2011-12-08 / Living

Getting someone’s attention without trying ... by crying

BY ELIZABETH LARDIE Times Record Contributor

ELIZABETH LARDIE ELIZABETH LARDIE A s I stood by the side of the road next to the police cruiser, still crying and now wondering if my father was at all concerned that I had basically hung up on him abruptly after saying “I’ve got to go dad, there’s a cop,” I could not tell if things had just gotten better or worse.

I was not teary because the officer had stopped me. As it turns out, it was quite the opposite — the officer had stopped me because I was teary. And I had to admit, even then, that getting stopped by a police officer because I looked that inconsolable was pretty funny. Or at the very least, impressive. Yep, I’m just full of rare talents.

Let me back up a little.

This happened a few weeks ago. I’d had a relatively long week and it wasn’t even over. The day itself had been a series of mishaps, and the weight of several ongoing sagas in my life had suddenly managed to get the better of me emotionally. I was walking to my car in the Woodford’s Corner area of Portland, trying to decide whether I was headed up to Bath or down to New York, when I opted to call my father to try to stop the big ol’ waterworks attack that was attempting to latch on to me like a zombie to a freshly cracked skull.

Unfortunately, for both me and my poor father, reaching out to him only seemed to hit my crazy person release valve. And so there I was, a (theoretically) fully functional adult, whimpering to my daddy in public — a fact that embarrassed me even before the police officer arrived. The streets were quiet at least, and I was making a point to be quiet as well. In all likelihood, no one even notices, I thought to myself.

It was at that point that a Portland police officer pulled his patrol vehicle over, asked me what was going on and, flustered and mortified, I hung up on my dad.

Oh yeah, this was one of my finer moments.

“Is there anything I can help with?” The officer’s tone was even and very nice, though I wasn’t sure if it was due to utter sincerity or out of fear that one wrong move and the unstable wonder-mess before him would become completely unhinged.

“I — um ... No ... No, thank you,” I replied. Oh cripes — get a grip, Elizabeth. For your dignity’s sake.

“You seem very upset,” he said.

Wait, given the current situation, do I still have dignity?

“I, it’s, um ... It’s ... I’m fine,” I said awkwardly.

“Something’s obviously wrong.”

“Um, yes?” And then I added hastily: “I mean, not call-the-police wrong. No illegal activity here.”

I attempted to chuckle. I think in my neurotic embarrassment I was starting to sound guilty of something. If I hadn’t become concerned that making sudden movements would be more seemingly suspicious behavior, I would have swiftly slapped my own forehead. Not only was I crying in public, I was now acting like a pure twit.

Nope. No dignity.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

I could feel my face flush. Talking to a police officer about the kinds of things that were getting to me was along the lines of consulting a world-class surgeon because I had spilled pudding on my shirt. “I’m sorry if I’m causing a scene. Am I causing a scene?” I asked. I eyed the cruiser. I wanted to slap my forehead even more.

“I was just driving by and saw you walking. You looked pretty upset. I couldn’t in good conscious keep going.”

I looked at him skeptically. Occasionally, I have this total lack of personal volume control. Maybe it’s the Sicilian genes. People can hear me, I thought. I think I’m being restrained but really I’m probably pathetically loud and someone called the police about a neighborhood disruption.

“Did someone call in a noise complaint?” I asked.

The officer looked confused.

“I mean you’re being very nice, trying not to embarrass me, but be honest — did someone call in a noise complaint about the crying girl? I really was trying to be quiet, I really don’t want to be making a scene. I ...”

“No noise complaint,” he said, unable to hide a hint of laughter rising in his throat. “Seriously, I just saw a young lady looking awfully upset and couldn’t just go ‘ah, she’ll be fine.’”

I couldn’t help but muse on the illustrated difference between Maine and Manhattan. It’s not that New York police officers aren’t compassionate. But let’s be honest, even if they’re just being good sports with the legions of camera-wielding tourists wanting photo ops with New York’s finest in Times Square, the men and women of the NYPD generally have their hands full.

On the other hand, while I’ll grant the Portland police department might have less fanfare and urban fury to deal with comparatively, it seemed unlikely the officer who had stopped me was just trying to pass the time. So I didn’t know what to say when he asked again if I wanted to talk.

I told him that it seemed a little ridiculous to tell a police officer about the things that were upsetting me. It was completely unrelated to laws or public safety, and I knew he had better things to do.

“Part of my job is just to talk to people,” he said. I was a little floored as he continued to coax. He explained he just liked touching base with the community. If he could help without having to make an arrest or write a ticket, that was OK by him.

I ended up talking to the officer for about 20 minutes. He asked questions and made jokes like a champ (and also fielded an inquiry from another resident about a missing cellphone).

Our conversation didn’t change anything going on in my life. Nothing in his municipal authority gave him the power to improve someone’s health, fast-forward my career, strengthen my ability to communicate with loved ones, or make Manhattan a 40-minute drive from the Maine border (if only).

One of my friends from college had the ability to cry so hard she’d get a bloody nose. Now I’ve managed to top her, crying enough to prompt a police response. He still assures me I was not causing a scene.

To the officer who was kind enough to talk and go well beyond your job description: thank you. I’m still pretty darned ashamed I gave you reason enough to stop. But I am also incredibly grateful.

Eventually, the officer got back in his cruiser and returned to his rounds. I walked to Punky’s nearby, ordered a half chicken Parmesan and headed to Deering Oaks Park. I was still unsure if I would be heading north or south when I got on the road, but I at least felt that, somehow, things had become more manageable.

I sighed, savored a bite of my sandwich, and then called my father to assure him I hadn’t just been arrested.

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