My mother shined her headlights on the body, but he didn't budge. My stepmom called 911.
My husband, Dan, has always been a good man. The kind of husband who empties the dishwasher without being asked. The kind of man who helps an old lady with her groceries. The kind of friend that shovels your driveway after a snowstorm.
Dan was responsible above all else. He never missed a day of work. He diligently paid all our bills on time. He worked hard to provide for our family. But nobody’s perfect and I learned that the hard way when the image of a perfect husband shattered right in front of me.
It was before seven a.m. on an otherwise perfect early fall Sunday. I woke up to the ringing of the phone. I reached over to Dan’s side of the bed to nudge him awake, but he wasn’t there. It wasn’t unusual: Dan often slept out when he was working on cars at his best friend’s house, as he had done last night.
Even without my contacts in, I could make out the number on the caller ID as one I was unfamiliar with. If this was a wrong number waking me up, I was going to be royally pissed off. I groggily answered on the fourth ring. I heard Dan’s voice on the other end of the phone.
The words “I’m in jail” jolted me awake faster than a Grande iced espresso. There was a long pause, as though he expected me to say something. How could I possibly respond? I felt my hands begin to shake as I cradled the phone. I asked what had happened, which was more of a formality because I suspected the answer.
After 13 years, I knew his kryptonite. My husband liked to drink. On a normal weeknight, it wouldn’t be unusual for him to toss back three or four beers. It was the single thing in our relationship that we fought about: the frequency with which he drank, the money that he threw away on alcohol and the ramifications of something bad happening if he didn’t get himself under control.
He promised me over and over that he would get a handle on his drinking and I trusted him. Despite his problem, he rarely drove when he had more than two beers. This arrest couldn’t possibly have anything to do with alcohol. Turned out I was wrong.
He told me that he got nabbed for a DWI. By the time the words exited his mouth and reached my ear, I was boiling over with hate. I couldn’t understand how he could be so stupid. I immediately had a flashback of a recent accident I saw on the news: a drunk driver, driving the wrong way, crashed into a limo and killed a little girl named Katie on her way home from a wedding. The mother talked about how she cradled her daughter’s lifeless, decapitated body in her hands on the side of the road while she waited for the ambulance.
This story affected me tremendously. Did my husband hurt someone? Were there any injuries? The images of little Katie, limp in her mother’s arms, still wearing her flower girl dress haunted me. I copped an attitude and asked what exactly did he want me to do.
My anger caught him off guard. I could hear the tears being choked back when he spoke. He asked me to meet him in court. I think he expected me to play the role of the good wife, to be supportive and sympathetic. After all these years, he should’ve known me better.
I immediately began berating him. How dare he have the balls to call our house, wake me up and tell me that he got arrested and then expect me to want to help? He could sit and rot in there for all I cared.
For a second following my verbal ambush, I felt better. Then I felt like the worst wife in the world. His apology was choking him up and I could hear the pleading in his voice. I knew he must’ve been beyond scared. I knew that my scolding him wasn’t going to change anything. I tried to regain my composure.
I pressed him for the details, grabbed a nearby magazine and jotted down the time and place of his arraignment. He was being told to end his conversation and I told him I would meet him at the courthouse and that I loved him. I hung up the phone, though our conversation had already been terminated. I wondered if he heard me.
Several hours later, I walked into the courthouse. I felt relieved that it was a Sunday because it was virtually empty. There was little chance of us running into anyone we knew.
There is nothing quite like the feeling you get seeing your husband in handcuffs, still wearing the clothes from the day before. He was seated beside the other “innocent-until-proven-guilty” men. I thought how wrong it was for my kind, loving, responsible husband to sit beside all these lowlifes. Then a moment of clarity hit me: he is no different.
While he may not be a violent criminal, or even a bad person, he still broke the law. He could have done something irreparable to himself or someone else. His name was called to stand in front of a judge. I also approached, as a sign of support.
Because this was his first offense, he was released on his own recognizance. However, his license was suspended on the spot. We walked out of the courtroom together. There was a wall of silence between us. For the first time in our relationship, he was forced to be face-to-face with his problem. I hoped he was scared straight. I hoped a night in jail gave him perspective.
We drove home on the same stretch of highway where Katie died a few months earlier. I cried because I realized Dan could have been the driver who killed Katie, or worse, I could have been the mother who lost her child because of him. That kind of damage is permanent. Luckily, we were given a second chance, for better or worse.