This is exactly what happened, pretty much word for word. Unlike with my usual adventures, this one has 911 tapes to prove it.
Just before seven Saturday night, I heard a shrieking of tires like you sometimes hear when I am driving, except I was in my living room. And I was not driving. I looked towards the front window to see what was causing the noise, and saw a car headed directly towards me.
Remember when I said that bed bugs is the worst thing that can infest your house? I take that back. A car infestation of even one would be Not Good.
I started backing away from the picture window, but before the car reached us it ran into a concrete retaining wall which was originally built for retaining dirt. Turns out it also retains cars pretty well. I raced out--pausing for just a moment to duck into the kitchen and grab my cell phone.
My heart was sinking as I approached the car. The airbags had deployed, and I couldn't see any movement. The doors were open, I walked around to look in… nobody. Two teenaged girls were standing, dazed, looking at the car.
"Do I call 911? Is anyone hurt? Where are the people?" I asked. The girls said that no, I didn't need to call 911, and that they had been the ones in the car. They were fine. Which is incredible because they had been going very fast, and the car was a wreck. I'm telling you, not a scratch on those kids. If you care about safety, the make and model that will keep you safe in a crash is definitely the--white kind.
"Come on inside," I said, "Let's call your parents."
"No," said the one girl, "We'll call them from… over there." and they started to leave. I looked at Gary, who'd just arrived, to see if he thought they were okay to be walking, after that crash. He made the face he always makes to indicate that there are no spinal injuries.
As they walked away, it began to dawn on me that something wasn't quite right. I turned off the car, and picked their cell phone out of it, thinking that once they were done panicking about what their mom was going to say, they'd come back for the phone. And if they didn't, we could use it to identify them.
I figured it was not a 911 situation, but then remembered that I'd promised myself based on previous experience that whenever I figured something was not a 911 situation I would let the 911 operators decide. Because I have the absolute worst judgement you have ever seen in an emergency. Worst. Judgement. Ever.
I called in, and summed things up for the operator, who said "And they just ran off?"
Me: Yeah, but they aren't hurt. Just scared.
Operator: Right. What direction were they headed in, and what did they look like.
Me: They went to the park. One had blond hair. But don't worry, they're okay.
Operator: What else can you remember about them?
Me: Um… (pause) That's really it. (another pause)
Operator: You can't even remember the hair colour of the other girl? Or what they were wearing?
Me: I'm sorry. I'm not good with clothes. But hang on, I'll just nip over to the park to check. They're still there.
Operator: Don't put yourself in any danger… (my perception was that she meant this like people sometimes say "oh, don't bother tidying up…" but they don't mean it at all).
Me: It's okay. There's a bush. I'll hide behind it. They won't see me. I'll be discreet.
The two girls were arguing loudly. I took a good look at them and then headed back to the car, thinking--I swear--that I didn't want to be rude and get caught staring.
As I was walking back to the car, I suddenly heard two sets of footsteps running up behind me, and I--startled--let out a bloodcurdling shriek.
"MA'AM!!!" said 911 operator, since my clever cover of hiding behind a bush was clearly not panning out. She kept repeating "Do not put yourself in danger", which they totally have to say for liability reasons.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm fine--they just startled me." I said. I'm pretty sure I apologized to the girls, too--I remember feeling like I didn't want to be rude. But they did not seem to be very focussed on me. They ran for the car, and began rummaging around in it.
"Oh, they came back," I told the 911 operator, "I guess it's nothing to worry about. Do you want me to help you call your parents?" (This was directed at the girls).
The two girls totally gave me the cold shoulder. This is what high school girls have always done when I am around. I didn't take it personally because they didn't want to talk to the 911 operator, either. They just kept rummaging around in the car looking for something.
911 Operator: So they're there now?
Me: Yup, looking through the car. Sorry to have bothered you, I guess it's all okay.
Operator: Can you describe them? What was the second girl's hair colour?
Me: Bright pink. Sorry I didn't notice that before.
Gary: It's not pink, it's red.
He was totally garoo-ing my description for the 911 operator. Which he still maintains is an appropriate thing to have done.
I have to say, describing someone as they are ignoring you while rummaging through a car feels very awkward and kind of rude. There's no protocol. It's yet another one of those situations completely ignored by the Martha Stewart website.
I thought the girls were looking for their phone. I gave it to them, feeling it is one thing to pick up a phone they forgot, and it is another to hide it when they were clearly looking for it. I am not a thief.
That made one of us. They rummaged for a minute or two more, then took off at a dead run.
Me: Oh dear, they're running away again. Maybe we should involve the police.
911 operator: Which way are they headed?
Me: To the park again. It's okay, I'll follow them.
911 operator: DO NOT PUT YOURSELF IN DANGER MA'AM.
Me: It's okay. They don't have weapons. There is nowhere to hide anything in those outfits.
911 operator: What are they wearing?
Me: Not slutty clothes, I wasn't saying that. I'm not criticizing. Just tight clothes. Like lululemon.
