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From Chapter 12 of The Empty Bowl

“Shoplifting is a very serious charge. So is resisting arrest,” said the stern, robed man behind the bench. My parents and I sat facing him in three metal folding chairs behind a railing.

I started to protest. “But I—”

“You don’t speak without my permission in this courtroom, do you understand me?” the white-haired judge snapped.

I nodded, fixing my wide eyes on the bench.

“If convicted, you will go to juvenile detention, do you understand that?”

Blood drained from my face and my jaw throbbed. I was genuinely terrified of being locked in a facility for who knows how long with actual delinquents. And the judge could see it.

“Yes, sir,” I stammered, unable to meet his eyes.

He kept talking; the hammering in my head blurred his words. Then, suddenly he was saying something about the charges. I looked up and paid attention.

“I never want to see you in this court again. I expect you to go to college as planned without breaking any more laws, and to grow up into a decent citizen like your parents.” He stood and left the chamber.

Holy smokes! He’s letting me go! 

A clerk handed my father some papers. I stared without breathing, fearing I was mistaken.

Dad signed the papers. 

“Let’s go,” he said.

Like that, we were done.


As we had on the way to court, we drove toward home in stone cold quiet. I looked out the window at the flow of traffic. Slowly the shock of arrest and horror of detention subsided, and my mutinous attitude started to creep back. I’ve had a brush with the law, I thought, just like Arlo Guthrie. The folk singer had stood up to local cops using music and humor. I began to think of a verse from his epic antiwar song, “Alice’s Restaurant,” where he called our war protest the anti-massacre movement.

Instead of feeling remorse for the theft, I now began to regret that I had not stood up to the judge. I wished I’d told him that the joint the cops found was mine. I wished I’d had the courage to start singing the famous chorus from Arlo Guthrie’s ballad. I wished I had told the judge I was part of the Alice’s Restaurant anti-massacre movement, instead of cowering behind my parents.

When we got home, Dad told me to leave for college immediately.

“Your mother has endured enough. Get yourself packed for college and go. We’ve told Linda we want you both out by tomorrow.”

Fuck you rushed through my mind, but I kept it to myself.

Mom went to her bedroom, Dad to his office. Linda was out. Bethy had gone to her friend Dana’s.

I slumped off by myself to smoke a joint, feeling nothing. We went our own ways as always, with our separate pain and confusion. None of us knew how to help the others.

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