Another amusing hallmark in my distinguished life involves the first time I was read my rights.
I attended junior high school. Southwest, to be specific. Life was a mess. Another trailer had burned and so my family moved to Tontitown to live with a paternal cousin, Leta. I had left behind my best friend and his mom, who had saved me from my family more than once. I was still infrequently wetting the bed, mom and dad’s alcoholism was at a seeming crescendo, and my dad and his cousin Leta were having an affair, which they thought was secret. I was getting one horrible beating a week, minimum. (I think maybe my dad had a quota that only he knew about!)
I don’t remember which class it was but I was facing South, looking out the window and doodling. The classroom was on the outside of the building, on the front near those horrible holly bushes with thorns. (I was thrown into those horrible bushes more than once by bullies.) I was chewing grape Bubble Yum gum, which I had just bought on a payment plan from Bobby. Honestly, I was in a funk and not paying attention to anything. The teacher interrupted my thoughts by saying my name, evidently more than once. I was expecting to be in trouble for not paying attention and doodling. Instead, someone had knocked on the class door and asked to see me in the principal’s office.
I was confused. I didn’t know if meant I had done something bad. As I got close to the office, I could see a couple of police in the office. Due to my parents, my idea about the police up to that point was mostly distrust and anger. But what flashed through my mind was the hope that my dad was dead. I can’t help how that sounds -it is true. The image of the police officer almost convinced me that he had finally gotten so drunk that he had died driving. I knew that if dad were dead, I could get away from my mom, too. (Dad had been in several terrible drinking and driving incidents. He was driving the car in 1970 when my cousin was killed. He totaled a truck while we were living in Tontitown with Leta. Etc.)
When I was escorted into the office, they started asking me weird questions about my name, where I lived. They probably assumed I was an idiot at first because I didn’t want to answer questions without knowing where it was headed. I jumped to the erroneous hope that maybe someone had reported abuse at home. Instead, they started reading me my rights, one line at a time.”Do understand these rights?” No, I didn’t, but I said yes. I wondered where my brother was or where another adult might be. It seemed odd that no one on my behalf was present.
They began asking a lot of strange questions about checks, mailing addresses, alcohol, whether I had ever smoked cigarettes or anything else. There were a lot of questions. I could see that they were changing from aggressive to a little perplexed. They could clearly see that I was confused and way out of my element.
As they could see I was very confused, they finally told me that someone had stolen a stack of checks from my cousin Leta and had written several hot checks on the account. One of the police asked me, “Do you know who stole them or could have stolen them?” I looked right at him and said, “Probably (insert name here), she usually is at the bottom of everything like that. But it could be my mom and dad – they are always in trouble for drinking.” I’m paraphrasing, but that’s basically what I got out of it. The two police looked at each other in what I thought was surprise.
They then asked me at least 25 more questions about (insert name here), who her friends were, did she smoke, do drugs, etc. I was as honest as I could be. As the interview was about to end, one of the policemen asked me if there was anything else I wanted to tell them. I almost cried but instead of saying anything, I just said “no.”
I remember later mom and Leta have a screaming fight about the checks but I went out into the woods across the fence to get away from the nonsense.
I felt dirty, like I had been accused of something horrendous. I doubt whether they thought I was really involved. I think it was more of a fishing expedition. But it was strange being questioned by the police without someone else present while I was still in junior high school.