I’m sitting in a mini park drinking coffee and thinking hateful thoughts about bimbos but also daydreaming about farms because a yellow lab hobbled by with a limp and I wanted to coddle it and what better place to have multiple dogs to coddle than a farm? And a little worm is squirming because it came out in the dawn dew and now it’s suffocating in its small space of concrete, and like the unemployed and the lonely it’s squirming for release, and soon it will die.
I love to drive. I love to drive so much that even with the traffic, and when I’ve had countless parking and speeding tickets, two personal accidents, (one in which I flipped the car and received a DUI), a few more accidents as a passenger, and all of the fines and gas and three break-ins and mechanic problems, well, I still love to drive.
Why do I love to drive so much? Is it a bad habit, like biting my nails? A genetic necessity? I remember when I was five sitting on my dad’s lap steering the wheel on backroads in the country. One day he went 120 mph and I sat there clutching the wheel, the DRIVER. People would panic, and shake their heads. “What the hell was he thinking?” But it was one of his many ways of teaching me, with my hands before my head had fully grasped what it was doing. It was the way he taught me to dive off the high dive, to ride a bike, to wrestle. These were all tricks that were meant to teach me something else about survival.
And when I did finally sit behind a wheel on my own I drove with my left foot up on the seat, my chin on my knee, my hand effortlessly spinning around the wheel as my other hand beat to music like a drum. I always felt like it was an extension of my body, and I saw all of the people around me applying lipstick and staring at their phones and radios. I had to be both aware and at ease. It wasn’t until I was 25, and I had nearly given up on my life that I came back from my travels abroad scared of everything: of planes, and of traffic, and of the chaos of the city. Everything behind the wheel slowed down, and I didn’t feel so effortlessly in control anymore. It took years, and I was without my car.
And then I had a car again last year, and I eased back into my natural state. More careful of the cops in California, I sped on the country roads, like my dad decades ago, I would see how fast my car would go. And then there was my accident and a lot of fines and some more fear to overcome. But. This isn’t about that and I’m going to skip ahead to today, when being passenger is more difficult because I know how dumb drivers are, but being behind the wheel is still my greatest love. Today I have a beautiful new black turbo beetle I named Selina Kyle. She’s smooth, and shiny, with outrageous curves you want to move your hand over slowly. I have to take her in tomorrow to fix her side window that was smashed in the latest break-in. Her clear glass turned an emerald green, splinters caught in my clothes and books in the backseat. I covered her with the only tape I could find, a silver duck tape that looks like a dozen bandaids patched awkwardly over her cut. Everyone is staring at her, like a beautiful girl with a black eye. But she still looks classy, if a little unbalanced.
In the early 90s my mom had a car accident. She was on the top of a hill on a very icy day in Fort Worth, Texas. I only remember ice on two occasions in Fort Worth. The second was a sleet storm where sleet fell in the size of grapefruit from the sky and poked dents in people’s cars. The first time there was so much ice on the roads nobody could drive faster than 20 mph without swerving. At the top of the hill her breaks gave out and as we started are way down the car sped up and it sped up and sped up and at the bottom we had no other way of stopping then by hitting a parked car. I thought perhaps we could die, but we didn’t. I remember that almost better than flipping my car last year, because in the icy accident I wasn’t drunk and blacked out. But all of these little moments become hazy after a few weeks or years and a few subconscious choices to filter out the less appealing portions of what remains.
So how do these things add up to the love of driving? Because I am more careful now. Because you never know what will happen next. Because what you love can kill you and you have to keep loving it anyway. And now? Because I know better than to drink or be an idiot. Because my car is sexy and I want to see her fixed. But more importantly every day I have the opportunity to be out exploring is my favorite day. When Selina Kyle was cut up and my camera was stolen, I felt broken because one of my tools for exploration was taken from me, and the other was torn apart. Because on the best days I blast music and I drive out to the middle of nowhere, and I walk with my dog through the woods or near the ocean and photograph the oddities I encounter. Half of the fun is the discoveries. The other half is the music and the drive, constantly on the go to nowhere in particular with music filling your lonely heart and the silly dog climbing over your legs for a swallow of air. Winding roads and redwoods and pine trees and ferns curling over the road, shading you from harsh sunlight. Heat warming your cold feet. A breeze tickling your forehead. I’m just in love with it. Maybe it is a genetic problem.
