It started with a knock on the front door.
At my parents house, people only knock for two reasons. Number one: the llamas have escaped once again because they finally realized the only thing between them and freedom is string. Number two: they backed into the concrete ditch and they were sorry.
So to stand there in my llama pants, Darth Vader t-shirt, and llama wrangling boots, you can imagine the surprise when I learn that the llamas had not escaped and no cars were in the ditch.
Instead, a man stood in front of me with graying black hair and thick muscles. He had the shadow of a beard and a hint of something in his eyes. I couldn’t place it. Not yet.
“Hi! Is your mother home?” He said.
“No. She’s at the store,” okay I’m 24, dude. And she’s out of town. They both are.
“Is your father home?”
“Also at the store.” He nods, resting his chin on his hairy knuckles.
“So the woman of your house is gone?”
“I mean. I’m twenty-four,” he nods again.
“What kind of dogs do you have?” Bizarre question.
“A lab and a few mutts who are aggressive,” I say. Beau has never met anyone he didn’t like but Dolly is protective and Maggie has a bad attitude about most people. It’s a toss up. You could get great dog pets or you could miss a a piece of skin.
“Well, I’m selling cleaning supplies and I thought if your parents were home…hey why don’t I show you? If you are interested, they’re in my car. You can get free laundry detergent.” He said gesturing towards his golden Trans Am or whatever.
“That’s okay. My parents buy them at Sam’s,” I close the door. Never will I ever be conned into following a strange man to his car. Plus, why would I want cleaning supplies if I don’t clean?
I lock the door and watch his car roll down the driveway. Why would he ask about my dogs? And who was here?
“Everything okay?” Erin comes up from the basement. I tell her about the encounter and watch as she notices the same things I did. But instead of overreacting she says hmmph, shrugs her shoulders, and assumes her position on the couch.
We eat pizza and watch scary movies and don’t think about the cleaning man. Well didn’t think about him until my sister, Brie sends me a screenshot. I had vaguely mentioned the man earlier.
The man fits the description of the cleaning man all the way to his car. And above the picture there is a caption that details that this man who came to my door was wanted for murder. My hands start to sweat as the opening credits for Netflix’s Open House begins on the screen before us.
Me: Brie. That guy came to the house earlier and was so weird. He kept asking about the dogs and where Mom and Dad were and why I was home alone.
Brie: Oh well you’re going to die.
Brie: Yeah apparently this guy was wanted for murder in Oklahoma and that’s how he kidnaps girls by fake selling cleaning supplies. He’s probably watching you guys.
I sit in disbelief. I tell Erin. She hmmphs, shrugs, and eats her pizza.
“She’s messing with you,” she says simply. I set my plate on the ottoman.
“No she’s not. She knows how freaked out I get. Why would she do that? The guy fits this Facebook post!” My voice rises as I shove my phone in her face.
“Oh…so you remember what he looks like now because an hour ago, when I asked, you had no idea,” I nudge her comment off. I know it was the same guy. Black hair, muscles, kind of tall but not too tall. An exact match.
“No. It’s him. So what do we do? Clearly the dogs won’t help,” I point to the three blonde dogs as proof who are snoring on the couch. Erin hmmphs and shrugs.
I text Brie.
Me: Brie. What should we do? We’re pretty sure he was literally here.
Brie: Well check each window for tacks. That’s how they show their team which windows aren’t locked so they can just come in.
Me: Are you freaking serious?
Brie: yeah. Cody says you should check.
I jump from the couch and begin to check all the windows. 80% lift right up.
Me: Brie. Half of these don’t even have locks.
Brie: Yeah and I’m sure he knows that. So. Good luck. I’m going to bed.
I try to relax. I know I imagine things that aren’t there and dream up situations in my head. I know this. But this, this feels real.
I watch the movie as best as I can, which, of course with my luck, is hecking scary. It’s about this mom and son who move into some huge house and someone else is watching them. Watching their every move until they can strike at the perfect moment and KILL EVERYONE.
Not a good movie to quell my fears. Instead, I find myself watching how Erin is responding because I’m freaking out.
“I want ice cream,” she says flatly knowing that I’m watching her. We pause as the glasses get stolen off the son’s nightstand. What could be missing from the yard? The lawnmower? The rocking rooster? My precious llamas?
“WHAT WAS THAT?” The leaves outside rattle in the breeze. But maybe it’s feet walking by the window because the trees aren’t moving. Erin laughs. But not her usual laugh. It sounds forced. As if she’s trying not to be afraid.