911 operator: What colour of clothes? Can you be any more specific?
I am not good at noticing clothes. Or cars. This is part of the reason teenagers do not think I am cool. Which is not so much of an issue now, because I am 34.
Me: Part of their outfit was fluorescent. Just a second. I'll go check if they're in the park again…
911 operator: MA'AM!!! DO NOT PUT YOURSELF IN DANGER!!!
At this point, I was jogging to the park, feeling self conscious because I am not supposed to be running on my operated leg yet and I wasn't sure if Dr. McTwitchy would define chasing down criminals as "exercise". Come to think of it, I'm not sure Dr. McTwitchy would authorize chasing down criminals at all--fragile leg or not. So then I thought it would be good to go get my bike, but on the way back to grab it, a police cruiser pulled up.
Police guy: What did they look like and which way did they go?
Me: One had blond hair, the other had pink hair. They went that way.
Police guy: Can you remember anything else about what they looked like?
Me: (trying really hard) No, I'm sorry, I'm really bad in an emergency. And I'm terrible with clothes.
Police guy, pointing: Is that them over there?
Me: Yup. That's definitely them.
Police guy, it turns out, is much calmer in an emergency than I am. He, and several other officers and a police dog, were able to quickly catch the two girls.
Since they didn't seem to need my help, I went inside to find that Gary had just cooked dinner. Because that's what he does when I am chasing down criminals. He cooks chicken fried rice.
I wouldn't talk to him because I had to write everything down before I forgot any tiny detail. And then the police came back and were all "Oh good, you took notes for the statement" and I was kind of "Oh… right… a statement" and I had to rewrite a bit because blogging and writing police statements are sort of different literary genres.
I didn't think of taking a photo for the blog until it was too late, and when I asked Gary if he thought the police would have let me label the car with witty labels and photograph it before they towed it he just kind of shook his head to himself.
And Anthony was all filled with awe and kept repeating "They were real robbers? You helped catch real robbers, mom?"
They were, it turns out, driving a stolen car filled with stolen goods--but they weren't "real robbers". They were two terrified girls who probably weren't even sixteen yet, making stupid mistakes, and making more stupid mistakes trying to avoid getting caught. I can't remember what they were wearing, but the terrified look on the blond girl's face as is etched in my memory. And the bubblegum pink hair streaming behind the other girl as she retreated into the distance with the police car tearing after her.
I couldn't seem to find a sense of pride that they were "caught". This isn't to say that I feel I should have let them keep running. Something or someone had to stop them. I just wish that something didn't have to be three men in uniform and a police dog.
It made me think of a conversation I had with my dad, when I was about thirteen. I repeated what he said, word for word, to my boys when they hit teenagerhood, and David tells me it had the same memorable impact on him as it had on me. It went something like this:
Up until this point in your life, the world has been organized in a safe way--to keep you from making any huge mistakes. People watch over your shoulder. For the most part, they still will. For the most part, little mistakes will continue to produce little consequences, and big mistakes will produce big consequences. Except that from now on, there are five special areas where the laws of fairness don't apply. They are Alcohol, Drugs, Sex, Smoking, and Driving. In these five areas, a tiny mistake can ruin or end your life. Or you might make huge mistake after mistake and be fine. It's random. It's unfair. The next few years will be filled with mistakes, and that's okay. But when you're about to do something stupid, think "Is this to do with Alcohol, Drugs, Sex, Smoking, or Driving?" and if it is, remember that any tiny screw up in one of these areas can cost you for the rest of your life.
I lived by those words. I went on to screw up left right and centre, but not in the areas of Alcohol, Drugs, Sex, Smoking or Driving. I treated those with great caution. And it turns out, that was awesome advice, because if you avoid screwing up in those areas, you're pretty much left with cutting class and making poor fashion choices. Both of which I did copiously.
Maybe the speech made a difference. Maybe I just had good judgement. I've always put my bets on the first one. And putting my bets on this speech means repeating it, often, to young people in my life. Alcohol, Drugs, Sex, Smoking, and Driving--mistakes in these five areas may be punished ruthlessly, randomly, and unfairly. Steer clear.
At one thirty a.m. that night, I still couldn't sleep. It's an odd feeling--so much drama and the 911 calls, and the flashing lights--all of it with the goal of putting those two kids behind bars. As I was putting my kids to bed, my seven year old said proudly "Did you hear, mom, the policeman said that without you they wouldn't have been able to put the robbers in jail!"
The next day I was sitting, head down, staring into space. Thinking that stealing a car and getting away with it is probably even worse for a kid than stealing a getting in mounds of trouble, but...
Gary looked over and said "There's words for the thing you're looking for, you know."
"What?" I asked.
"The words. For what would have been better. It's called Restorative Justice."
I'm glad they have those words. Because it turns out "catching" is a terrible word. It's become about chasing and punishment and "robbers".
Catching. I wish it meant like you do when someone is falling.
It is not satisfying at all to be responsible for putting someone in jail. I would way rather be responsible for keeping them out.