Failure to Disperse
The phone call came in late the night before, and in the pre-dawn light, I drove over on an almost deserted Bay Bridge from Oakland, my Google map clutched in one hand, the steering wheel gripped in the other. With the headlights on in the car, the world seemed almost normal, but when I’d parked and stood outside my car on the cold sidewalk, the lone yellow streetlight was barely enough to see through the fog that cupped the alley like a palm.
But I had to move. I had to get going.
I ran down the alley, my purse swinging behind me, the 5 am San Francisco air wet and thick. The alley was long, walls of brick and stone on either side of me, the whole world echoing, my feet and heart pounding loud. I huffed past many small doorways and open windows that stared at me with dark, blank eyes.
Who was watching me?
I kept running. Ahead of me, Bryant Street and light and the massive, monolithic police station. But in the darkness until then, I wondered, how many rapists could hide in the shadows of buildings? I breathed hard, clutched my purse tight. How will anyone know where to look for my dead body?
My heels clacked on the pavement. Why hadn’t I worn my running shoes?
Sweat slipped down under my collar. Two seagulls flew overhead. I might die, I thought, right now, before I can fix things. But I didn’t have too much time to imagine my imminent death because I needed to get to the bail bonds office, now, soon, before court opened for the day.
At the intersection of the alley and Bryant, I stopped, feeling safer, people driving by, the world awash in streetlight. Where to? I wondered. Where to?
I looked right, I looked left, a Keystone Cop move, and then I saw the brilliant fluorescent sign. Aladdin Bail Bonds. Sighing, my lungs so heavy, so heavy, I turned right, ran to the office, and whipped open the door, stepping inside, surprised to see a woman smiling at me.
She was on the phone, but she waved me in, and I walked to her desk, sat at the chair across from her and filled out the form she pushed to me even as she talked felony and misdemeanor to someone on the other end of the line.
The woman wore a name tag that read “Moe.” Moe with an E.
“Hon,” Moe kept saying, the desperate voice on the other end a constant whine. “Hon. Listen, just tell me what he’s facing . . . Yes . . . His wife. Well, she’s on the edge. Actually, she’s off it.”
I didn’t want to be on, over, or off the edge, but I could see it, sharp and brittle and right in front of me. I wasn’t a wife but a mother of a person who needed Moe’s help, and I scratched out the answers to questions before me. Name. Relation to the arrested. Financial commitment.
Moe hung up the phone, smiled at me. “Hi, there. I’m Moe,”
I nodded, blinking, my pen stalled at question 8. What were all the charges?
“So,” Moe said. “Coffee?”
I put down the pen, slid the form toward her.
“Opium?” I asked. “Or Demerol will do.”
She laughed and took my proffered form, reading quickly and turning to her computer.
“Long night?” Moe asked.
“A long 23 years,” I said, knowing that my story wasn’t impressive or interesting, certainly not to her. Who hadn’t been here, really, sitting in this chair at 5 in the morning? What was the big damn deal? We all have our 5 in the morning bail bonds experiences, or the approximation, and I should put on my big girl panties and shut up.
But I couldn’t. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how to do this part.
She clicked away, reading my form again, asking me questions. The bright office light shone too brightly for 5 in the morning, the black outside sky slowly turning to gray. My body hummed with a strong current of anxiety, and I was breathing a little too fast, as if I were still running down the alley. How else would I feel? I never really expected to be sitting both slack jawed and wired in front of a clerk in a bail bonds office on a late winter morning. It never crossed my mind, really, that I might one day be in San Francisco, having parked in a dark alley to find this very office. Who knew that my oldest son Zachary would be arrested yet again for protesting the war--but this time held over night with the promise of many more days--charged with nine felonies, one being carrying a concealed deadly weapon, the slung shot and the rocks he had in his bag.
Mostly, I never thought I’d be here alone, listening to the clerk read out the charges that she’d found listed on some database: conspiracy, resisting arrest, failure to disperse, and on and on.
As Moe clicked through the files on the screen, I wondered what Zachary was doing this very moment. Was he asleep in his cell? Was he hungry? Was he alone or with his anarchist friends? Or was he with strangers who would do things to him that would change his life forever?
I shook my head, forcing the images to the corners.
All his life, I’d tried to protect him, keeping him from harm. But now he’d gone to a place I couldn’t follow; I was stalled, sitting on my ass at the perimeters of where he was now. He was inside the building across the street, and I was sitting with Moe in a too bright office. He’d moved on and away, and I was still holding onto the boy who cried in my arms because his eighth grade girlfriend broke up with him. I was still holding on to my baby, the one with the dark, bright eyes.
