Commentary: In Exile

by Will Doig
Published on August 17, 2006, 12:00am | Comments

When I was 20, I went with some friends to Hilton Head, S.C., for spring break. Someone's parents had a time-share there and we got it for free. It was to be a week of collegiate debauchery.

Toward the end of our stay there, it happened to be St. Patrick's Day. We were cruising around in our rental car when we spotted some sort of street party taking place in the parking lot of a mini-mall. It was a promotional event sponsored by Miller Lite. They were handing out free beers and carding no one. Like good college students mere months from being legal, we grabbed our plastic steins of green beer and began to drink.

Long story short, my boyfriend at the time and I were separated from the crowd by two guys who pulled badges out from under their sweatshirts and asked to see identification. When they found we were underage, we were handcuffed and put into a police car, driven long into the night to a remote, marshy area, transferred into an unmarked van holding half a dozen other handcuffed men speaking Spanish, taken to a jail in not-so-nearby Beaufort County, stripped and relieved of our possessions via Ziploc baggie, issued our mint-green Beaufort County Correctional Facility prison uniforms, and placed into solitary-confinement cells with doors with slots in them through which our next two meals were served. They told us there was saltpeter in the food to help prevent prison rape, to make us feel at ease the next day when we were transferred into ''general population,'' a large room filled with large men serving time for assault. During the hour we were allowed out into the yard, no one asked us to play basketball. I shared a cell with toothless redneck who quoted Bible passages to me from the bottom bunk.

Anyway, the whole thing was totally insane and we were locked up for a couple of days until our friends bailed us out. We pled guilty to underage possession of alcohol to a judge, who fined us $150 each and suspended our driver's licenses for six months. Something must have gone haywire, however, because unbeknownst to us, our licenses were never reinstated. Fast-forward several years and watch the Republicans find fun new ways to make life more annoying: George Bush is elected president, 9/11 occurs, and the newly formed Department of Homeland Security apparently synchs up the nation's DMVs. I receive a note in the mail from Massachusetts (where my license is from) telling me that my driving privileges are now revoked. Terrified that if I engage the process and try to get my license sorted out I'll be carted back to Beaufort, I do nothing. Who needs a driver's license? I think to myself. I'm a New Yorker now. I'm proud of my car-free existence.

That note from the DMV arrived approximately one year ago, and still I'm unlicensed to drive. When we get a rental on vacation, Carl does the driving. When visiting my parents, my mom is forced to tool me around town like I'm 15 years old. It's definitely become a chronic irritant, and like most minor irritants in my life, I've chosen to ignore it. This drives my mother, who is incredibly efficient and has never ignored anything, absolutely nuts.

Of course, the fear that attempting to get my license reissued will land me back in jail for 10 years on some technicality is relatively absurd. Still, relatively absurd fears are what our society is built on. I was once celibate for nearly a year after convincing myself that I'd contracted HIV from a guy who a) told me he was negative, b) wore a condom and c) fucked me for approximately four minutes. There was no rational reason to fear this. My brain's method of coping with my generalized anxiety is to load all of it into one specific, snugly packed, easy-to-understand fear and then focus on that to a disproportionate degree. It's easier to handle that way.

I used to work as a fact-checker at a glossy magazine. Some of the features I fact-checked were chock full o' facts -- hundreds of them, some making claims that would be considered libelous and legally actionable if they happened to be wrong. Oftentimes, the writer would seem to fixate on one particular fact as deadline drew near, asking me over and over if I'd checked it, how I'd checked it, what sources I'd called and exactly what research I'd done. It was easier for them to obsess over one particular sentence, to put all their anxiety about the feature into one specific fact. But that's no different than convincing yourself you know the beach because you stuck your head into it and scrutinized a single grain of sand.

Somehow, I finally realized this. My friend Ben told me to ''stand up for my rights.'' Our car accident in Seattle last week made me realize that I need to split the driving with Carl. My mom's nagging continues unabated. So last week, I pulled together all the old documents from the incident, Xeroxed them, stuffed them in an envelope and mailed them to the appropriate agency (the menacingly named Massachusetts Driver Control Unit). It's on its way there now. It's done. Don't laugh, but my palms were sweating the whole way to the mailbox.

Now that it's out of my hands, though, I feel the giddy lightness of inevitability. If I'm headed back to Beaufort County Correctional, the wheels are already in motion.

Will Doig writes from his exile in New York City. He can be reached at wdoig@metroweekly.com.

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