We’d been reciting it since we had first learned to talk, had spent years of school learning to shape them, form them. It’s been embedded in almost every person’s childhood, sung sweetly as a chant.
But I sat there listening to him recite the alphabet to the police, overtly turning his mouth at an angle so that his beer on his breath wouldn’t go straight into the officer’s face. A-B-C-D-E-F-G! I thought angrily, willing him to remember the song from childhood. My thoughts raced from thinking about whether I knew anyone that didn’t know the alphabet to my bank account. Did I have enough money to bail him out if it came to that?
“A-B-C-D-F,” he said, and instantly realized he’d made a mistake. “Sorry officer, I’m just nervous.”
“He gets like this when he gets nervous,” I promised the officer, collaborating some story I didn’t even know. In fact, Country and I had only been dating for a few months. Our lives foiled the others’, and in some sense that made it romantic. He, as the name suggests, grew up in the country, and was raised on hunting and recklessness. He was a Conservative, and in the many times I struggled to understand why I was answered with “Because my dad and his daddy are.” And then there was me, the bleeding liberal who had been a vegetarian for more years than I have fingers. I would never, ever understand hunting, not the kind for sport. Not the kind where children learned to end the life of an animal and to have their pictures taken holding up the necks. And I grew up in the suburbs outside of a city, a life he would never understand.
“A-B-C-D-E-F-G-I, Fuck!” He knew again, and my worry grew. Why had I allowed him to drive? Why had I gotten in the car? My mind flashed back to a time when, in high school, my boyfriend had flipped the car we were in while drunk driving and speeding. I thought to how time had slowed down as we hit the curb, as the car had rolled and rolled, to suddenly us hanging in the air by our seat belts. I had been dumb enough to make the same mistake again, by why? Did I think that they wouldn’t care for me if I didn’t get in the car with them? And why would I care enough for some guy who was willing to risk our lives?
“Please step out of the car,” the officer said, and Country slowly complied. He refused to make eye contact with me, and I wasn’t sure if it was out of embarrassment or anger. Just before we’d been pulled over, I’d made him promise to be careful driving the few short blocks from the bar to my apartment. And Country, in his own fashion, decided to speed. “But this is where all the cops are!” I’d protested, as we raced down the main street of town on a Friday night. And of course, as the words spit out of my mouth, flashing lights went off behind us. Country had tried to pull over and, in doing so, had driven onto a curb and barely missed hitting a telephone pole. Why did I think we had any chance of getting out of this one?
I tried not to show anticipation on my face, and instead sat calmly against the leather seats, arching my back so that I could watch in the side mirror. Country was doing surprisingly well, walking the narrow line without a single misstep, and, in his comic fashion, bowing before the police. He must have practiced these things, I thought. I knew he’d been pulled over many times before, always narrowly evading actual trouble. I tried to think back on how many times he’d been pulled over for this before, always told in humorous stories at the bar: the time he got pulled over in the golf cart, the time he drove into a ditch and through his neighbor’s fence, the time he flirted his way out of a ticket. He was devastatingly charming, and before these stories had always been the cause of uproar amongst our friends.
Really though, he must have practiced. Every step was precise, and his coordination was impeccable. My window was cracked slightly, and I could hear the break in the silence, “Ok, you’ve passed.” My stomach finally calmed momentarily, and they came back over towards Country’s car. I relaxed my face, set it so there was no trace of surprise.
“We should breathalyze you,” the officer said. I pounced: “But you can’t, you’ve already passed him on the physical without choice. You’re not allowed to administer that.” My thin amount of knowledge regarding the state’s law came from the fact that my thesis was being conducted using breathalyzers, though it must have seemed to the officer that I knew more than I’d presented. He hesitated a moment, but then asked me on what I’d drank for the night. “One beer, over four hours ago.” It was true; I’d been more interested in playing pool and watching basketball than going drink-for-drink with Country. The officer advised me to drive home and I did so. I hadn’t realized just how drunk Country was until he was trying to get his clothes off to go to bed. I had walked to the kitchen to get him a glass of water, and came back to find him sitting on the floor, pants around his ankles. The morning would find him back on the floor, this time in the bathroom, sheepishly promising me that it wouldn’t happen again.
Country and I broke up soon after, but I guess that this all stirred in my memory the other night. I had met a guy at the dog park last weekend when his lab started romping with my Willa. We fell into step, and found out that we have a lot in common. He’s an avid kayaker and runner who had rowed in college, and, like me, had a fondness for drooling labs. “I’m here every day at this time,” he said slyly. “Come meet me later this week?” In my usual way I was already looking for an excuse not to. “Just so that the dogs can play,” he finished. I ran into him two days later, and despite the fact that I was wearing huge sweatpants and a guy’s undershirt, he asked me to get drinks that night. We picked a bar and time before I left the park.
By the time that I met him, I could tell he had been there for a bit. I had walked the few short blocks to the bar and wasn’t late- he must have gotten there early. The server cleared his three glasses and took my order. We got along great, talking about how we had both gotten our labs from shelters and what it was like having an older brother. He made me laugh, but I couldn’t help feeling wary as his glasses lined up against my two beers. “Looks like you’re not much of a drinker,” he joked, eyeing my empty glasses. “Oh no, it’s just that I have to get up early tomorrow, and I don’t want a hangover,” I lied. In fact, I had nothing but a run in the morning and, to date, have never had a hangover.
He walked with me out into the parking lot, and I said goodnight. “Wait,” he said, grabbing my hand, “I’ll drive you.” And then I got the images of Country in my head. His face as he stepped out of the car. My fear as we almost hit the pole pulling over. “That’s alright, it’s only a few blocks.” I turned around before he could protest, but then flipped around to speak. “And you should call a cab.”
Perhaps I should have done more in the situation, perhaps I should have insisted that he get a ride home. But regardless, it felt good walking the few blocks home, even in my two inch heels.