My life is just this side of unmanageable. I really and truly do not understand how other people keep all their parts moving with seemingly effortless ease while my life is usually held together by a concoction of spit and duct tape. But my life wasn’t always this together. In my early sobriety, I was a real mess.
The most memorably unmanageable part of my early sobriety was not the fact that I was homeless or that I was unemployed and unemployable, but that the stickers on my car were totally and completely expired. Not just kinda expired. Not just the police pull me over just in case I didn’t realize that the sticker three feet away from my face had somehow missed my keen observational skills. If I remember correctly, both my registration and my inspection sticker were like three years expired. And for the life of me, I had no idea how to fix them. My license was expired. I had no money, no insurance, no idea how to get money or insurance. The inspection and license required insurance, the insurance required a license (or so I thought). And who knew what a registration required. The license required me to go to the DPS, the registration to the courthouse. And none of that seemed the least bit doable.
One evening as I was heading home from a friend’s house, I got pulled over. The police officer didn’t, to my surprise, arrest me. Instead he gave me a handful of tickets with an accompaniment of frowny police countenance and a threat. Shaken, I turned my car around and drove straight back to my friend’s house. The next morning, I fortified myself against the world and once again began the drive home. This time I was smart enough to turn left out of the housing development instead of right. One minute after I got on the Sam Houston Tollway, I saw lights in my rear view mirror. Man, oh man. In my head, I’d like to think I kept it together for thirty seconds, but it might not have been that long. The officer just looked at me with an even frownier countenance than the previous officer because this wasn’t just regular police, this was sheriff police.
As a way of introduction I stammered, “Sir, I just got all these tickets last night, and really, I’m just trying to get home and park my car.”
Sheriff looked at the tickets for a minute and said, “These are dated last month.”
I looked at the tickets and then looked at Sheriff and back at the tickets and said, “I assure you, it was last night.”
And Sheriff said, “But they’re dated last month.”
For a second, I swear, I thought I might be on Candid Camera. I’m a pretty fast thinker, but I did not know if insisting that the other patrolman was wrong about the date was the right way to go or not.
An awkward paused stretched out. Sheriff said, “Tell me, why are your stickers so out date.”
This one I could answer, and I quickly stumbled over my words in a gush of new tears, “I just got sober and I am trying to get my life back together and I don’t have the money or know how to get the even get the stickers…” I trailed off and sat there staring at my hands against the steering wheel.
Sheriff took a long, hard look at me, “You drunk now?”
“What? No, sir!” (Though looking back, I have to admit, it was a fair question.)
“Cause if you ain’t drunk now, it’s gonna be all right.”
Sheriff said, he’d keep an eye out for my car, and if I ever drove the tollway again with my stickers expired, he’d pull me right back over. And then he let me go.
I finally did get out from under. I got the job, the money, the insurance, and yes, I went to the courthouse and the DPS. It took a while, but it got done.
But sometimes when life gets especially life-y, when things don’t go my way, or when I’m driving down the tollway, I think of good, old Sheriff and how he spoke my truth. “Cause if I ain’t drunk now, it’s gonna be all right.”