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Improper Rear Lamp

Emilie Butler
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Jessica Russel

Star light, star bright,
the first star I see tonight,
I wish I may,

I wish I might have my taillight on tonight.

I had never been pulled over or involved with a car accident in my life. I held pride in that. My brother had been in accidents and pulled over a few times. He was known as the bad driver in the family, not me. I followed the speed limit, made sure to never text and drive, and always stopped fully at stop signs. That all changed when those dreaded red and blue lights started to flash behind me.

I was driving back from Clinton on a cool October evening with one of my friends. The car was at the perfect temperature. We weren’t shivering from the bitterness of the outside or blistering in heat. The music was set on 15, the perfect number. Driving on the curved road between Lake Malone and the school, a car was following close behind. I was unsure of the speed limit so I was going around 55 mph. I thought the person behind me was in a rush, unsatisfied with my speed. Their lights shone into my car while I glanced over to my side and rear view mirrors. As I pulled into town, my foot caressed the break, bringing me to the new limit.

Passing the first light with ease, I continued down the enlightened road. The second stoplight I approached was red. As I stopped, I watched as a car pulled up beside me. The light switched to green and as I began to ease into the speed, I saw the distinct blue and red lights start flashing behind me. I slowed and safely transitioned into the right lane, thinking naively that the cop would pass me by like I was a piece of litter on the side of the road; sadly, this did not happen.

The police car silently pulled up behind me as I racked my mind for all the mistakes I could’ve made. I stopped at the lights, my phone sat soundly in the cup holder next to me, and my speed was 35, as it should’ve been.

A bright light shined in the back windows of my car, and then the front. There was a soft tap of knuckles on glass as I fumbled to roll down my window. My hands were shaking like an earthquake rattling California. The officer was hunched slightly, his black uniform neatly worn; no wrinkles were in sight. His gold badge reflected the streetlight as he glared at me and then at my friend. He swiftly informed me that my tail lights were off. I looked at the dash and saw the headlight symbol was glowing, almost as if it was taunting me.

I glanced down at the little knob to the left of the wheel and the lights had been switched from auto to off. I got knocked out of my trance when asked for my license, registration, and insurance. I shakily unzipped my quilted blue lanyard and pulled out my license. The cool plastic brought a shock through my body. I reached over my friend to open the glove compartment and ruffled around until I found the insurance card. I handed that to the officer but had no idea what the registration was. My friend and I kept holding out papers asking if they were the correct documents—they weren’t. I apologized and informed him that this was my dad’s car. We eventually found the paper he had described as having a funky bar code and as he walked back to his car, the panic ensued.

Minutes felt like hours as I watched cars methodically slow down and pass us as if they were going to be pulled over. I was praying I wasn’t going to get a ticket. I took a video of the car behind me to send to my friends to show them the mess I was in. After an eternity, the officer marched back to my dad’s maroon car and handed me a vinyl sheet with all my information on it. I had gotten a warning. I could finally breathe as I stumbled to sign my name.

During the ride home, my friend and I contemplated how we would tell my parents. My older brother had gotten pulled over without any headlights on and he wasn’t in trouble, so I didn’t think I would be in much, but it was still scary. I envisioned all the ways my parents could react. I came to the conclusion that my dad was going to laugh at me and my mom was going to say something along the lines of this is why I didn’t want you to go out tonight.

I tried to calm myself from the nausea I was feeling. I slowed the car as I pulled into the cul-de-sac and rolled up the smooth driveway. My friend gave me one last pep talk before I got out of the car with my new paper in hand, and walked into the door. With every step I took down the long tile hall, the more my heart transformed into a drum. My friend followed close behind, but all other existence disappeared.

The unknown of how my parents were going to react just got closer and closer. All I could think about was what trouble I would be in. Getting my driving privileges taken away was the biggest one that crossed my mind. After what felt like a mile, I was standing in front of my parents. I looked at them and finally murmured that I got pulled over. You could see the shock spread across my parents’ faces. I explained what happened as I set the paper down. They questioned me and I had all the answers. My father held a smirk on his face the whole time, while my mom was neutral. There was no yelling, no punishment. I was harder on myself than my parents were.

While this wasn’t my first experience talking to police, this was the most nerve-racking. My body never stopped shaking from beginning to end. The cool vinyl sheet now resides on the top shelf in my closet, sitting soundly in a pink shoebox that my family calls our special boxes. They hold memories from graduating from preschool, birthday cards, my D.A.R.E essay, and now my first warning. I have come out with a new understanding: always check to make sure the tail lights are on.

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