I get my driver’s license back in 30 days. For the past three months, I’ve been Ubering to and from work — and telling my daughter our car is broken, even though it’s perfectly fine.
And with all the inconvenience and money wasted, I wake up thankful every day that I didn’t hurt myself or anyone else when I was pulled over and charged with a DUI.
My daughter was away for the night at Grandma’s and I had plans to meet some girlfriends for sushi. It was rare to get out as a single mom. While I was getting ready, I had two glasses of Pinot Grigio … maybe two-and-a-half. I was feeling happy and free, which should have been a red flag not to drive.
I learned in 12 hours of court-ordered Intoxicated Driving Resource Center (IDRC) class that my mind wasn’t thinking clearly; it was clouded with wine.
I thought I was OK because I made it to the sushi place without problems and ordered a big meal. We toasted with saké and a round of Kieran beers. Over three hours we talked about motherhood, politics, the Kardashians, and everything in between. We drank at least three more rounds of beer and split a giant dessert. Our bellies were full and we shut the place down, but not before one more beer. We paid the bill and proceeded to leave.
I had so much food and so many sips of water, I figured I was fine to drive.
That night, one friend walked home. Another had her husband pick her up. My friends begged me to call an Uber or drive home with them, but I wasn’t having any of that. I rushed to my car and drove off with Coldplay blaring through my speakers.
I rationalized that I was cool to drive. After all, I didn’t need to access any main highways, just back roads. But drunk people don’t think straight and I wasn’t being rational. I blew an amber light before it lit up red.
Suddenly, blue and red lights were like splotches of flickering, gloppy paint in my rear view mirror and a blaring siren was the loudest thing I ever heard.
“Ma’am have you been drinking tonight?” the officer asked.
“I had some wine with dinner,” I lied.
“How much?” he asked.
“Like a glass,” I lied.
“License, insurance, and registration, please,” he ordered.
I fumbled with my wallet to get my license out of the leather slit I kept it in. That night it felt like it was super glued in. I attempted to open the glove compartment to get the insurance and registration cards — with my seat belt still fastened. I laughed, struggling to reach the handle. I unclipped my belt.
“Ma’am, I need you to step out of the car to perform a field sobriety test,” he said.
I knew it was over and I wouldn’t be returning to my car.
I couldn’t say the ABCs without singing them. You have to say them. I remember singing “ello-meno-pee.” I couldn’t walk a straight line without shifting my body weight to one side. I was cuffed and put in the back seat of the cop car.
At the station, I learned the protocol was to monitor me for 20 minutes. Then, I’d have to submit to a breathalyzer test. (If I didn’t, I would be automatically charged as guilty.) During those 20 minutes, the cops were kind to me and kept me talking about my job and life. I thought I might beat the machine. I didn’t feel that wasted. I felt like those 20 minutes may have sobered me up.
I blew 1.5 over the legal state limit. I was charged and put in a jail cell without windows. They took my sandals because they had lace up strings and the cop called them a “suicide hazard.” This was the real deal. I was tipsy and in the slammer.
Panicking, I asked to use the phone, but I had to wait over two hours. I paced the box I was in, barefoot. My mind was racing with all the wrong things: How will I afford a lawyer? What will I tell my daughter? My family? How will I get home? HOW WILL I GET TO WORK ON MONDAY?
Finally, I was allowed to make a call. With careful thought, I called my brother. He was furious, but came to get me. We didn’t speak the entire ride home. “Take a shower and go to bed,” he said. “I hope you have a spare $10K, because that is what this is going to cost if you get a lawyer. My stomach sank. I felt so dizzy. Not drunk-dizzy, anxious-dizzy.
But in the shower, as I washed the prison cell off my feet, everything became clearer and clearer.
I had two glasses of wine at home; saké and beers over dinner. I can’t believe I put other people at risk by driving my vehicle.
How obnoxious of me to reject my friend’s offer to drive me home. I thought about my daughter who was 7 and obsessed with bubble gum flavored jelly beans, and what it would be like if I killed myself in a drunk driving crash … that I caused. The pain and shame she would endure forever.
I felt like a total loser. I cried under the covers in my bed until I fell asleep. When I woke up, I had a few seconds of peace before it all came flooding back.
I spent over $200 picking my car up at the impound lot that I had to walk four miles to get to. You don’t lose your license automatically when you’re charged. I was able to drive … until I wasn’t.
My brother was right. I spent over $10K on my lawyer, court fees, and the DMV surcharge (I’m required to pay the DMV $1K for the next 3 years).
The prosecutor wanted to give me the maximum penalty: a 7-month license suspension, total of 12-hour IDRC class, and an interlock.
An interlock is a car breathalyzer designed to prevent anyone under the influence from driving the vehicle. It requires a breath sample to be submitted below a preset state limit before it will allow the driver to start the vehicle.
My lawyer successfully argued this was an isolated incident. I had no prior run-ins with the law. I had a college degree, career, and child — seven months without a license would seriously impact my financial ability to provide for her. I should have thought about this before my fun night out on the town.
We won the trial. I got a 3-month suspension, 12 hours of IDRC class, and no interlock.
Was I relieved? I don’t know what I was. I had to hand my driver’s license to a court official that day. I owed the town almost $800 in fines.
Now I had to concoct a story about my car’s engine being broken. My car was at the auto body shop (but really my brother’s house). I explained we’d walk to school like we always do, but it was easier to take an Uber to things like ballet class and the store, rather than waste money on a rental car. It would take three months because they had to build a new engine. I felt like trash lying to my child, but she was 7 and believed me. Every Uber driver became her friend. She delighted in wondering what type of car was coming.
One fun night and reckless decision swirled in my stomach like a swarm of wasps every time I slid into a pine-scented Uber.
I took the IDRC classes seriously — it was like AA for six hours a day. I am not an alcoholic or drug addict. I do not drink every single day or do drugs, but I was in class with people who did, some of which were there on second and third offenses. I didn’t judge them; I was one of them.
I was in a run-down building in a bad part of town, and was forced to remain there for six hours for two days straight. It felt like jail. The air conditioner roared and dripped water. My stomach was in knots. All the time my daughter was having a weekend slumber party at my sister’s house.
I kept my head down. I listened intently to the lectures, one of which stuck with me and always will: a drunk driver struck a car. Mom and Dad were OK, but their 4-year-old was not. She is paralyzed from the neck down forever. The thought that I could have hurt my daughter or anyone disgusted me. We watched movies on what alcohol does to the body and brain.
We watched a film starring Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, called Smashed. It was about a man and his wife, who were both alcoholics. When the wife decided to get sober, their marriage fell apart because her husband wasn’t game. The takeaway? Alcohol can and does ruin relationships. I know my brother looks at me differently. The few people I told do, too.
When I completed the classes, I thanked the counselors. They told me they never wanted to see me back there again. I promised that was a deal.
Getting a DUI was the worst thing that happened in my life. Though it’s not considered a felony in my state, it haunts me.
I essentially gave my vacation fund to a lawyer, the state, and the DMV. My daughter and I get on an airplane every summer and go somewhere sunny and sandy and eat giant waffles in bed. But not this year. “What’s a staycation, Mommy?” she asked. In my head I answered, “Your mom is a screw-up.” That’s a staycation.
In 30 days I apply for my new driver’s license. I won’t be smiling in the photo.
I hope everyone reading this knows people who get DUI’s are not all stereotypical alcoholics with priors, or irresponsible college kids.
They can be 30-something mommies driving overpriced SUVs with master’s degrees, careers, and little kids.
*Ana McGuire is a pen name to protect the writer’s child.