Decades have come and gone since the days when policemen sent me off with a simple warning. Frankly, I thought warnings were all they ever gave in my slim and toned youthful era of mini-skirts, halter tops and cut-off jean shorts.
Marriage and babies changed all that, but not as irrevocably as divorce and single parenthood. On the night in question, I was just another harried, middle-aged lady with a 31-inch waistline who suffered from occasional hot flashes—not to mention an unsightly neck hidden by scarves. The concept of opposite-sex attraction had become so foreign that I felt like an A-sexual life form dropped into an alien universe. And resurrection was unlikely considering my mortally wounded female ego, obsessive financial stress, and a libido buried alive under 15 tons of epic disappointment in life.
Not the faintest memory or imaginings of romantic feelings had survived—until that fateful evening when Warren showed up in a blinding flash of red and blue light.
It was past all of our bedtimes that Sunday night when my daughters and I were making the long trek from a downtown Phoenix venue to our small town of Fountain Hills. We were exhausted. The route home had been plagued by hair-pulling frustration, from missed freeways to an endless sea of construction nightmares. By the time we reached the long, nearly empty, inviting stretch of the aptly named Beeline Highway, speed limit signs had lost all meaning. I was so focused on "can't get home fast enough" that I nearly missed our intersection and had to hit the brakes to make the turn lane. Only then did I catch a glimpse of a white car to my right. The Beeline had a ridiculously low speed limit and however fast I had been traveling was ridiculously over it.
Flashing red and blue lights split the night as our two cars made the left turn together.
Mumbling a string of four-letter words that predominantly began with S and F but wanting to appear cool, as in not wildly looking over in that direction, I kept my eyes straight ahead but hollered to my teenage daughters: "Was that a policeman beside me?” Both girls squinted to scrutinize the darkness and quickly answered, “Nothing beside you but there is one behind you now.” Now I'm seeing visions of hundred-dollar bills swirling down a toilet bowl.
Flashing red and blue lights split the night as our two cars made the left turn together. Over I pulled, drowning in waves of adrenaline and regret, immediately scrambling for the right paperwork between the glove compartment and my billfold. To play it safe and avoid passing traffic, the officer knocked softly on my daughter’s window and said something about me meeting him on the passenger’s side of his car.
He didn't mean inside the patrol car, as I discovered when I walked past him and nearly brushed him aside trying to crawl into his front seat.
"No, no, no, you don't have to get in. We can just stand out here."
I caught a glimpse of a stifled grin but my crimson embarrassment set off the nervous impulse of a mouth run amuck at warp speed.
Since my offense was on the extreme side, I thought it better to avoid mentioning the unreasonably low limit on the Beeline or that I had no idea how fast I was going. He obviously knew. Still, his voice was gentle when he halted my endless fumbling through copies of insurance verification with, "This one is current. We have everything now."
As he continued to review my credentials—write and copy, write and copy—my babbling veered into encounters with other state patrol officers. Excellent move. Let's convince the man with the clipboard and shiny badge that you are multi-state offender with a chronic speeding problem. My monologue required no response from him and had the frenzy of a Robin Williams stand-up routine.
The voice within that is usually so small was, on this occasion, quite adamant: "Don't sing. DO NOT SING!"
"The officers in Ohio wore really cool hats that made them look like they belonged to the Canadian Mounted Police. Remember that old movie with Nelson Eddy—and who was that with him?—Jeannette McDonald! He sang 'The Canadian Love Call' to her."
Before I could say "It goes like this" and begin belting out a soulful rendition of the opening line, “I’m in love with you-ooo-ooo-oooo-oooo,” the Divine intervened. The voice within that is usually so small was, on this occasion, quite adamant: "Don't sing. DO NOT SING!"
Even more startling than the sensation of having my mouth duct-taped by Spirit was the realization of the heartfelt emotion that would have carried that tune into the stillness.
Like some 16-year-old surrendering to the tender passion of a first love, my heart would have meant every word. If I live to be 105, I will never understand or be able to describe the power that was moving through that space of flashlight-illumined darkness between us. How could standing so close to a perfect stranger evoke such a warm, safe, sweet breath of swirling energy? How could that tender breeze blow gently through the window of my mind, capturing the most innocent part of my heart and carrying it away?
Somewhere in that brief, awkward, timeless moment of silence, the officer leaned into the front seat of his car and pulled out his hat.
"You mean one like this?"
Which sent me into a fresh gush of delight, “Oh my God, you do have one of those really cool hats!"
"Actually, I think that every state highway patrol officer in the nation has one. I just don't wear mine at night."
And from there, the conversation flowed. We talked about pressures on teenagers and how crazy the world has become. Whether Fountain Hills should continue "renting" county marshals for law enforcement or support their own police department. After all, he informed me, it was the largest community in the state without its own protection force.
"What was going on out there? You two were totally flirting with each other."
I remember wanting to stay there forever, just talking—watching his expressions change and feeling that miraculous energy. Maybe some sweet angel was hovering between us but it seemed that he was the angel. A messenger sent to deliver ancient memories of a deeply loving romantic friendship. Memories that needed desperately to be stirred before they withered and atrophied beyond the reach of any one lifetime.
He grinned and nodded toward the car where my two daughters sat patiently waiting. "Looks like you have a few other places for your money than speeding tickets. If I let you go, can you promise me that you'll drive the limit on the Beeline from now on?"
Oh absolutely I could promise that. A promise I kept. And with a wish for our safe trip home, he handed me the paperwork and accepted my thanks for the tender mercy. The moment I opened my car door, both girls chimed in with, "What was going on out there? You two were totally flirting with each other."
Still floating on air and feeling every bit the giddy schoolgirl, I couldn't help but smile. "You think so? I mean, both of us?"
"Are you kidding, mom? We could see it and feel it way back here!"
Warren Smith was the name on my warning ticket. The handsome and disarming Highway Angel who came along and resuscitated my battered heart with an infusion of pure hope. How mysteriously, how easily he restored my crushed faith in safe, sweet, eternal love. Warren gave me a promise, too. Faint but indelible words that he wrote on the wall of my heart: Love can be as it was in your most innocent dreams, and it can be yours. Don't give up.