“Erin, are you scared?”
“Why would he ask about the dogs?”
“So HE CAN KILL THEM BEFORE HE KILLS US,” the dog in the movie just met this same fate before the glasses disappeared. It seems to be a logical thing for a murderer scoping out his prey to do even if the dogs are adorable and mostly harmless. The first line of defensive is a good dog.
As if on cue, Beau barks loud enough to rattle the gunk in his own ears. He’s staring out the back yard into the blackness of the night. Dolly pants and huffs around the breakfast nook. Erin and I shove our faces against the windows to see if they actually see anything.
“You know what. If he breaks in, we can’t just be sitting ducks, and if he’s watching us, then we have to show him what he’s messing with,” a battle speech breathed against a window pane in the face of a potential killer.
“What are you suggesting?” She responds so I make a show of pulling the sharpest knife out of the knife drawer. For good measure, I sharpen its blade in front of the windows. I do my best to smile like a manic. Mess with me, and I will cut you.
And then I hand the knife to Erin. She takes the knife and her bowl of ice cream back to her seat on the couch as if it’s the most normal Saturday ever.
I opt for the baseball bat that I keep in the coat closet just in case I’m home alone and need a quick slugger. I take a few practice swings. Really have to show this guy that if he comes in my house, it’ll be like Tchaikovsky up in here. My role will be the nutcracker.
I roll the bat under the couch. We press play. I text Brie.
Me: Brie. I have a bat and Erin has a knife.
Brie: that’s great but he probably has a gun.
Me: I also have the BB gun
Brie: good luck. I’m going to sleep now.
Me: I could die tonight.
The movie ends. Everyone dies. I think. I was too concerned to actually know what it was about. We watch happy cartoons for awhile. We laugh about how ridiculous we were.
But we’re both still scared because we stick together the rest of the night. That’s how they get you. Split you up, allow you to relax, and you’re gone.
We go to sleep. Well I don’t. Erin can sleep through anything. I text Brie all night.
Me: Brie. I heard something move upstairs.
Me: oh it was the dishwasher. Hah!
Me: SOMEONE IS IN THE HOUSE
Me: Never mind, it was Beau lying down.
On the hour every hour until I can summon the courage to recheck the Facebook post.
He was apprehended in Kansas City four hours ago which means that the man selling cleaning supplies could no way be the same guy. There is a location stamp on the post I had missed. There are comments about neighborhoods that don’t exist in Joplin. This whole situation was a couple hundred miles away.
I text Brie.
Me: Brie. You were joking the whole time weren’t you?
In the morning, I get her response.
Brie: You’re an idiot.
Months later, my mom asks why there is a baseball bat under the couch. “For safety,” is my response and it stays, curled right into the edge of the rug.
At twenty-five, I already what
will never return to me.
Childhood hours upon hours, swinging
on a wooden frame built by my dad. Shooting off to the moon
facing down the worn dirt, rising in the wake of scraped tennis shoes.
Skidding down homemade ramps on bikes we pretended were horses
chasing after deer, chasing after a skinny black tail
that always came home. Adolescence where I dreamed of growing up
counted off the days as quickly as I could, while I wasted them behind screens
and locked doors. Rush through experiences and maybe then
I will be older. Maybe then– I didn’t know. What a trap.
I would never get to re-do a first touch of hands in a dark movie,
a clumsy first kiss, I would never confess my inner feelings at such a young age
where time still mattered, still existed in something that could be contained.
And college. I could go back, but I will never really be back because the people
who watered me like the wildflower that I was will not be there.
They may never be there again. Here again. Do I miss them?
If I could go back, I would savor every single piece like the last slice of Grandma’s cake.
Chocolate on chocolate on chocolate with no hard edges.
I would take my time through the books that made me weep.
I would walk slower down the downtown streets as my best friend leapt and bound
ahead of me. I would soak in the ambience of parking lot lighting
as beer bottles were set on asphalt. I would live in it. I would live in time
because now, now that I have experienced, I am short in seconds
and minutes and hours and the days bleed so heavily
that my hands are constantly working to wring it out of fresh sheets.
And the experiences are distanced from one another because money,
as it turns out, does not have to appear every second Friday in bank accounts
if you don’t sacrifice the time to whoever steals it away.
