voice, "Will, honey, they really roughed me up. I'm a mess."

A half hour later Will and I were driving home. The windows of the car were open and I was gulping in the fresh air and letting the wind lift and blow my hair. Will reached over and squeezed my hand. "Laurie, it broke my heart to have to call the cops last night but I thought you were going to kill me and yourself in the process. Forgive me, baby!"

I began shaking, "Will, I'm so sorry. I must have been out of my mind. That will never happen again, I swear." My head was throbbing without letup and I thought I might throw up.

"Hon?" I smiled weakly. "Would you mind stopping at the package store. Just get a pint. This headache is brutal."

"Sure, kid." He turned the wheel sharply at the next intersection and came to an abrupt stop in front of the package store. The familiar neon sign blinked down on us cheerfully. Will jumped from the car, then leaned back through the window. "I might just make that two pints. I've got a bit of a headache myself." We smiled at one another.

Act Two--five years later: The jarring ring of the telephone woke me from my sleep. I snapped on the light, adrenaline already flooding through my body as I lifted the receiver to my ear.

"Hello!" I managed to speak into the mouthpiece, my voice shaking.

"This is the Danbury police station. We have your daughter, Sara, down here on a drunk and disorderly charge again." He went on, "We're willing to give her a chance to go to the detox if you can talk her into it. Will you come down and see what you can do?"

Within moments I was dressed and in the car driving the short distance to the police station. I walked to the desk and nervously told the young officer why I was there. He opened a door behind him and gestured for me to follow him down the stairs to the lockup. Halfway down, the silence was broken by a long animal-like howl. I began trembling in anticipation of what I was going to see. In the area in front of the cell a young girl was thrashing about, flailing her arms out to grip at the matron's legs. The girl was Sara. I began to gag as the policeman reached down and pinned Sara's arms behind her. The matron quickly emptied the girl's pockets and pulled off her belt and shoes; all the while Sara was struggling to free herself. Then the two police officers dragged my daughter into the cell and slammed the door shut.

I moved closer to the bars and called, "Sara!"

There was no response and I called her name again. Then she lifted her head and squinted at me, trying to focus her eyes--one of which was bruised and rapidly swelling shut. Finally she recognized me and whimpered, "Mummie, you came. Get me out of here. They've been beating me up. Take me home." The words came out slurred.

I turned my back and started towards the stairs. "Call me when you want to get better, Sara." I could barely see through the tears.

The matron reached out and touched my shoulder as I walked by her.

"Ma'am, we ain't seen you round here for a long time."

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