Corrections for My Erroneous Police Report
OFFENSE: Traffic Stop 7
DATE: Apr 7 2001 3:13pm
LOCATION: Moorpark Rd, Thousand Oaks, CA 2
REPORT BY: Sherriff’s Deputy [name redacted] 1
Driver was contacted on a traffic stop under suspicion of underage driving. 8
SUSPECT: FANTAUZZO, LAUREL
AGE: N/A 5
DESCRIPTION: MALE 4, SHORT DARK HAIR 3, HISPANIC 6
1. The officer stared at me the way I could never stare at him. I was too frightened to look at his face, as if he were an animal that might mistake my eye contact as threatening.
2. It was a sunny day. We were on a street where immigrant families shared tiny condominiums. Rich girls at my Catholic school laughed at the Mexican condo kids, whose parents rode bikes to landscaping and nanny and cleaning jobs. My Filipina mother had bought me the battered, gray, used Lincoln Towncar I was driving.
3. I had my hair cut short because it was too thick and unruly when it descended to my shoulders. I hated blow dryers and flatirons, which, like makeup, seemed designed to steal sleep from women in the mornings. My hair that day was like a black helmet, tamped down with men’s styling gel from the 99-cent store.
4. At first it felt like a special gift, this boy part of me in my girl body. When I was ten, three boys on a camping trip introduced me to the word tomboy, included me in all their tent-building and fire-starting, and presented me with a pair of boxer shorts as a kind of initiation gift. I preferred the flatness of boys’ shoes, the functionality of their pants pockets, the clean lines of their shirts. Boys’ attire made it easy for them to move, to run if they needed to. But I was no good at running, no good at sports. Coaches grimaced when I twice joined their teams in the boys’ baseball league. I wet my pants once playing right field. Tomboy was an incomplete term for me, as was girl, as was boy. Most of the time I felt there was no word for me. The day of my traffic stop I was wearing my uniform to my all-girls Catholic school, the pants-and-polo-shirt option, which the principal would ban in a few years, requiring every student to wear skirts and blouses.
5. I was seventeen. Old enough to be in love. Which I was, with my friend Julia, who sat behind me in history class and would forgive me for my crush on her in two years.
6. My mother always left books about the Philippines on my bed. I read about World War Two, a dictatorship, and a handsome, dead young man, Jose Rizal. I absorbed scenes of defiance within agony, like a teenager refusing to dig his own grave for Japanese military police, and, in getting shot, winning his argument. I wanted to be part of that legacy. So when Californians tried to decipher my dark hair and eyes, I’d say “I’m half Filipina!” Whenever I tried to remind my classmates I was Filipina, they would interrupt me. “You’re white, Laurel. You’re white.” A scolding incantation. But when I wandered the aisles of 99-cent stores and tiny groceries, the workers would call to me. “Hola, ¿qué ’stá buscando?” It felt as if they were inviting me in. So I’d answer them in their language.
7. I’d encountered the police before, but my white father was always the one who dealt with them. When I was ten, the neighbor boys and I pelted an SUV with Nerf balls. We left no damage, but the driver called 911. My father spoke to the visiting officers in reasonable, collaborative tones, apologizing on my behalf. They left without filing a report. I felt relieved, protected. Three years later, my mother slapped my brother. In response, my father wrestled my mother to the floor. So she called 911. My father murmured to the police officersabout my mother’s behavior. He thanked them for visiting. The officers pulled my mother aside, asked her if my father had a gun in the house, then told her she could be cited for child abuse. She turned her eyes down, refusing to look at the officers’ faces.
8. I carried the weight of several selves as I measured what was permitted or prohibited in the spaces I traveled. My girl side, my boy side, my Filipina side, my white American side, my mother’s side, my father’s side, my side that wanted no part in sides. I felt suspended in my silence, waiting for the officer to decide what I was and what I had done.
The officer finally spoke without apology, as if the error and offense had been mine alone. “You look very young.”
Then he handed me my license and let me go.