And I guess, what I’m saying is that I miss the world. And in five years
I will miss the same world over until all I have left to do is to sit
and sit and remember a simpler day when there was still time
to do something, and maybe then, after this realization, will I do
what I fear I will miss.
There are many things in life that I’m not exactly proud of.
This is one.
It all starts out about as normal as circumstances allow. I am standing in the Newark Airport, waiting patiently to board a plane headed to Brussels, Belgium. Land of waffles, Red Devils, and really great beer.
While I’m standing there, I already feel the first stages of culture shock. For instance. If I face this window with my shoulder in the nook of this corner, then I can barely see The Statue of Liberty which makes me feel very small and very free. Midwestern girl was not prepared for this.
I watch people come and go for hours. Six to be exact. I text people I haven’t spoken to in years. I text people I don’t like. I scroll through Facebook until my eyes are red. For six hours, my heart flutters with the ambiance of new experience. Times are good. Life is exciting.
My plane boards around 9pm. I end up getting an aisle seat (thanks, Dad) next to a mother and her three children who don’t speak much English. We exchange awkward. knowing smiles while her children stare at me. They are sweet.
As a group of five, we work to figure out the technology in the headrest which blows my mind. I can watch movies while staring at the back of some guy’s head. Why don’t they have this in lecture halls? Why can’t they exchange the front of the face for a screen? When will we, as a nation, get to that point? Can’t wait. I’ll look in Sky Mall just to check that we’re not already there.
I help the little boy next to me get his figured out while his mother helps the two little girls closer to her. Normally, I wouldn’t do this, but I could already sense her frustration. She gives me a thankful smile and I nod.
Time goes by. I watch the world get sucked into the blackness of the ocean. I track our little digital plane on the screen. I am supposed to be sleeping so that I don’t have to skip on exploring, but how can you sleep when you’re flying at a really fast speed over an ocean that has no difference from the sky?
Around the sixth hour (I think), a woman comes around with a cart full of dinners. There are two options. I can’t read the menu because it’s in, what I think is, Hindi. So instead, I point. The stewardess smiles and hands me my tray.
I don’t know what it is when I open it. I know I have a pita bread and some plain yogurt. There also seems to be some kind of meat, but I’ve never been too picky so I plan on eating everything.
I’m most excited about the yogurt. Plain, vanilla yogurt. I peel the lid back, stir it around some, and then take a huge bite. The little boy next to me watches in disgust, and I’m not sure why until I realize that maybe plain yogurt does not default to vanilla.
It’s sour cream. I just ate a big mouthful of sour cream.
But now the little boy, his two sisters, and his mother are watching out of the corner of their eye, faces riddled in disgust. What would a normal person do?
I fake it and keep eating the sour cream. It’s awful– right on the verge of being expired. Extra sour. I can feel my eyes begin to water and my gag reflex threatening to let loose especially when the hard edge that was around the lid goes into my mouth. But, I am determined and finish that sour cream, and I even smile afterwards (mostly trying not to puke).
The next item to devour is the pita bread. It’s light and airy and not bad for airline food. Despite my naivety with labels, I don’t understand the airline food jokes because I’m a little impressed. The pita is delicious and they don’t even give peanuts anymore AND the other options also smell amazing.
Next is the meat/vegetable concoction. It’s slightly orange tinted with shots of green broccoli. Smells very spicy. Right up my alley. Again, the family next to me watches as I eat with a fork. I act like I don’t feel their eyes studying my eating habits that seem to say that A. I am from the Midwest B. I have never been to a big city or possibly out of the house alone.
Apparently, these foods are not to be eaten separately or with a fork. Whatever.
I finish the orange food and push my plate away, still impressed and proud of myself for eating Indian food and only crying from the spicy once.
About two hours later, the flight gets bad. It is dead quiet in the cabin or whatever you call it, and everyone is asleep. My stomach goes into a series of low growls. Low, violent, warning growls like a crouching panther. Like a pissed off, cornered cat. I know what these growls mean.
The little boy next to me stirs in his sleep, probably now dreaming of a deadly cat because my stomach is being that loud.
There is only one bathroom for women on this plane. I can hold it off for another ten or so hours. The feeling will go away!
No, I can’t. No, it won’t.
I hop out of my seat as fast as possible, fast walking (dead sprinting) towards the bathroom. I won’t go into details, but you know that scene from Bridesmaids? The one where they’re trying on dresses and then all of a sudden they rush to the bathroom in order to get rid of everything they ate in the last couple hours?
