I set up a pretty significant interview last week. I set up interviews, and conduct interviews, every single day. They are not difficult. Rarely do they make me nervous or hesitant. I’ve discovered that the silver bullet for social anxiety is to manipulate your life such that every interaction takes place solely with the focus on the other person. When I am interviewing you, we don’t have a problem.
Just don’t ask me to talk about myself. Not using my mouth anyway. The only way I can do that, if you want any coherence or direction, is through a pen.
Or a keyboard.
Anyhow, after last week’s spelling bee (have I mentioned how deeply I love a good speling bee) I cornered City of Warren Chief of Police Brandon Deppen and asked him whether he could talk to me about the day that Mike got arrested.
He didn’t really remember that day, and was pretty sure he wasn’t even on that call, he said. In any case, he wrote a note to himself (on his hand, because that’s a thing he does) to check it out and he got back to me later that day.
Turns out, he was on that call. He was Sergeant Brandon Deppen at the time, but he set up the security perimeter, he said, and transported Mike from the house to his holding cell while he awaited arraignment. He didn’t have a lot else to tell me about it but, he said, the man I wanted to talk to was Detective Anthony Chimenti.
So I called him immediately. I asked him when he would have time, in his busy schedule, to sit down with me and just give me a rundown of what he remembers about that day. In between, like, investigating murders and what not.
As you do.
He told me Wednesday.
Like, today, Wednesday.
So at eight a.m., with my kids delivered at school and a caramel macchiato in my hot little hand, I walked into the city building and sat down with Chimenti.
I’d been looking forward to it. Until this morning. I mean, this was the most traumatic event of my life. And I’ve been through some shit, man. So that’s no small feat. And because it was traumatic, I have a very hyperbolized, incomplete, fragmented memory of the day.
Getting my hands on the affidavit of probable cause helped. The one on file at the local magistrate’s office where Mike was arraigned had considerably more information than the one they left with the warrant. It included the events of that day, whereas the one left for me afterward only contained what they knew up to that point.
It gave me the blow-by-blow events.
The affidavit cleared up the plot for me, more or less.
And it was valuable. It continues to be valuable.
But when you write literary nonfiction you don’t just rehash a plot. A worthwhile piece of literature contains both plot and story, and the plot is invisible to the reader when it’s crafted properly. Good, literary writing is chracter-driven. I had my experience – fractured and significantly emotional – and the affidavit, which only gave me plot. I still needed the human element from the perspective of law-enforcement.
In my mind, this whole time, that’s what’s been missing. It’s the piece that can connect the hard facts of the affidavit with my extremely emotional story of woe.
I was stoked to be going.
Until this morning. I realized this morning that I didn’t know what exactly I wanted from Chimenti. I mean, all I knew was that I wanted him to talk to me about that day. A day that, for him, was more or less just another Tuesday.
The worst Tuesday of my life.
I wracked my brain trying to think of questions to ask. He’d be expecting me to ask questions, right? I mean, that’s the basis of every interaction he and I have ever had aside from that one day. It’s what I do, like for a living.
This felt like it was supposed to be an interview.
But how do you interview someone about the day they arrested your husband for child pronography without making them feel like they’re in the inquisition? That wasn’t my intention. I didn’t want that. I just wanted to sit down and have Chimenti tell me the story.
I wrestled and worked with the conundrum as I got ready for this day, as I dropped my kids off at school. As I headed back down the hill, and as 8 a.m. drew closer and closer. I went for coffee, not because I was particularly craving it but because I go zero places without coffee. It’s like a pen. And a notebook. And a camera. It’s just an extension of my very being.
And, as I rolled up to the window to collect my legal addictive stimulants, and as I rolled away with those legal addictive stimulants in my hand, I realized it.
This doesn’t have to be anything.
I just wanted to Chimenti to tell me about that day. I didn’t have to ask any questions. I didn’t need to steer the narrative. I didn’t need to direct or contrive anything here. This was as simple as sitting down and asking him to tell me a story.
So that’s what I did.
I know he was uncomfortable with the idea. I’m sure it’s because this happened four years ago and I was asking him to pull four-year-old details back to the front of his mind from the ether of unconscious latent memory. I’m sure it was uncomfortable because he had no idea what I was going to be asking, or what on earth my agenda is. “You’re writing what now,” I’m sure he wanted to ask me.
Honestly, I’m not going to lie to you, just knowing that he was a little uncomfortable was empowering. Not in a mean-spirited way. I just mean that, since the day that Mike got arrested, I’ve always felt inferior to anyone in a uniform. I’ve always felt like their internal monoluge was more or less along the lines of “there’s that girl that was married to a pedophile. There’s that girl whose house looked like a piece of shit when I walked in.” I’m always the nervous one when I’m interacting with law enforcenemt, probation, and the courts.
Judge Skerda can shake my hand hand tell me she loves my columns all day long, but in my head I’m still abjectly beneath her.
Because of this. Because of Mike.
So just to know that little old me has the power to make anyone uncomfortable was significant.
But that wasn’t want I wanted. I hope Chimenti got a little more comfortable as we talked. I feel like he probably did. I feel like no one really knows what I’m talking about when I say I’m writing a “collection of personal essays.”
The easiest way to explain it to someone with no background in literary writing is to say “it’s like ‘Eat Pray Love’,” even though it’s not like Eat Pray Love. No more than a housecat is like a lion. But it’s an analogy that peole can understand, I think.
And so what did I learn?
I learned a lot of things, actually. I learned that there were maybe eight agents from the state attorney general’s office there that day, and four – maybe five – city cops.
A far cry from the forty to fifty I’ve seen in my head this past four years.
I learned that most of the city boys left once they were no longer needed.
I learned that the people who knocked on my door and pulled me out of my house are called the “knock and talk” team.
I like jargon.
What I didn’t learn is that the people involved in that action are human beings. I knew that. I’ve always known it. My conflict has not been humanizing the police, who were only doing their job and, if I’m honest, did a huge service for my family that day.
I didn’t need help to see the police as human beings. What I needed was to know that they know that they’re human beings. What I needed was to know what they thought of me, and of my house, and of my life. That day, but also now. Today.
I needed to know if they judged me then, or if they judge me still.
“That isn’t you,” Chimenti told me. “That wasn’t something you did.”
I don’t know why I need to hear that from someone external to me.
I don’t know why even hearing it from someone external to me didn’t immediately fix my personal sense of responsibility for what Mike did. I did and I didn’t expect that to be the case. Like when you buy a lottery ticket. Some part of you absoltuely believes you are going to win and the rest of you is like whatever, idiot.
I do know that it helped. It did help, to hear that. I think it will make my ongoing effort to hate myself less significantly easier. And maybe I’ll be able, going forward, to feel less and less like a pile of dog shit every time I have to interact with one of the cops for work.
So. It was a weird combination of no new information and a whole world of new perspective.
It was a tiny, magnificent conversation that I’m glad to have had the opportunity to have.
That was a weird sentence…hmm…
So. There we go.
New achievement unlocked.
Pretty sure I just leveled up. Like, in life.