I am brushing my teeth—water running, bathroom door closed—so I do not hear the first knocks. When the pounding becomes loud enough to echo up the stairs, I turn off the faucet. I can tell then who is knocking, and why, but I take a moment to wipe my mouth and put on lipstick. A lady should look nice, no matter what. My southern upbringing shows itself at even the most inopportune times.
By the time I get downstairs, my stomach is trying to leave my body and my hands shake like I have a palsy. Shapes move on the other side of the curtain sheers hanging from the window in my foyer.
Outside, a voice says, “Somebody’s coming down.” I reach for the doorknob, hoping as I open it that, this time, there won’t be guns drawn on the other side.
There aren’t. There are two officers—two that I see, anyway. They identify themselves the moment I push open the glass door between us. One state police detective, one county detective, both in suits. Each in a car, marked, plus a plain black SUV, which means more cops in the back yard. Maybe a dog. The last time, my son ran. He only got about twenty feet before he obeyed the command to stop, but now they’ve pegged him as a rabbit, so they cover all the exits. All three vehicles are parked at the curb, right in front of my house. Thanks, guys.
It’s always guys, always men, always tall and sternly polite, provided you cooperate. I always cooperate. They’re men with guns, and besides, they’re not here for me.
“Mrs. _____ (they know me by name), we’re here for ______ (they know him by sight).” The state police officer speaks briskly, all business, not even a “Good morning, ma’am” as a conversation starter. Troopers are like that, blunt but professional, less smirky than the local cops. Under the circumstances, blunt is fine. It’s not like we’re going to chit chat.
I ask if I’m allowed to ask why they’ve come. He tells me, though technically he doesn’t have to. No search warrant, he adds, and I’m so relieved, I could hug him. Well, not really, but I’m relieved. My house is tidy and I’m not wearing pajamas, but it’s still creepy when a cop goes through your underwear drawer, especially when you haven’t done anything but have a kid who likes to nick stuff.
I hesitate on the doorstep. Never let a cop in your house, a lawyer friend has told me. But I don’t want to climb the stairs. I don’t want to wake him up. I don’t want to turn him over, like I am somehow helping out.
So I step aside. “Upstairs, first door on the left,” I say. And for his sake and their sake and everybody’s sake, I add, “He won’t fight. He doesn’t have a weapon. We don’t have any weapons in the house.”
The trooper looks the tiniest bit surprised. “Thank you, ma’am, I appreciate you telling me that,” he says. He heads up the stairs, the city detective right behind. Now I see a third cop on the porch. He’s in uniform, all spit-shined and bright. He looks about fourteen. He nods at me but makes no move toward the door.
The trooper opens my son’s bedroom door without knocking. I hear him say my son’s name. He tells him to get up. My son doesn’t ask why. He asks if he can put on a shirt. I hear the creak of the closet door, their steps on the floorboards. I hear everything they say, every move they make, although my heart is pounding louder than their knocks.
In a few moments, they lead him down in handcuffs. I don’t look at my child’s face; he doesn’t look at mine, as if we have some tactic agreement not to humiliate one another more than necessary in this humiliating moment. I see the trooper’s eyes switch back and forth between us, as if checking for…I don’t know what.
I am careful not to show any emotion at all.
He stands aside as the county officer leads my son outside.
“He can call you after he’s processed,” the trooper says. Unnecessarily. I know the drill.
At the door, he holds out his card. I take it.
Through the sheers, I can see my son being led through the yard. I want to cry, but I won’t. I did, the first time, and the cop who saw me doing it called, “Have a nice day!” on his way out. I never cried again, at least not while they’re still around.
“I was brushing my teeth,” I say, staring down at the little embossed policeman on the card instead of the real one two feet in front of me. “That’s why I didn’t answer right away. I didn’t hear you knocking.”
I look up. The trooper is frowning, like I am maybe crazy, but that changes and for one second, he looks sorry for me. That is much worse than crazy, because it makes me want to tell him all the thoughts spinning and bouncing through my brain: Tell me how this can be really happening. Tell me how our family got so messed up. Tell me how we can help him. Tell me where I went wrong. Tell me you’ll make sure nothing happens to him where he’s going, to jail, a place I can’t make myself think about…or stop thinking about.
I say none of it.
He nods briskly. “Thank you for your cooperation, ma’am,” he says.
He leaves, shutting the door almost gently behind him. I don’t look out past the sheers again, but I hear doors slam, cars start, drive off. The whole thing has taken less than five minutes. In his report, the trooper will probably write that the arrest was smooth, without incident. He might even wish they could all be so easy.
I stand by the door, listening to the silence. Finally, I set the card down on the foyer table and go back upstairs. In my son’s bedroom, the coverlet is thrown back on his bed and the room like a normal teenage boy’s: books and CDs and gaming stuff on the desk, rock-n-roll posters on the walls, a jumble of shoes by the closet, last night’s clothes left in the middle of the floor, dropped there when he pulled them off. Another day, I’d nag about that for the ten millionth useless time. Today, I put them in the laundry basket, straighten his shoes, and smooth the coverlet over his bed. I turn out the light and shut the door behind me.
I go back into my bathroom and turn on the faucet. I still need to floss.
R. D. Long is a fiction and creative nonfiction artist whose work has appeared in literary, regional and juvenile publications. She’s been the recipient of several artist grants and fellowships for her work in fiction. She lives in Delaware and is active in the Delmarva arts scene.