Yeah, that’s me. Only there are a few major differences. For example, pretty sure everyone heard me because when I went into the bathroom, people were asleep, and coming out, they are not. Also, no one was knocking frantically on their door while they got sick.
And oh yeah, they weren’t a thousand miles above the ocean experiencing turbulence. Have you ever been in the bathroom while a flight goes through this? Heckin’ scary. I thanked every sweet angel in the sky for the safety bar by the toilet that day.
Anyways, the rest of the flight was fine except for the five other times this happened. I’m pretty sure after that, they called me “The girl who ate sour cream before stink bombing an entire plane and ruining the remaining ten hours for everyone,” because the little boy moved to the other side of his mom, and they didn’t smile when they left.
Thus ends my story of how I entered into another “Mile High Club” also known as my first ever experience with Indian food. It was pleasant until it wasn’t.
The birdsong changed on the night that Sydney Baker was murdered. Their soft, moonlight titters changed in a singular instant to sharp shrieks of alarm that seemed to wake up the surrounding forest of that suburban neighborhood.
Lights from neighboring houses blinked on without bothering to compete with the dull stars overhead as sirens of emergency vehicles began their screaming through purposefully curved streets lined with neat brick mailboxes. The EMTs breathed quietly through their nose, out their mouths, knowing that the call was for the sixth of seven murders that month.
For one unfortunate responder, his first night on the job already appeared to be going down a long dark passage of the rest of his life. His fingers were bone white and his face was bleached in fear of what’s to come.
“You shoulda seen the one before this. Total carnage everywhere. Looks like an explosive was shoved in their poor mouth,” Joe, the man across from him said in a voice that was weighted down by the back streets of New Jersey. His face was indifferent, teetering on bored.
The ambulance rolled to a halt outside of the Baker residence where a congregation of neighbors was already assembled wearing worn-out slippers and threadbare robes, all craning their necks to get a glimpse through the slightly parted curtains that were now splashed in deep crimson.
“I’m not ready for this. I can’t go in,” the new responder says before even glancing out the back door of the now open ambulance. Instead, he looks at his shoes, black and slip-proof with hardly worn soles. Joe looks at him, not sure what to say. He can’t exactly pull him out.
“Whatever you want, Mike,” he says before ducking his head and hopping out to see if there is anyone inside worth saving. Realistically, he knew the answer before stepping inside. There are never survivors.
The rooms of the house are still and the air has already absorbed the putrid smell of blood which always seems to hold the overbearing undertones of permanence. How could one possibly get this smell out of a home? If this was his home, he would bulldoze it right down to the concrete foundation.
The room where the scene had been laid out was the family room which was painted a light blue grey that would melt into the morning sky if the ceiling wasn’t prohibiting it from such an action. A black suede sectional sits in front of a TV mounted on the wall where the news reporters drone on about the weather and the Humane Society and the high school basketball game.
Life goes on even after it stops.
And that’s when Joe saw it, sitting on the table just above Sydney Baker’s body. Sitting just under the nightly news. Concealed in the glare of the light was a family picture, and as Joe adjusts to get a better view, his heart sinks and a cold, wet bile, rises to the top of his throat as two grinning faces stare back at him from behind their gold wrapped portrait.
How will he tell Mike that his wife is on the floor in front of him in the pool of her own blood?
We traded our names in
exchange of: baby, love bug,
Suga, sunshine, and little shit
when we’re feeling extra loving.
At night, we lie awake, our legs
crossed over another’s
singing awful renditions
of High School Musical and ABBA.
When we wake in the morning,
there are bags under our eyes
and our skin sprouts crow’s feet
and laugh lines so deep
that all the oceans trenches
are green with envy.
You make us waffles. And as always,
it’s a mess. We eat breakfast
with our legs crossed under us,
our knees grazing another’s like bored sheep
while your cat flicks his tail in our direction.
Minutes collapse into hours
which fall into days. How long have
we been sitting like this?
Only our tailbones know.
It was the weekend of the great flood if I was being dramatic. It ripped the asphalt off I44 and an over grown river ate its bridge leaving a major disconnect between Waynesville and Springfield. This is my luck, and I only get luckier.
I’ll start at the beginning for you.
I was up in Waynesville, Missouri to see Erin. We were going to go to her sorority dance together, but being in the center of the country, Mother Nature had other plans. Waynesville, if you have never been there, nestled in the tired mountains of the Ozarks in a way that makes it impossible to get anywhere if it rains more than “a little”. This weekend last April, it rained a lot.
