On the episode of Cops originally airing October 3, 2007, Delinda Slater can be seen answering a knock on her front door wearing shorts and a snug yellow tank top and holding a pair of scissors. She’d been cutting up John’s underwear. This because of a fight they’d had earlier, one that turned out to be way worse than any of their previous Ali-Frazier bouts, the kind of epic blowout that gets talked about for years after. There’d been escalation all week; and she’d sensed something was coming, something ugly and final. The day had gone from bad to worse to truly fucked. Yelling, threats, taunts. Then some shoving, an errant punch or two. What was the fight about? She later couldn’t even remember. It started over nothing, some shit little thing, and grew from there like a tornado that gets bigger and meaner. The heat and the weather didn’t help either, just TNT on top of everything else. Del’s mother was out back with Savannah, Del’s eight-year-old ADD daughter (“I don’t believe in that ADD crap,” John once saying. “They didn’t have that when I was a kid”). To beat the heat, her mother turned on the hose and kept trying to coax the girl toward the spray to cool down, but Savannah didn’t want any part of that, had never liked water, one of those particular kids who only eat certain foods and wear certain clothes. Del’s mother warned, “I got the cordless out here, I’ll call 9-1-1 if it doesn’t stop.” It didn’t stop. “Call the cops, see if I care,” said John, who’d never warmed to Tina and vice versa. He’d been living there for almost a year, supposedly temporarily.
Del freaked and shut the door on the cops. This was not good. There were two of them, a lady cop and a man cop, and they got really pissed that she’d shut the door. After she let them back in she saw the camera and the guy holding it. The lady shouted “Drop the weapon!” and Del kept wondering what weapon, what weapon, and then she realized the lady cop meant the scissors. So she dropped them. And that was when they, both the lady cop and the man cop, tackled her, cuffed her, facedown now, with hands pinned tightly behind her and temporarily unable to breathe. The carpet smelled like Cheetos and cat. She glanced up and there was her mother crying and her daughter standing there (statue-like, mouth open) and she thought: so this is what it’s all come down to, this is the train wreck that is my life, this is the riot and rage that love brings. Or if not love, then the attempt at love, which is all the more dangerous. When it’s not the real thing. When it’s an imposter.
The cops dragged her to her feet, started walking her outside. Del looked around as if she wouldn’t be coming back. The house was a shitty one, there wasn’t much to appreciate, but it was her house nonetheless, and suddenly she was overcome by a wave of longing. The TV was still going. On the floor she saw the scissors and the bits of John’s BVDs, strewn about like sad little wishes you know will never come true. She usually dated men who wore boxers. His socks would have been next. After that she didn’t know. She hadn’t gotten that far.
Outside it was still hot—“hot as Satan’s sauna” as one of her stepfathers used to say. The sun was going down, had finally given up, and the sky was a melting swirl of red and orange and purple. She loved the sky at this time of day, the bigness of it, especially during the summer, when there’s something different about the light, when the colors seem to linger longer, to suggest something better might be coming even when you had no reason to think otherwise.
The lady cop steered her toward the cop car. She had her hair pulled back and she was pretty. Del wondered why she’d become a cop, being pretty and all, there was probably a story there, and she wanted to ask her this very question but the lady cop was the one asking the questions: what happened, where was John, why did you slam the door, did you know that resisting arrest is an arrestable offense? Meanwhile the man cop jogged down the street to look for John, who’d taken off on foot and didn’t have his wallet or anything so he couldn’t have gotten far; plus, he was barefoot. Maybe he was over at Frank Arroyo’s, two houses down, drinking beer and watching satellite. Maybe he had walked over to the creek that no longer had any water. There weren’t many places to go. It was a couple of miles into town and The Frog Pond and its classic rock jukebox.
Neighbors had gathered on the sidewalk. Whenever Del breathed, her chest ached. She told herself to be calm.
Was arrestable a word? Del wondered.
The lady cop asked more questions: her name, had she been drinking today, had she taken any drugs, what had happened here, who was at fault. And the guy with the camera. He was there too. Filming everything.
“Now, is this your husband we’re talking about?” the lady cop said.
Del looked at the camera guy. But she couldn’t see his face. Just the camera. And the bright light attached to it.
“Yeah, I guess,” said Del. “Boyfriend, sure. Though it’s not like anything official.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just . . . there’s issues. It ain’t all roses and champagne.”
“Nothing ever is,” said the lady cop, and Del agreed, and for a brief moment they were in the same place in their heads, two women agreeing and nodding about the disappointments of men.
