The Essay is a daily personal story submitted by a reader. Got one to tell? Check out the guidelines here.
Three years ago I was caught speeding. I wish I could say it was a garden-variety ticket incident, where you pay your fine and carry on, albeit with a lighter foot on the gas pedal. But I can’t. Mine was a much more remarkable experience, with an outcome that blew me out of the water or, more aptly, off the road.
It happened one evening in August, just as the sun was setting beyond golden-hued fields spreading for miles around us. As I pulled over, I distinctly remember brilliant rays of sunlight striking the dusty dashboard of our minivan while I gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles, my heart racing.
Maybe there had been a mistake.
Until that point, our trip home from the cottage had been pedestrian. Aside from a detour for construction, we’d travelled smoothly on roads I knew like the back of my hand.
But a glance in my rear-view mirror at flashing lights affirmed my worst suspicions. The highway was barren; he wasn’t after anyone but me.
From the backseat came the puzzled voice of my two-year-old son asking if we had stopped to look for tractors. In a shaky voice, I told him no. No tractors tonight, sweetheart. He asked for a snack, since we didn’t appear to be going anywhere. Reaching for some crackers, I tried to remember what had transpired a few moments earlier.
There had been a program on the radio about a Russian author. I’d been driving fast over the crest of a hill. I’d wondered if my husband, who was driving home in our second vehicle with our older son, had taken out the kitchen garbage before packing up. Pause. Rewind. I had been driving fast. Looking back, I wish a bag of stinky, maggot-infested garbage had been my biggest worry.
The blows came quickly. A police officer informed me I was being charged with racing. Incredulous and without thinking, I protested. Yes, I understood I had been driving fast. But didn’t the term racing imply a competition? I had been the only vehicle on the road. He then informed me this charge fell under the serious category of “stunt driving.” Aghast, all I could conjure were monster trucks plowing into each other to roaring cheers in a stadium.
One look into the officer’s steely eyes, however, confirmed this was just the beginning of my hellish education as a speed demon.
My first marching order was to call someone to pick up me and my belongings. The tow truck was on its way. Tow truck? Hold on, sir. Had I missed an important memo? Could I not just receive my ticket and go merrily on my way? My son’s bedtime was looming and his patience was disappearing as rapidly as the setting sun.
Desperate, I called my husband. But his cellphone was off and he had yet to arrive at our house. Fortunately, I reached a friend and courageously held back tears as I explained my predicament. Then, I stepped red-faced onto the gravel shoulder, my pregnant belly swaying before the officer as I unloaded the contents of our van and held my son’s face away from the dust that swirled as a truck cruised by.
Our van landed at an impoundment lot in somebody’s backyard in the countryside. There it stayed for seven days.
Driving home with my friend that night, I began to cry. I felt stupid and careless. I felt like a bad mother and an even worse citizen. I was sucker-punched in the stomach by guilt and embarrassment. This was the sort of idiotic thing other people did. Not me.
My husband searched the Internet to see what we were up against. It wasn’t pretty. If convicted, I could lose demerit points, pay a hefty fine, lose my license for up to two years and be imprisoned for up to six months. Not to mention the sobering fact that most insurance companies aren’t keen to insure someone who, as my husband joked, pulls a stunt like that.
That week we hired a lawyer. We shopped for new insurance. We checked our bank account. Too embarrassed to explain, I cancelled plans for a trip to the beach with friends by coming up with a silly excuse. I avoided eye contact with our neighbours.
Eventually, we told family and friends. Most people reacted sympathetically and countered with tales of their own speeding adventures. Some told me to slow down, why rush. Others had emphatic I-cannot-believe-you-did-that attitudes. The reality was I couldn’t either. I wished I had a valid and reasonable explanation for driving so fast. But I didn’t. There had been no emergency, just a momentary lapse in judgment.
Months later, a judge reduced my charge to a very expensive ticket. Between the fine, towing costs, vehicle suspension, insurance and legal fees, we lost a small fortune. And I learned a hard lesson. Life is about choices and sometimes we make less than stellar ones.
We now have four children and before long they’ll be jockeying for the keys to the family van. I’ll be the first to tell them to drive slowly and, if they do receive a ticket, the last to say, “I told you so.”
Kathryn Yorke lives in Elmira, Ont.