“So, all the roads will flood if we go which means we’ll be trapped in Rolla,” Erin says as she perches in front of our usual binge show, Bob’s Burgers.
“Okay,” I reply because I never know what else to say when someone is trying to steer me into a decision.
“So if we get stuck in Rolla, we’ll be stuck in the sorority house,” she eats a handful of popcorn with Annie’s cheddar bunnies while looking to read my response which I carefully hide because can you imagine?
While I have only been into one sorority house my entire life, Kappa Delta at S&T, I can’t help but imagine this as one of my nightmares. An overnight stay at somewhere where I feel extremely out of place while pictures of “sisters past” stare at me as if I was the girl that peed in the corner and was waiting for someone to notice. The elephant in a China shop. The farter in an elevator. They have jobs there. Jobs that involved shining bannisters and dusting and smiling when greeted. They engage freely in small talk and since I would be a stranger, I would be the first victim. I loathe small talk.
For these reasons, I hide my disgust at the mere mention of the possibility and respond with my previous reply.
She puts her bowl down, little orange bunnies swimming in processed butter. “So, I’m saying that we probably shouldn’t go because we would never leave. When this place floods, it floods.”
So we don’t go. We stay home and watch scary movies and eat the bunnies that have now soaked up all the butter. They are velvety smooth and too delicious (but not if you think about it). We drink a bottle of wine and face glorious headaches after a full nights sleep with no sorority sisters staring into our sleeping souls.
When we wake up the next morning, she reads off the traffic alerts and road closures which, to no surprise, includes half the town. The shocker, however, was that some river that starts with a G, I think, got really hacked off, hulked out, and ate a piece of the road. This road happens to be the only way home without major detours. I have school the next day. I cannot wait until things “clear up”. So now I have to leave early.
I hit the road. I fill up Nina’s tank. Nina is a 2008 Chevy Impala who likes to test me. Unlike Ethel who you met in my previous post, Nina has no sentimental slack so when shit goes wrong, I take it personally. She also does not have a working gas gauge and hardly ever has windshield fluid. Where does it go? Only the pollen knows.
I fill her up because if I don’t then I have no idea how far I will get because it will involve math like adding and subtracting and “If I’m traveling at this speed with this many gallons of gas, how long can I drive until I’m stranded on the side of the road?” Better known as the math problems I always skipped doing on my own. Ask my dad and how many times he has brought me gas.
When I get out of Waynesville, the interstate traffic is directed through some redneck town full of windy roads, wild green grass, and terrible congestion due to the onslaught of extra cars following double lane tractors. This takes me two hours which should be the drive from Waynesville to Joplin. No. This is just a detour. I fill up when I get to Lebanon and don’t buy snacks.
I messed up.
It happens next.
I pull on to the interstate. Minding my own business, changing the song from Backstreet Boys to Gaga, when it happens. Mile marker 115.3. While I’m looking down for three seconds., I hit a pot hole.
If only pot holes were the size of a three foot long hole. And right as I hit it at 75MPH, my heart jumps and one singular word escapes from my lips.
“Shit,” and my steering wheel jerks to the right while my foot finds the brakes on instinct. Something inside me, that damn bird that Emily Dickinson calls Hope, says maybe my tire isn’t flat. Maybe I just, you know, did something cool or whatever.
I push on my hazards, wait for traffic to leave, and get out to see.
Flat. Flatter than my pre-crossfit butt.
“SHIT,” I yell at the cars whizzing by. “Shit, shit, double shit, freaking shit. Shit,” but also thank you baby Jesus for not letting me die because that’s a big ol’ ditch by the shoulder.
I text my dad. “Got a flat. Help.” And then I sit back in my car which is still on, lay my head on my steering wheel and cry to the soothing voice of Ke$ha during her party years.
I don’t know how to fix a flat tire. I just bought these tires. I can’t even make a good cup of coffee. Does this car even have another tire? I’ve never seen one. How do you get the tire off? How do you do anything that isn’t on the internet? WHY DO I NOT HAVE A PHONE CHARGER? SHIT.
Dad texts back. “Spare tire in trunk under mat. Directions on jack. Call if you need help.”
Deep breaths in. I can do it. Deep breaths out. DO OR DIE BAILEY LETS GO.
