All of us make terrible mistakes
Ever done anything phenomenally reckless, immature and stupid, but then you didn’t die? And nobody around you died? Nobody so much as went to Urgent Care, let alone the hospital? And then, years later, from the vantage point of a sage, mature adulthood, maybe you laughed uproariously together about the memory of the reckless stupidity? Whee! Wasn’t that a rip! Oh, those were the good ol’ days!
My college roommate was a Flagstaff, Ariz., police officer. I used to do ride-alongs with him. Once I was sitting in the passenger seat of the patrol car, watching my roomie grope for the radio microphone with his right hand, because his left arm was choke-holding Mr. Perp who was resisting arrest. Mr. Perp’s peeps were looming in an ever-tightening, ominous circle toward Officer Roommate. Finally, in a voice ironically calm given the circumstances, Officer Roommate said simply, “Steven, call for backup.”
“David 30,” I said, because that’s what my roommate always said. “Go ahead, 30,” said dispatch. “Bob’s in a fight, and needs some help here,” I said.
You’ve never seen anything like it. It looked like a Fourth of July fireworks display coming over the hill. Pretty sure every patrol car in Flagstaff was there in 90 seconds, with lights and siren. Plus two Highway Patrol cars pulled off Interstate 40 and showed up. And a sheriff’s car. It was a law enforcement convention. I was told later that when a citizen ride-along calls for backup, it really gets their attention down at the station.
Anyway, the once-ominous perps instantly transformed into ubercooperative citizens. Mr. Perp’s arrest was punctuated with a face-first, airborne arrival into the back seat of our patrol car. I recall the sound he made was “whump, thud.”
One night, Officer Roommate and I played some pool and drank some beers at Monte Vista Hotel. Got a little buzzed. We decided it would be a worthwhile social science experiment to walk to the police station and breathalyze ourselves. In the ’70s, Arizona law defined driving under the influence as .10. I tested .05. I was stunned. What a life lesson! Here I was, not “arrestable.” Not chargeable. Not by half. But no way did I have any business being behind the wheel of an automobile!
But that’s just background. Back to reckless, immature stupidity.
It’s 1976. I’m 19. In the wisdom of the day, the fine state of Arizona had already granted permission for me to be drinking since my 18th birthday. And drinking is what my friend and I were doing at Alpine Pizza. Drinking and washing it down with pizza. My roommate, off-duty, joined us.
Time to go home. The campus is about a mile from here. And I’m a little unsteady.
Not sloshed. But definitely impaired. So, Officer Roommate said he would drive me home. I decided — and, looking back, this astonishes me — that the most important concern was not being able to get my car back to the Tinsley parking lot. Officer Roommate decided — and this, too, astonishes — to accede to the hierarchy of my concerns. Yes. Getting my car back to the lot is a lot more important than our lives, the lives of those around us, me going to jail, not to mention Officer Roommate’s career.
Thus, our post-adolescent hamster brains resolved for me to “be very careful” while driving my car slowly (but not so slowly as to attract attention) behind Officer Roommate’s car. And we did. And no one died.
It’s the one and only time in my life I’ve ever driven a car under the influence. And, this week, while reading about Dallas Cowboys player Josh Brent, I was feeling the weight of some appropriate humility and shame.
Josh’s teammate and treasured friend Jerry Brown died in Josh’s car last week. Josh faces charges of intoxication manslaughter. Josh is guilty of driving the car. Jerry, guilty of getting in it.
I didn’t kill anyone in 1976, and it’s not because I’m a better person than Josh. Just capriciously, whimsically luckier.
The memorial service was last Tuesday. The press says that Josh and Jerry were more like brothers. Josh, out on bail, attended the memorial. Stacey Jackson, Jerry’s mother, invited Josh to ride with her to the service.
Wow. A grieving mother, still with a core of compassion for a man whose phenomenally reckless, immature and stupid moment cost her a son. And himself a friend.
I condemn the behavior. But I won’t condemn Josh. I am Josh. Just a luckier version.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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