Last night my friends and I ended up surrounded by a couple of park rangers. We were camping at a relatively active ground and to be honest it probably wasn’t the best place to set up for the night. But it was our friend’s birthday and we didn’t really have the time or resources to make it happen anywhere else.
So mid-shotgun, freshly popped beer can in my hand, my index finger poised at the aluminum tab, came very bright flashlights and a stern voice telling us to stay where we are. Now this being real life and whatnot there were a few of us there who weren’t of age so they hassled us, ticketed the minors, and required that we empty out the rest of our alcohol because we were giving it to “children”. It felt like pouring liquid money out onto our prohibited wood fire burning off in the distance. My few sips of Riesling were used to douse the lingering smoke. It smelled awful when we finally finished pouring out the beer.
When I was sixteen, I had my nose broken by a police officer. He elbowed me in the face while he was strapping my arms and legs onto the stretcher in the back of the ambulance I totally didn’t need or request. Because I had refused medical service, I was deemed unfit to determine my own needs and therefore they were able to send for one anyway. A year later when we got the $900 bill for the “medical attention”, it burned hot with the blood in my cheeks.
Three armed cars and six fully loaded officers had us surrounded in the two bedroom apartment. By my shoulders, they dragged me handcuffed and barefoot through the glass from the window they’d broken as my cousin and aunt cried from the inside of the house. I was in pajamas and my uncle had called the police on my aunt as a means of vindictive revenge because she’d taken a bath too long the night before and they always had a sick and twisted relationship, filled with abuse, both mental and physical. My father, his brother, was furious when he came to find me in the hospital with a bloody nose, handcuffed to a bed and surrounded by police officers. I was detained for several hours while I waited to speak to the chief. I had serious back, shoulder, and neck injuries and I still hear my nose click when I wiggle it around. It took months for all the glass to leave the bottoms of my feet.
For a long time when I went to visit my mother, this memory haunted me. I know it’s not quite like the PTSD most soldiers experience when they come back from war but it was still freakin’ traumatic and it took me a really long time to refrain from shaking openly in front of the guards at visiting.
To this day, I still feel my pulse quicken as I stare at the uniforms processing me into the prison.
So when the park ranger told us that if we weren’t breaking the rules we had no reason to be scared, I told him that wasn’t true. That a police officer broke my nose for no reason and I had to live with that for the rest of my life and when he asked me why I felt like I needed to share that, I told him he shouldn’t make false statements based on nothing. So even though we were all breaking rules I would have been brought back to the same place in time, the same screams and tears I heard as the six officers arrested my aunt for a bath and the time when they put my mom in the back of a police car where she’d be shipped off to live for the next sixteen years.
The lady cop tried to say I had been a danger to the man who hit me and that his force was probably necessary to protect himself but all I did was look her in the eye and think how full of shit she was.
Don’t get me wrong, police are people too and the guards at visiting are actually surprisingly nice. I know there are a lot of good ones out there and I can’t say the exceptions prove the rule, but to be honest everyone has skeletons in their closet and I hope they think again before guessing someone’s tolerance to a uniform.