I turn my car off but leave the keys in. Pop the trunk, and look under my gray, gross feeling mat. A little baby tire! How cute. And something underneath that is black and compressed and heavy as heck.
I pull it all out and tote it to the passenger side of my car. Wiping my hands together, I look at the directions on the jack. Only pictures. Very vague pictures.
First, I try to peel the rim off my car. It doesn’t work. The thing is really stuck in there. I shove it between the rim and tire as best as I can and then force all my body weight onto it which results in my face smashing against my car. I do this a few times and each time, my anger flares up. I text my dad.
Turns out the rim doesn’t come off.
The jack doesn’t seem to work either. There is no crank to get it up. I look for one that might be hidden. Nothing. I go back to my trunk. There is a metal stick thing. I look at the stick thing with the jack. How does this go in this? I don’t know? How am I supposed to know these things? How am I supposed to see a picture and assume the directions? How do I get the wheel cover off with a tiny little spatula?
Panic rises. I do what any sensible person would.
I pick up the jack, and I launch that heavy piece of shit while calling it a heavy piece of shit into the ditch. Fingers pull at my hair, someone is yelling. It’s me.
I don’t want to call my dad. I can do this. But I call my dad.
“How do you do the jack?”
“What do you mean?”
“I threw the jack in the ditch because it doesn’t work, Dad. Nothing makes sense. My tire wont come off. The directions are not in words. They’re in pictures, Dad. Pictures.”
He laughs and tells me to read the book in my secret door in the wall that holds important things like insurance and knives with dried pumpkin guts on it. I read the book if you can call it that.
Makes no sense. But I trek down the ditch cliff and pull the jack up from the weeds. “Piece of shit,” because when things don’t work, you blame things and not yourself. Never yourself.
I do what the directions say and carefully put the jack under my car and place the eight sided stick end into the eight sided hole (who would’ve thought). And I crank that bad boy up like there is no tomorrow because at this rate, there won’t be.
And then it crunches against the siding. A nice, solid crunch that one might hear when they, oh I don’t know, jack the wrong part of their car.
“Dad, is my car supposed to sound crunchy when the jack is on it?”
“What? No. No, you need to put it under the frame.”
“The frame?” I say as I grope around the bottom of my car.
“It’s metal. It feels flat…like metal,” my hands search frantically until, oh yes. Yes. This is the metal. I adjust jack.
Two hours have passed. The wheel comes off. I am a magician.
And as I am bolting the wheel back onto the wheel holder, a van pulls ahead of me, and backs up.
“Oh great, thank you for your help, but I have it covered,” I say to myself which makes me laugh until I start crying again because let’s be honest. I don’t. I never did. Zero control of this situation.
A man comes out of the van. There is a pumpkin knife in my hidey hole of my car. All I have to do is open the door, get the knife, and then this poor guy will have one nasty infection.
“Hey, need any help?” He’s old. He reminds me of a seagull with his white fluffy hair and unusually tight skin for a man of his age. I look in his van and see a woman turned around. Unless they’re into weird stuff, I would say today is not the day that I am kidnapped. Or adultnapped.
“Uhm, I think I got it!” I say, but he comes over anyway. He squats down near me. Circular lensed glasses perch on top of a straight nose where wrinkles from squinting into the sun dance off the little rubber stoppers. Now that he’s closer, I can tell that he’s old. He grabs my tool from my hand.
Is this how the first caveman felt when another caveman wanted to borrow fire? I’m a little annoyed. I was so close to doing this one thing. This huge thing all on my own. A true test of adulthood and this old man is ruining it.
“You have to tighten the bolts a certain way,” he says as if my dad didn’t already tell me, and I didn’t already forget to do that because now he is loosening all my work and redoing it in the correct order.
He continues to tell me why, but I get lost in how hairy his ears are.
“Is there anything else you need? I have a daughter about your age, and we just thought you could use help,” there is no way he has a daughter my age. He has hair protruding from his ear and not just one either.
“No, no, thank you so much. I wish I could repay you,” I say, but he waves me off before getting back into his car with his wife who probably congratulates him on his chivalry. I was thankful for this old man. Don’t get me wrong. But resentful because I was so close to having done this incorrectly.
Regardless, I am happy that I can get back on the road. I plop my happy ass down onto my leather seats, put the key into the ignition, and text my dad that I–
am now sitting in a car that is dead. And the old man is gone. And my car is dead. The battery is dead. I don’t know how this happened. Why did this happen? Who up in that big sky wants to laugh at me? My car is dead and I have to pee.