“Did he hit you?” the lady cop then asked.
Del thought about lying and saying it was all John. It wouldn’t be the first time she lied to a cop. And why not fuck John up? But she couldn’t lie. Not this time, for whatever reason.
“It was mutual.”
“Ma’am, let me tell you something and I want you to listen. Are you listening?”
“We get a call for a domestic and we don’t know what we’re gonna find. You go into people’s lives, you go into their houses, and you never know what’s going on behind them doors. Can you understand that?”
“Yes,” Del said.
“Look, I don’t know you from boo. You could be Mrs. Hannibal Lecter for all I know. You could have a gun, you could have a knife. I need to protect myself and I need to protect you. I’m going to arrest you, Ma’am. You are going to go to jail tonight.”
Del was crying now. She didn’t want her daughter to see her like this. That seemed like the most important thing right now. Jail was OK. Jail was fine. Just keep Savannah inside the house. Protect her daughter. If she could do one good deed in her life, something that would be her ticket to heaven and redemption, it would be that: protect her daughter. From this. From everything. From the world and all that she couldn’t control, which was plenty.
Later they arrested John down at The Frog Pond. His shirt was off. He went down fighting, yelling, “I’m not going to jail, I’m not going to jail for nothing or nobody. I’m innocent. Motherfuckers. You can’t prove a thing.”
That got filmed too.
Everyone had to sign a release form saying it was OK to show them on TV when the episode aired. If they didn’t sign, their faces would be blurred out. Del’s mother didn’t sign, so she got blurred. And Savannah, too, because she was a kid. John and Del signed. Sent all the paperwork to the Cops producer person in LA and told their friends and waited.
The phone was ringing. Del almost let the machine get it, but then she thought it might be her friend Charlene who owed her money. John was one of those guys who was good at ignoring the phone. She picked up.
“It’s on, it’s on! You guys are on! Shit! They just showed the preview part and it’s the one with you guys. John, he’s really put on some pounds. He should really wear a shirt, Del.”
It wasn’t her friend Charlene; it was her friend Stephanie who did not owe her money. Three months had passed since the night Del cut up John’s underwear, the night Del thought was a signal, a turning. The episode of Cops was on at last, tonight, while her mom and Savannah were out running errands and getting ice cream. John sat sprawled like a teenager on the couch watching something boring about the anniversary of an old baseball game. It was a big deal apparently (to those who cared). Del in and out of the living room, watching, not watching, seeing the game and the crowd and the players in black and white and thinking how different her life would be if she’d been living back then, before Cops and computers and cell phones and everything else that made life more complicated, more sad somehow. But maybe it wouldn’t have been any different, except for the clothes and haircuts. Men like John had been around since like Day One.
“Turn it to Fox,” she told him. “Stephanie says it’s on, finally. I’ll get the VCR going.”
John switched it over to Channel 6 while Del popped in a blank tape. There was that commercial for the exercise contraption that, after just six weeks, created a brand-new you. Del couldn’t help but crack a smile. That was her—the brand-new Del—after she got home from jail, two days in there before her mother could scrape the money together, and she swore—fucking swore—that the soap opera of Del and John had ended. And now he was still here. It got better after, then a little worse, then back to a little better. He was working now, which helped. They went to Vegas; Savannah chipped a tooth; Del’s sister miscarried; and they eventually agreed to drop the charges against each other, call it good.
“It’s kind of trippy,” John said.
“Kinda,” she agreed, sitting down in one of the chairs instead of next to him on the couch.
“Wait—shit. We need beers for this.” John ran to the kitchen. And while he was gone, Del considered the indentation on the couch where his body had been, his trace, his invisible weight.
She thought about how for such a long time she liked to believe that she kept her heart locked inside a box, and that there was a key that could open this box, and that also she had to be careful about who could and could not have this key, or keys; the different guys coming and going who had been able to find a key, click something open inside of her like so. Every time always the last time. She was not that careful apparently, John being the latest example. He had the key and sometimes she didn’t know why. She wasn’t the smartest person in the world. But she wasn’t the stupidest either.
John returned and replanted himself on the couch, handed her one of the Coors Lights.
“You wanna call anybody?” he asked. He was staring straight ahead, stubble on his chin and jaw, his face red and blurry from the sun.
How many times could you be wrong about love?
“Naw, let’s not,” Del said. “I thought I would. But now it doesn’t seem right. Let’s just watch it.”
Then the Cops song came on (Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?) and she waited to see herself, to see what her life would look like there on the screen.