The DUI classes are now finished. To be completely honest, before walking into the DUI class, I was dreading the 12 hours ahead of me. But as I sat down, I realized that the next 12 hours would be nothing compared to the night in jail and the stress that has followed. Once the class began and the teacher started speaking, I felt enlightened.
What I was expecting was a preacher who would demean the class for drinking and driving. But instead, our teacher was a realist who treated us with utmost respect and grace as he taught the curriculum. Most importantly, while he didn’t downplay our lapse in judgement, he asked us repeatedly to not give up on ourselves. Interestingly enough, he is a retired police chief and once worked in the vehicular homicide division. When a person like this tells you to never give up on yourself and move on from this point forward despite a DUI, you listen. And you take it to heart.
So the 12 hours flew by. Here are the three most important lessons I took away:
- Even after just a few drinks, the driving capabilities decrease so tremendously. There was a video recorded by a California-based police department where an incoming class of cadets was taken to a controlled driving track, and their driving pattern was recorded before consumption of alcohol and after consumption of alcohol. Even after just 3 to 4 drinks, the cadets who drove expertly before drinking alcohol had difficulty driving properly.
- Alcohol is processed by the human body at 0.015% BAC per hour. Therefore, for someone with a blood-alcohol content level of 0.13, it would take almost 8 hours to be alcohol free. In my 15 years of driving, I never knew this. The teacher said that he was a police officer for 44 years, and even he didn’t know this before he started teaching the class.
- I was one of the lucky ones. People who have driven under the influence of alcohol have met far worse ends. Some have died. Others, who are even unluckier, have caused another human being to die. No amount of joy that people get from drinking is worth a human life.
During the first block, which was 4 hours, the class ended with a video. It was about this young girl dying in a fiery car crash caused by a drunk driver. The video had the woman’s sister talking about how her family was crushed and how her father was especially distraught. I couldn’t help but cry…because I could relate. It’s time for a story.
A Trip to the Video Store
Many years ago, when we first came to America, my family would go to this small video store that carried Bollywood movies on VHS that you could rent. The store itself was tiny, I’d say about 10 feet by 12 feet. It was filled floor to ceiling with Bollywood VHS’s. It always smelt of discarded dip and Indian food. I reckon the family that worked there didn’t always care much for the atmosphere. It was a husband and wife operation. He was all business. She was all smiles. She worked the register. He did the stocking.
Right next to the video store was a grocery store. It was everything that the video store wasn’t. Clean, professional and it sold halal meat. One night, after the Friday prayers, as was the custom by now, our entire family headed to this strip mall. The plan was that my father would go find a good movie, while my mother, my sister and I would do the grocery shopping. In 15 minutes, we would meet back by the car.
The grocery trip was uneventful. But when my mom, my sister and I got to the car, we found my father crying like a child. You have to understand that this man grew up surrounded in adversity and he handled it all with a smile and a firm handshake. Before this day, I had never seen my father cry. But today he was inconsolable.
You see, my father had a sister who was over 10 years younger than him. For all intents and purposes, she was his baby. He watched her grow up into an amazing young girl with a bright future ahead. She graduated with honors; she could sing beautifully; and she wanted to become a doctor just like her older sister. But then it happened. My father was called by the police to come identify his sister’s body. He says the next few hours were a blur. But he remembers that he saw his dead sister lying on that cold metal desk – lifeless. Beautiful as ever, but covered in blood. His little sister was killed in an accident when she fell out of a bus and was then crushed under the weight of the bus. My father and his family were crushed, too. My grandfather, once a social butterfly, spent the rest of his natural life as a bitter old man. My grandmother, till the day she died, would go to the mosque at 3 AM every night and pray for the grief to go away – it never did. So she would come home, and like clockwork, would burn incense around her late-daughter’s picture and talk to her as if she was standing right there. My father was a pallbearer at the funeral. As is the custom in Islam, he lowered his sister’s body into the grave and shoveled dirt over it. He buried his emotions along with his sister. He says he didn’t “feel” again until many years later. He uses the word numb.
It turns out that the woman at the VHS store was best-friends with my father’s deceased sister. And after several months of having the inkling that she knew my father from somewhere, this lady asked my father about his sister. It unlocked a flood of emotions that my father had buried for over 30 years. It shattered him again.
The movie at the DUI class about death affecting the living really got to me. I remembered that night at the video store and how my father felt – more than 25 years after his sister’s death, a simple question about his sister still hurt.
That got me thinking about how I would feel if I was called one day and told that my little baby sister was dead. I reckon I wouldn’t be much different than my father. I would never recover. It would also likely crush my father beyond any grief imaginable. She is his favorite child. And my mother…well, unlike my grandmother, I think my mother would lose all faith in anything whatsoever.
Moral of the story is self-evident. Knowing first-hand how an accident can destroy a family, I still took the risk of driving after drinking. I could have destroyed another family – another family’s daughter, son, father or a mother, and left that family distraught forever. I could have put another family though what my father’s family went through. At least in my late-aunt’s case, it was a total freak-accident – truly unavoidable. In my case, I would have been much, much worse – it would have been an avoidable travesty that only materialized because I was selfish, wrong, and despicable.
Thankfully, I didn’t cause can accident. And realizing now what I did, I won’t ever do it again.
So to wrap up the DUI class discussion, I’d say just one thing: if you plan to drink, make sure that you have a plan to get where you need to before you ever start drinking. If you’re making decisions while drinking, you’re going to make the wrong decisions.