“My car is dead and the old man is gone,” I tell my dad on the phone. By now, he seems just as annoyed as me although his annoyance stems, most likely, from not being able to help.
“What old man?”
“It doesn’t matter, Dad. He’s gone.”
“Where are you?”
“I don’t know? Missouri? The highway? Where the curvy part ends and the straight part begins?”
He sighs. “There are mile markers every tenth of a mile. Go look,” so I crawl out of my car, defeated yet again, and trudge the grueling ten feet to stand nose to nose with the mile marker.
“And where is that?” I tell him it’s outside Lebanon. So he calls a tow truck which will take an hour to get here. I shove the old flat tire into my trunk along with the stupid jack. And the sun is starting to go down, and despite my record in pee holding, I have to pee.
Time to burn, battery on 20%, I go to nature’s toilet and don’t care who sees.
Then, I count bugs that have been splattered on my windshield.
Then, I clean my car.
Then, I find a barbecue corn nut on the floor and eat it while I sob about how sad my current situation is.
Then, I see a tow truck which passes me.
Then, a Jeep pulls in front of me and backs up an hour later. I want to hug this man. I want to cry and hold his hand for one second in a quiet thank you.
“You Bailey?” a slit of a mouth asks through a well-kept beard. I nod, choking back snot and tears and defeat.
“Let me check your tire, then I’ll get you jumped so you can get on home,” and he does just that. The old man that tightened my bolts apparently was a lot stronger than a seagull and hardly needed any work. But my battery.
Dead. Dead. Dead.
“If you stop, it’ll die again. Just so you know, so keep on going,” I’m glad I peed before he got here. He charges it to my card, and now, I get into my car.
And it works, but it’s 8:00. I have an hour and a half in my trip and can’t exceed 60 miles an hour.
Do I care at this point? Nope because look at this! I can drive a car. I can fix a flat with only a few major breakdowns, and, on top of that, I only called my dad less than ten times. A new record.
Side note: I took my car to Walmart since I luckily insured them all, and the man said that several people hit that exact same pot hole. And, I got a free new tire.
I had known her for six years and would know her for eight total before we would have a tearful departure that would end the life of one of us. Three of those early years were spent driving to and from school to the soundtracks of Blink182, AFI, and Hinder, racing over tops of hills and the one S curve as fast as my sister dared to drive (which was very fast). Ethel, named after our grandma, was four wheels of baby blue fury. She was a 1996 Sierra Cutlass Oldsmobile, the same age as my brother, the picture of freedom. At the age of sixteen, she left my sister’s possession and was all mine.
Ethel did everything you would expect of a first timer’s car. She could drift around corners (accidentally). She could give whiplash better than any new car. She could rocket through yellow (red) lights. She could ramp a set of train tracks at 60 miles an hour without hesitating. She held all my secrets and memories that were too irrelevant and pointless to share with anyone else. She was the greatest. We went everywhere together. Every memory from sixteen to twenty-one could be drawn back to this car and her light blue interior. When people thought of me, they thought of Ethel who would allow us to lay on top of her hood and watch the world slip around us on good days and bad days and all the days in-between.
The eighteenth and nineteenth years of my life were spent in Independence, Kansas which was about an hour and a half from Joplin. I lived in a dorm with some soccer girls who became extremely close friends. We would find and keep stray dogs in our rooms despite threats of fines. There was one time where we snuck a dog around campus inside a suitcase. But all of these are later stories.
Inside Independence, there was a quaint zoo that had some rams, a very sad donkey, and an island full of monkeys. It was here that I received a call from my mom. My grandpa was in hospice. I needed to go home immediately. So I went to my room, packed my bags, and jumped into Ethel.
I was about thirty minutes down the rood and feeling okay. Feeling hopeful. And then things started to go south. My temperature gauge was rising, headed up past the halfway mark, up past the red H. There were also some wicked sounds coming from Ethel’s engine. And then I couldn’t steer. And then I couldn’t press the gas or the break or feel the cool air conditioner. I called my dad while all this was happening.
Let me give you a brief history of calls with my dad.
- “Dad, I’m in Oklahoma. I don’t know how I got here,” a call on my way to school after missing one out of three turns. I was crying; he was laughing and gave me directions back to Independence.
- “Dad, my car won’t steer. I had to drive to Sonic and jump a curb. I don’t know what happened,” a call after my power steering went out, again, message spoken through tears. He came to the rescue as always and fixed my belt.
