I get really nervous around police officers: “dead hooker and a bag of cocaine in the trunk” nervous. This started when I was in preschool.
One day at the aforementioned preschool, we had “safety awareness day” like all schools do. A policeman came in and talked about the things that the police do for our community. I grew up in a very wealthy, suburban community so while I don’t remember his exact speech I imagine it went something like this: “we protect children and dogs from the crazy drivers that choose to go more than 5pmh over the speed limit, we test the quality of your donuts, and we come to your schools and give you cool paper hats.” I say this not to make fun of the police officers in my home town, who actually do hard, valuable work, but to make fun of the fact that my city promoted “protecting the innocent minds of children” to the point of absurdity. You couldn’t tell your child that Santa wasn’t real without having a grief counselor on speed-dial.
So at the end of the speech, when the policeman explained that there was a special number we could call “in the event of an emergency” he didn’t bother to elaborate. He left it as “you can dial 9-1-1 if you are in danger, hurt, need help, or feel unsafe.” Keep in mind that he was talking to a classroom of kids under the age of 6.
Unfortunately for Mr. Policeman, I love and always have loved to apply my newfound knowledge as quickly as possible. So when my dad was late coming home from work I decided that the police could help me. My mom was upstairs giving my brother a bath. Instead of waiting to ask my mom to help me call the police, I decided I’d be brave and do so myself.
I dialed 9-1-1. It rang and a woman answered. I got scared and hung up. I was a really shy kid. I sat there for about three minutes. I dialed again. A different voice answered. I got nervous and hung up again. I did this eight times. Eventually, I accepted the fact that I was too afraid to talk to the police and went upstairs to play with my model dinosaurs and horses. I was a cool kid.
About ten minutes later there was a knock on the door. My mom answered it. I heard her yell “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? WHY ARE YOU HERE?” really, really loudly. I got scared and hid under my brother’s bed. Eventually, five sets of feet entered the room. A face and a flashlight looked under the bed. They coaxed me out and brought me downstairs.
My mom was sitting, handcuffed, at the table. This was the first big clue that something was wrong. One of the cops was holding my two brothers. They asked me to sit down. They asked if I knew who called them. I stuttered out that I had called them because I needed their help; I wanted them to bring my dad home from work. They asked if there was anything dangerous in the house and if I felt safe. I said yes even though my mom looked ready to kill me. This was the day I learned that if you repeatedly call the police and hang up, they assume the worst and send not one, not two, but FIVE squad cars and an ambulance to the house. Some of the officers looked like they were biting back laughter, but the oldest and meanest looking explained that wanting my dad home from work wasn’t the kind of “need help” that they meant and that I should never call them again. He didn’t say only to call in the event of x, y, and z – just to never call again. Period.
After this event, I avoided the police at all costs. When I was really little, this meant I would run away when I would see them. I would hide in bathrooms at school and refuse to go into donut shops. When I got older and a little less dumb this fear manifested itself as feelings of discomfort and guilt. This brings me to Kumamoto-ken Japan, 2012.
After my hair-cut adventure, I met up with my co-workers for a barbeque. The plan was to not drink since I drove myself there (it’s illegal to have anything other than a 0.00 BAC in Japan and operate a vehicle). However, one of my co-workers who wasn’t drinking insisted that he could drive my car home because he had walked and lived only a few blocks away from me. Beer sounded good, so I relented and drank one beer. I repeat, I drank ONE beer.
After a few hours I realized that this particular co-worker had disappeared. I asked around and the consensus was that he had probably forgotten and left. I asked if it was okay for me to leave my car at the field and walk home. They said yes but that someone would drive me since I’m a young lady and all that. I said sure. The night itself was really fun and I spent some time debating the pros and cons of MACs and PCs. My Japanese isn’t really that great – it just so happens that most of the words for “computer-ey things” are the same in Japanese and English. I felt pretty cool. We also talked about the upcoming US election and I was reminded, again, that a lot of people follow the politics of other countries. We talked about how I wished this was more common in America. This night was a major success because it was one of the first serious, deep conversations that I was able to have in Japanese. We were only able to discuss the tips of those icebergs because of my abilities, but boy was I proud.
At the end of the night my supervisor dropped me off. I walked up to the door, dug for my key, and realized I didn’t have it. It was in my car, which was two miles away. I tried to call my supervisor back but her phone was off. I sat down on my porch and contemplated walking back. As far as people go, I feel very, very safe in my village. However, my village is also filled with wild boars, monkeys, and other critters that go bump in the night. I decided I didn’t have the energy to successfully run away from a feral dog or pig, so I started calling people in my phone book.
Eventually, my fantastic friend who we’ll call Seattle answered her phone. She had been sleeping but insisted on coming to get me anyway. I downloaded and played a few games of Sudoku on my phone. Seattle arrived and we headed off into the night to retrieve my house keys from the car. We winded our way through the goonies’ back roads and up a very small mountain. We turned on to the road and were met by a small blockade and a police officer.
I hopped out of the car and walked up to one of my bigger fears: a policeman. He rolled down his window. “Good evening!” I began, “I forgot my house keys. They are in my car. I cannot drive because I drank, but may I go in and get them?” He smiled and said yes. I jogged to my car and he followed me. I retrieved my keys and relocked the door. The police officer rolled down his window and asked if I’d like a ride back to the barricade. I said yes and hopped in.
I don’t know how similar Japanese police cars are to American police cars – or how many people get to go for a ride in the front seat. The ride lasted for all of two minutes which gave me just enough time to notice there were a lot of labeled buttons that I couldn’t read. We reached the barrier; I hopped out, and rejoined Seattle in her car. At the end of the day, the whole mishap led to a good story and great bonding time with a good friend.