Last night I was upstairs getting ready for work when I heard a loud bang outside. It sounded like a car crash.
I remembered that my daughter’s car was parked on the street. She was out with a friend but she could’ve come home and decided to pull her car in. Maybe she crashed into the house… again. Or maybe into another car? More likely someone crashed into her car. Or another car on the block? Or it wasn’t a car crash at all?
I went to the bedroom window, which was open because it was such a warm night, and I saw a man standing out in front of the house. Our neighbor was pulling out of his driveway. I heard the man ask ‘Is this your car?’ And my neighbor replied that it wasn’t and pointed to our house.
I called out of the upstairs window ‘Did somebody hit my car?’ And the man replied ‘I did.’ And then he looked all around, confused, and said ‘Where are you?’ I replied that I was upstairs and would be right out.
When I walked outside he was standing in the street near the curb, a gaunt man in his late sixties or early seventies, wearing jeans and a denim jacket. As soon as he saw me he said ‘I’m sorry. I misjudged.’ I told him it was all right and asked him if he was hurt? He said he wasn’t.
I walked around to the driver’s side of the car and saw the side view mirror on the street. He stood next to me as I surveyed the damage. He had sideswiped the car but it really didn’t look that bad at all. He said ‘I have good insurance. Let me go get my papers.’ As he spoke to me the smell of alcohol wafted over me. It was overpowering.
My heart sank. What might have been a simple exchange of names and paperwork was about turn into something else. A moral dilemma. ‘You’ve been drinking?’ I sighed out. Half asking, half stating; half knowing, half hoping it wasn’t true. ‘Yeah’ he replied, sounding ashamed and defeated. I let out a bigger heavier sigh. And like a concerned friend, I looked him in the eyes and said ‘You shouldn’t be driving. Why were you driving? What were you thinking?’ His eyes turned down as he said ‘I know. I know I shouldn’t’’ve been.’
‘Now what do I have to do?’ I asked him, already knowing the answer. ‘I have to call the police?’ I half asked. ‘Don’t I?’ He just stood there, and swayed a little bit. It was his turn to sigh. ‘Do what you have to do’ he said, as he turned and slowly staggered to his car to get his papers.
I told a curious concerned neighbor what had happened. ‘He hit Shannon’s car.’ ‘I thought I heard a crash’ he said. ‘And he’s drunk.’ I added. ‘Oh wow’ he replied. ‘I know, now I have to call the cops. I can’t let him drive away like this. Can I?’ He shook his head, while I called the police. Half reluctantly. Knowing I had to. Knowing what it might mean for this man.
Within minutes the officer arrived and asked some routine accident questions. As my drunken new friend fumbled for his papers I whispered to the officer that he had been drinking, while speaking universal sign language for drunk by raising an imaginary glass to my mouth and making a drunk face. ‘Are you sure?’ He whispered back. ‘Yes, he told me himself.’ I assured him.
He went to his squad car with our paperwork and called for backup. In the meantime the kid walked up to the house. ‘What happened?’ she asked. I told her, and her immediate reaction was to say ‘It’s okay. It’s just a car. It doesn’t look bad at all. And nobody’s hurt.’ (I love this kid!) To which I said ‘Yes. But he’s drunk.’ ‘Oh, wow.’ ‘I know, that’s why I had to call the police.’
When the other officer arrived he began asking a series of questions. And then he conducted a sobriety test in my driveway.
Let me tell you, the field sobriety test ain’t easy! It was like a yoga class right there. Walking in a straight line, with front heel touching back toes can throw anybody off balance. This guy definitely couldn’t hack it. Then he had to stand still, lift one foot off the ground and bring his knee up. Balancing there while counting one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand… My yogis have a hard time with that when they’re (presumably) sober!
When he had to close his eyes and tilt his head back it was all over. Even as the officer explained that part of the test I was actually afraid that this poor man would fall over and get hurt. But he didn’t last for even one-one-thousand. The officer then shined the flashlight in his eyes and asked him if he was also taking painkillers. The answer was yes. I should’ve realized that. He was so mellow, so honest, and so compliant. He was not at all dismissive or belligerent like a plain old drunk.
When they asked him to put his hands behind his back and told him he was under arrest for a DUI, my heart sank. I looked at my daughter, sitting there in the near dark on the front steps. ‘I feel so bad for him she said. ‘Me too.’ I said. ‘Me too.’
Shannon was right. For us, it was just a car. And the damage was relatively minimal. But she was wrong about one thing. Someone did get hurt.