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  • Writer's pictureNate Methot

Going to Jail Would Definitely Make My Day Worse

The following is an excerpt from my memoir, A Life Derailed: My Journey with ALS.



On Wednesday night—eight hours after receiving my ALS diagnosis—I had dinner with three of my closest friends. I thought it mattered what I said; I repeated the words in my mind. That was my first mistake. I tried to find the right moment. That was my second mistake. Whenever, however I opened my mouth, it would ruin the night. The good times would immediately disappear—replaced by tears, sadness, and disbelief.

 

We sampled beers, hung out in the kitchen and living room, ate whatever we ate, and—as was always the case—laughed a lot. It felt like all those nights we’d hung out since college, and the more time that passed, the less likely I’d ruin it. It felt warm and familiar, like the escape I desperately needed. With each drink, each laugh, each passing second, my will became weaker. I didn’t want to do it, and I buckled: I don’t have to.

 

My left headlight had been out a few days. I knew exactly which one to buy and how to install it, but I’d put it off. The headlight—and the forty-five-minute drive back to Stowe—should’ve been on my mind as I drank another beer and hit the (marijuana) pipe. It’s not that I felt pressure to partake—I could’ve been responsible. I could’ve told them about the headlight if I needed an excuse. I told myself I didn’t care about the consequences.

 

The failed attempt behind me, I got in my car around eleven. Ten minutes later, within view of the highway, I saw blue lights behind me. It felt like a badge of honor. Fuck it! I don’t give a shit! Let them throw me in jail! Drag me off in cuffs, I don’t care!

 

We’d been sampling beers—sharing a bunch of bottles between us—and I wasn’t sure how much I’d actually had. Would I seem drunk or stoned? What would happen if I did? It was tricky to know what drunk or stoned felt like; I didn’t know “normal” anymore. There was one thing I felt like I knew: if given a car-side sobriety test, I’d fail.

 

When the officer approached, I told him, “Yes, I know I have a headlight out.”

 

Then, unprovoked, my voice shaking, I added, “I was diagnosed with ALS today.”

 

“Today?”

 

“Yes, today.” I reached out my left arm, locked my elbow, and stared at my trembling hand.

 

He went about the usual routine, like a robot. I couldn’t tell if he believed me. Who would make up such a thing? How do you prove you’re not lying?

 

As he sat in the cruiser—its lights flashing in my eyes in the mirror—my mind raced. Even as I felt the invincibility of knowing my day couldn’t possibly get worse, my body shook with nervous energy—I couldn’t begin to control it. I flip-flopped my feelings: going to jail would definitely make my day worse.

 

He came back to my window, told me to fix the headlight, and sent me on my way. He never asked if I’d been drinking, smoking—nothing.

 

I could feel my heart pumping as I put on my seatbelt, started the car, pushed down the blinker, checked the cruiser in my rearview, and pulled away from the curb. I turned onto the highway and though there was traffic in both directions, flipped on my fully functional high-beams. I obsessively watched the miles tick by until finally, I reached Exit 10: Waterbury/Stowe.

 

Driving up Route 100, I had to make a choice: drive through Stowe Village or take my chances on the lesser-traveled Moscow Road. I knew the Moscow Road was a common speed trap (I could picture the cop sitting in the church parking lot of the twenty-five-mile-per-hour zone), but I couldn’t see driving right through the village. There were not always police on the Moscow Road; it was, in fact, the road less traveled. I can’t say that I made the wrong decision (I may have been caught either way), but a few minutes later, while closely following an SUV at twenty-eight miles per hour, a cop pulled out from the very spot I’d imagined and glued itself to my bumper.

 

The car followed me around the corner and up the hill, undoubtedly watching for a slip-up. Wracked with anxiety, I drove as if an instructor sat at my side, compulsively checking my speedometer against the signposts. The lights came on just before Stowe High School. As I would later confirm, they’d followed me for two miles—five minutes of fear-building.

 

I pulled into the high school parking lot, rolled down the window, and awaited another pleasant conversation. An officer appeared at each window, flashlights engaged. Startled and unsure of my actions (Should I roll the passenger window down? Who do I talk to? Where do I look?), I already knew this time wouldn’t go so smoothly.

 

“Do you know why we pulled you over?”

 

“Yeah. I have a headlight out. I was pulled over in Williston.”

 

“Tonight?”

 

“Yeah. A half-hour ago.”

 

They did their thing, took my papers—which were already out on the passenger seat—and walked back to their car. Nervous as before, I couldn’t help but think: This is such a nuisance. Though I knew there was a bigger picture, my mind was rationalizing again. I don’t give a shit. Damn it, I just want to go home.

 

I answered the usual questions when they returned (Where are you coming from? Where are you headed?) and, thinking it had done me some good the first time, told them of my diagnosis that morning. I’m not sure if they heard—or understood, or believed me—but it seemed to have no effect. I showed my shaky hand and tried to explain. They weren’t listening. I wanted to scream. Don’t you understand what that means?! It means I’m dying, you fucking morons! Look at me! Are you even listening?! It seemed they’d already moved on.

 

Things quickly escalated from there. They asked if I’d been drinking; I lied; I was told to get out of the vehicle. Standing in the parking lot around midnight, blue lights flashing in my face, I explained my diagnosis as I thought it pertained to the current situation. I would surely fail any sobriety tests, I told them. “I’m not normal; I can’t walk a straight line.” They didn’t say a word; I was presented with a Breathalyzer. I’d done this once before—as a teenager at a busted-up party where I was the pot-head designated driver and knew I’d blow zeros—but this time, I wasn’t so sure.

 

“Do I have to?” I asked sheepishly, unaware of my rights. “You can come down to the station.”

 

Fuck it.

 

I blew well below the legal limit, further proof that I could no longer accurately gauge my level of inebriation (and also that there is not an effective process for marijuana detection). I was also very fortunate. I’m sure they could have brought me in if they really wanted to see me in cuffs.

 

They immediately lost interest and allowed me back in my car. They sat and watched as I reapplied my seatbelt, started the engine, and flipped on the blinker to pull away from the nightmarish scene. My knee trembled wildly as I pushed in the clutch. I held it down and breathed deeply, trying to relax. You’re fine. Everything’s fine. Calm down. Breathe. I put the car in gear and shakily released the clutch, driving through the parking lot with one eye on the rearview. Expecting a tail that never came, I pulled onto the road.

 

I walked into a sleeping house that night. I didn’t tell my roommates what had happened. I got up and went to work in the morning.

 

I’ve never told anyone the full truth of what was sadly one of the most eventful days of my life.


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