“Hmm,” Moe said. “These felonies look like wobblers.”
“Wobblers?” I asked.
“Could go either way. Felony or misdemeanor. They might let him off if they wobble right. But they might not. And it looks like bail is posted at 40,000 dollars.”
“The pro bono lawyer told me that he didn’t want to be bailed out,” I said. “And his father seems to think that keeping him in jail will be a good lesson. That he—“
“You son will want out,” Moe said. “Trust me. It could be 10 days between the hearing and the trial.”
Of course, bailing people out was her business, but I did trust her.
Moe picked up the phone. “Let me call over to see where he is.”
I sat back, looking over toward the police station, the fog slowly lifting, the sky turning gray. Zachary was no longer the boy I’d raised. In the years since he’d graduated from college, he’d become an anarchist, living in a communal anarchist house, with communal everything, including, it appeared sometimes, girlfriends.
But who was I to remark on change? I never thought I’d be 46 and single, sitting here without Zachary’s father, making these kinds of judgment calls on my own. No one—including myself—would have predicted that I’d leave a perfectly good husband, put her photo up on dating sites, go on sad date after date after date. Who knew I’d be a woman who could see the last half of her life pretty clearly, and it wasn’t necessarily going to be a barrel of laughs.
Moe chatted with someone she seemed to know over at the station, and I sighed, leaning back against the surprisingly comfortable chair. Just a few years ago when I contemplated the future, I conjured up a life with my husband of over twenty years in the house we bought in Orinda, California ten years before. Our two children would come home and not get arrested. Hopefully, they would come home telling us of their great successes, their true and undying loves. One day, there would be grandchildren, and my husband and I would turn into older versions of ourselves. We would both keep teaching—students so easy to understand now, teaching a skill we carried in our hearts--until we could one day retire with our full pensions. We would travel during the summers, finding new and exciting places to go to. I would keep writing and publishing books. He would play tennis and go on hikes and have drinks with his cronies at the local bar in the afternoons after long sets of doubles. Our incomes would grow slowly and steadily. Our bills would decrease. We would just sort of slide into that second half of life, and all would be dandy. No jails. No pain. No stress. I would stay happy, happy in life and happy in my marriage. I would always love my husband, never wanting anything or one but him. I wouldn’t fall into despair.
“Your son’s hearing is at 10,” Moe said.
“The wobblers?” I asked, hoping they’d all fallen down.
“Sorry. Nine felonies,” Moe said.
Nine felonies and no house in Orinda, at least not for me. No husband, either, the divorce having gone through the December before. The teaching was there, the writing was there, but for the past four years, everything had seemed as though I’d plopped down on an alien planet. I had on my fancy spacesuit, but it didn’t fit very well. It was hard to breathe, and I was scared that at any moment, I’d spring a leak and float away into the universe, completely untethered, nothing but stars and quiet, and an infinity of dead quiet space.
“What should I do?” I asked her. “What am I supposed to do?”
She smiled, clearly having been here before with other worried mothers and various family members. She shrugged, and then she smiled again, showing me all her very white teeth.
“You’re going to go to the courthouse and go to the hearing. You’ll meet the lawyer and find out if the bail stays put at 40,000. And then you will come back here.”
“What else?” I asked, sure that I would never know enough about any of this, any of it at all. I hadn’t known what to do for four years, and this was the capstone of all my failures, the symbol of how I had screwed up everything.
I hadn’t slept since the lawyer called at 11.30 the night before, and I could almost feel Moe’s cool desk against my forehead. I so wanted to bend down and press my face against the Formica and never move again. I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, but I already had and it was too late to change my mind about any of it.
“Listen,” Moe said. “This is going to be over by tonight. Trust me. Tomorrow will be another day.”
I looked up at her, wishing the tears from my eyes but it was too late.
“You are going to do what you need to do.”
Moe pulled out papers from her drawer, additional forms I would have to fill out before Zachary could be released. She handed me a map of the courthouse and explained in detail the process from the moment the judge heard the case. She told me where to re-park my car and where to get a good cup of coffee for my long wait before the hearing.
I sat up straight, signed my name a few times, and arranged to meet her back here after the hearing.
And then just like that, like everything in the past four years since I left my husband, the day pressed on. I did what I was supposed to do. Jessica
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org