- “Dad, this guy tried to jump over my car and his leg broke my mirror,” a call after someone tried to jump over my car in a parking lot where I had clipped their legs, and they went flying over the hood of my car. Apparently, the security for the school kept the footage and showed everyone. We glued my mirror back on, but the shin print under my passenger side mirror lasted forever.
“Dad, something is wrong with Ethel,” I gave him her symptoms. High fever, reluctance to move, bad attitude.
“Pull over immediately. You should have stopped right when the temperature went up,” but I didn’t I had driven probably five miles with it in the red zone. “I’m going to come pick you up, and then we have to go to KC. Pull over, turn everything off.”
I did as he said. By this point, I was sobbing because everything was morphing from that weird dream state when things go bad back to reality. I opened Ethel’s hood to be greeted with smoke. We have escalated to choking sobs. By the side of the road. By my dead best inanimate object friend.
I crawled back into my drivers side, flipped up the middle console, and laid across the front seat. “Ethel, I killed you. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry,” I pet her blue fabric seats. Cars flew past me, shaking me with their wind, judging me as I cried.
I always think back to this moment in time. My car died, my grandpa would die. Cruel foreshadowing. I knew it while I was living it. This is a sign from God if he cared enough to let me know. After I recognized that Ethel was dead, I cried for my grandpa until I felt nauseous. And then a car pulled up behind me.
Act normal. Act normal. Damsel in distress normal. Still normal.
It’s an old man wearing overalls. He has an unshaven face and a pot belly. There is a person in the passenger seat who I never really looked at, but as you know me, I assumed the worst. I got out of my car, fingers wrapped strategically around my keys, you know, for stabbing (just in case).
“You need some help?” The first man had the standard voice of blue-collar America. Thick with smoke but means no harm.
“Well, I don’t know,” I said because I didn’t.
“Let’s see,” he walks over to look inside my engine, muttering to the man. Is this how I die? Are they making plans to kill me?
“Looks like your engine is hot,” he says, and then gives some mechanical reason as to why. I feel my eyes glaze over. “We’ll come back and poor some cool water on here,” I smile like I know that’ll help, and they leave.
I call my dad. The men return. They pour water on my engine. It evaporates on impact. They also pour it into some cap. I thank them again, and they move on their way.
My dad is an hour away now with a trailer to pick us up. An hour on the side of the road is forever. I use the natural bathroom. I pick up trash. I read my book. And then the sun slips right next to the horizon, and the light leaks from the sky. Darkness.
My phone is dying. I can’t read. I thank God that there are no bugs, and it’s a nice day. Then I see headlights go past, turn around. My dad has come to save me!
I jump out of the car. I would be crying, but I think I used all the water in my body for the previous melt down. He was emitting a glow as if he knew before he knew that he would get to say “I told you so,” but it also could have been the suburban’s headlights reflecting off his head. I retell the symptoms. He nods and says there’s nothing he can do in the dark. There may be nothing we can do at all.
We load Ethel onto the ramp and secure her to the trailer with chains. Well he does. I mostly just watch and kick rocks. I retell him the story about how once I went over some railroad tracks, my temperature went up. Why didn’t I stop? Well. What’s the worst that could happen if I didn’t?
This. The rest of the night was a blur. We went to KC with Brian to meet up with the family at the hospice center that smelled like shit and dust covered with flowers. We ate QuickTrip for dinner. And my grandpa died the next morning on April 27th after everyone in my thirty member family was able to say goodbye. I would go onto play soccer at his Alma Mater, Central Methodist University, where I would hear his favorite church song played over on the chapel bells, ringing over the hills, and would either smile or cry. I would know then, that he was there as he said he would be.
My dad replaced Ethel’s engine with a 2008 Chevy Impala engine, also foreshadowing for my next car. She was reborn, growly, and glorious. Two years later, she would the second half of my brother’s secret keeper. I would be an aunt.
And I would be an aunt to a boy who would be born on the exact same day that my grandfather had died three years earlier.
The universe is weird in the way that it chooses to teach its lessons.
Ethel was my car. My go to on a bad day. She knew the backroads to all my college towns. She knew the songs I needed to hear. She knew. Had I been a thinking person back then as I am now, I might’ve taken notes. She had known the ways to prepare me for harder things to come. What a damn car.
What was wrong with Ethel? I didn’t say, but…
I had forgotten to put in oil.