Set the scene: It’s lunchtime on a zippy little summer’s day. I’m driving home from swinging kettle bells in the appropriate black spandex attire, kinda zoned out from trying to get my lymph system moving. And even more zoned out from Lyme disease in general and the constant daily visitations from my dear friends, the symptoms.
(Note: The words the symptoms is particularly funny to say out loud when you sing it like the musical ditty to The Simpsons cartoon.)
So this is what suddenly happens: It’s a two lane road, shopping center draped in an invisible cloud of french-fry smell on one side, and a chain-linked, peeling-paint middle school on the other side. Traffic slows down both ways because, well—because it’s lunch and people do this thing called eat.
The Mercury Sable ahead of me is seriously grumpy.
I notice this because the Mercury enters the middle turn lane, gets blocked from turning by the river of cars, and then angrily swings right again and crashes into the car in front of it.
Full on fender-bender in real time. And I’m a real Honest-To-God witness.
I wasn’t even distracted or blinking.
I hear the sickening crack of plastic even though my speakers are pumping out 80’s music like a full-blown flashback. My jaw slackens just a bit as I watch a piece of broken plastic bumper pop up and soar toward the sidewalk like a demented Frisbee.
(Note: Who decided to switch from mostly metal to mostly plastic in car manufacturing? Because if I focus on the fact that I frequently hurl myself down speeding freeways in a plastic container I think I’ll freak out.)
The Mercury driver now has a critical moment of decision making. All the cars around have kinda frozen in shock, everybody is immobilized, and just when I expect to see the Mercury driver’s door swing open and the offender rushing out in all apologies and concern, wait for it—nope!
He’s going for the hit and run.
It’s lucky for Mr. Hit ‘N Run that his left-hand turn opens up as cars roll forward again. He zooms lickety-split through the gap.
I can pinpoint this as the exact moment in which I accidentally think I am a POLICE OFFICER.
I can prove this with the evidence that I suddenly put the pedal to the metal (or should I say plastic) and zoom off in hot pursuit of the perpetrator.
I don’t even have time to think, what am I doing?
Freeze the frame: Let me just state for the record that I have no training in law enforcement. And furthermore, I am driving a bright orange Subaru. Do cops drive orange vehicles while listening to eighties music in black exercise spandex?
I rest my case.
But Mr. Hit ‘N Run just broke the law. This is a real crime. Because hit and run is like totally a felony and suddenly my face is getting hot and I’m mad at this offender. He just destroyed another person’s property. How rude. It’s like I know this stranger personally and now our relationship is seriously on the rocks.
I zip through the split in traffic after him, my Subaru’s engine huffing, my eyes like binoculars because I swear to God I’m going to get his license plate number.
Yes, I am.
Right ahead of me a banana-yellow school bus is dropping off a herd of children. Wow, Mr. Hit ‘N Run slows down ahead of me, then when I get there I slow down, too—it’s like we’re all just normal driver’s here, nothing to look at.
I have a moment to flick off the blaring 80’s music.
Then he speeds up and I speed up. The neighborhood here’s all baby-stroller sidewalk and green-grass residential but I’m like racing the Grand Prix.
I’m trying to do two things at once: which is speed, AND think. Which is hard. I’m wondering how I will remember the offenders license plate when I get close enough to see it and then BAM, I’m close enough to see it because we’re both at a stop sign.
My hands are shaking when I scramble for a pen and find a scrap of gently used brown napkin from that tasty Chipotle restaurant.
I scratch his plate number in permanent ink beside a salsa stain. Gotcha! I’m a full-on detective now, I’m feeling all self-congratulatory. I’m ready to turn around and drive back, hand the gently used napkin to the victim of the hit-and-run, and feel like a Helpful Human Being.
Then Mr. Hit ‘N Run squeals away from the stop sign, only to brake hard a few seconds later and pull into a driveway and park. Now my jaw slackens for the second time. I could get a dental exam my mouth is so wide open.
I can’t believe it, he lives here? That makes us practically neighbors.
I know it seemed like I chased after him FOREVER, but we only went two blocks from the scene of the crime.
Is he like the stupidest criminal ever?
Okay, now my Lyme-ridden neurological system is going from shaking hands to full-on body tremors. Clearly, when in accidental POLICE OFFICER mode, I’m a mess. But this doesn’t occur to me.
The driver’s door swings open and Mr. Hit ‘N Run steps out in scuffed sneakers. He’s like somebody’s twerp baby brother with stringy, straw-colored hair falling over his bratty eyes and a too-big garage sale jacket all puffed up around him.
He’s got a cell-phone up to his ear and his lips are flapping.
All I can think is how pissed off I am that this guy is so irresponsible. He’s probably left some little old granny with whiplash at the scene of the crime and he doesn’t even give a shit. I’m so sick of people not giving a shit.
I can’t take it.
I stomp on my accelerator and pull up alongside his house, rolling my window down. My car can’t possibly be any more bright orange unless it catches on fire.
He glances at me, apparently for the first time, which lowers his IQ even further in my mind.
I roll down my window and shout, “I’m so pissed off at you.”
Freeze the frame: These words just come out of my mouth. There’s no filter. In my accidental moments of being a POLICE OFFICER, I really failed with the dialogue. Then I hear myself yelling that leaving the scene of a hit-and-run is a felony.
In the back of my mind I’m becoming vaguely aware of a nebulous warning from the past, some kind of advice I must have heard from a wise elder—oh yeah, when you witness a hit and run you are never supposed to CHASE after the perpetrator.
Right? Because he could have a gun. Or be completely insane.
Mr. Hit ‘N Run is cussing at me now, a slew of extraordinary spittle-induced verbiage, even as he explains that HE’S been the victim of a hit and run. Oh, nice try, idiot. That’s why your FRONT bumper is smashed.
“Get off my property,” he yells.
“I’m not on your property,” I counter.
“Yes you are.”
“You don’t own the sidewalk,” I say. “No one can own the sidewalk. The city owns the sidewalk.”
Mr. Hit ‘N Run is convinced he owns the sidewalk beside which my engine is idling. I really don’t think he does.
He’s coming closer and closer and pretty soon his spit is going to shower my face. Pretty soon he’s going to be close enough to touch me and I’m a sitting duck in the square frame of my driver’s window.
And at this point, my rationality alarm finally goes off. I managed to depress the accelerator with gusto and pull away from the curb. My accidental POLICE OFFICER mode is slipping away and I’m getting heart palpations as I escape.
My armpits are sweating.
I can’t breathe.
I drive back to the scene of the crime and no one is there. I’m clutching the gently-used napkin with the license number and there’s no one to give it to. I drive back and forth, scanning the road, the parking areas, everywhere.
No one even called the REAL police.
I hate that it smells like French fries.
I’m feeling like the stupidest person on earth right now.
I drive home. I can barely get my legs to walk in the front door. I sit on the couch and start crying because neurologically I can’t process anything stressful. Why did I do this to myself? My body is trying to calm down and it can’t.
It takes days. (Cue the musical ditty The Symptoms…)
When I’m able to leave my home again I drive by Mr. Hit ‘N Run’s house. I notice children playing in the side yard.
The Mercury is parked and the front bumper is fixed up.
And then yet another day the house is vacant—it was a rental. Car gone. Children gone.
And me? All I know is it was the strange day I accidently thought I was a POLICE OFFICER and argued about who owns the sidewalk with a man I never want to see again.
The Day I Accidentally Thought I Was A Police Officer © Valerie Brook 2016 Photo by Valerie Brook