The first time I ________-ed after _________-ing
Unfortunately, I was able to fill in the blanks with crashed
and buying a car
“Here’s a nice one.” The salesman pointed to a red Dodge Charger hatchback. “Bucket seats. AM/FM. Reliable. Practical.”
Practical wasn’t an image I was shooting for.
“It has a sunroof. Wanna’ take it for a test drive?” He held up his hands and mimed driving.
I nodded, feeling the hot vinyl of the steering wheel beneath my fingers. I got in the car and bucked my seatbelt. I reached for the keys dangling alluringly from the ignition. And there, in the center of the vehicle was... “But I don’t drive stick…”
“Oh, well…I’ll just drive it for you then.”
We exchanged seats. The salesman cranked up the radio and popped open the sunroof. He pulled onto the street and changed gears, all the while extolling the virtues of the car over Madonna’s “Material Girl.”
We returned to the dealership. The salesman casually draped his arm across the steering wheel. “Whaddya’ think?”
* * *
My father insisted that my sister give me lessons. Kathy went over the basics: clutch, brake, shifting, and we were off, the car rocking violently every time we arrived at a stop light, my sister shouting, “the clutch! Hit the clutch!” while other drivers and pedestrians, too, pointed and laughed with open mouths.
Brake. Clutch. It was too confusing. Fifteen minutes into the lesson, I pulled over. I shut off the stupid car and let my sister drive home. I could practice there. It would be safer that way.
* * *
A circular driveway surrounded our house, separating the lush lawn from the woods that secreted our home from the busy state highway. Lining the driveway was an army of massive boulders my father had culled from the back field. Fifty-foot pine trees kept watch over those majestic stones, shading them and allowing thick moss and ivy to grow up along them. Perfect. Test. Track.
That evening after dinner, I went to my car, popped the sunroof and switched on the radio. I turned the key. The engine sputtered…and caught! At a rate of no more than three miles per hour, I pulled towards the front of the house. So far, so good. I sat up confidently and tapped my fingers on the steering wheel to the beat of Queen’s “Bicycle Race.” Ahead, there was a slight grade: I had to accelerate a bit to make it up. Too fast. I was going to crash into the fence and let the cows escape from the pasture. I was…
Quickly, I steered to the right and hit the brakes. The car lurched. Again, the brakes. Another lurch. I slammed the brakes tight against the floor of the car, pressing so hard I lifted myself from the red bucket seat with faux leather trim.
But the brakes had failed. The car began rolling down the driveway. Faster and faster, I rolled backwards, the pine trees passing outside my window at what must have been a hundred miles an hour. There was a terrific scraping and then, suddenly, I stopped, my practical little car caught up on the mountain range lining the driveway.
I had the sense to cut the engine before opening the door. I jumped from the car as it teetered precariously on its undercarriage and ran, sobbing, to get my father. An hour later, from an upstairs window, I watched my dad laughing with the tow truck driver as his assistant wound the winch before leaving to get a different—larger—truck to drag my car from the rocks.
When the car was finally free, my dad got in to drive it to the back of the house. “You can’t drive it, Dad. The brakes don’t work.” I wanted him to go right to the dealership; to demand my money back; to punish that salesman for having taken advantage of me.
“These brakes are fine,” he said, his foot depressing the pedal I’d sworn was the clutch.