My grandpas were mechanics. Peepaw had a shop before he became a preacher. Joseph, the one I never met, had the bar and the drugstore and the mechanic shop. He made a now northern California ghost town come to life, between the whiskey and the cars and the music. I think I must have memories of him in my blood. Playing music in the woods, and cooking freshly caught fish, and driving fast through the country. I think I am there in some black hole of perennial pleasure.
Maybe someday, when I have more wrinkles than suitors, gas will be completely gone, or cost twenty dollars a gallon. Everyone will be wearing gas masks and huddled inside, and taking old trains to reach their crowded destinations on littered city streets. But if that were to happen I would remember my Selina Kyle, and the warm summers and the heated winters, and the smooth wheel and the little dog with her nose poking stupidly out the window, and the music.
Rainbow Brite and Unicorns:
This is a little about me growing up. While I didn’t like dolls, and I was usually involved in a game of red rover or tag with the boys, I was definitely a girl. My favorite colors were “hot pink, hot orange, and hot yellow”. My favorite animals were penguins and unicorns. My favorite movie was Dirty Dancing. My own personal hero was Rainbow Brite.
I’m 6 at the beginning of this memory. My best friend was Natasha and everyone loved Natasha. I liked Jason and Natasha kissed him behind the giant tire that was stuck in the mud. I would climb on the monkey bars and watch everyone below like a bird, feeling majestic and all-knowing, but always alone.
In the afternoon, most of the kids would go home, but some of us had parents who worked late hours. My parents were separated at the time and my mom was still in the AIr Force, and wouldn’t be home till 7 or 8 in the evening so I’d go to an afternoon camp that usually meant trips to different playgrounds. Since it was Fortworth/Dallas there was a giant web of playgrounds. Some had monkey bars, and sandboxes, and some had the works- tether ball, four square, intricate ladders and bridges and ponds and trees.
I was a monkey. I climbed all the trees. In first grade I climbed a tree so high I refused to come down. “Help me I’m scared” I begged, and the teacher said “no, you got up there you can get yourself down”. I refused and spent the rest of the day in the tree. Lynn, my teacher, eventually helped me down. Mercedes, my other teacher who was also one of my many babysitters, and Natasha’s mom, and liked to play “The Wind Beneath Your Wings”, rolled her eyes at me. She was large and Colombian, and her hair was a massive fro of curls. She looked at me like I was a silly little white girl. I looked back at her like “fuck you my dad is tough and so am I”.
When Jason kissed Natasha all the girls were also kissing each other. I never talked about this because I’m embarrassed about it, even today. Megan, (Lynn’s daughter in the third grade) told us that we had to know what we were doing if we ever wanted a boyfriend, and she took all us younger girls to the bathroom and made us kiss and touch each other and make out.
And one day I was touching a girl whose name I can’t even remember and her mom saw and she spanked me with a wooden paddle she kept by her aquarium. When my dad came back from his town three hours away to scoop me up for the weekend I was crying, and I was confused, and he did something because I never saw that lady again. And that was probably a good thing because her house smelled like fish and white trash.
I had so many babysitters living as a military brat in Texas that I wouldn’t even want to begin to list them. But there were bike rides, and crystal exchanges, and lots of macaroni and cheese and Inspector Gadget.
My mom was working all the time. She was a Captain in the Air Force, with a higher rank than my dad even though he once jumped out of planes, and she was a nurse, but regardless they were both too busy being somewhere else, and I was always on a playground.
And if it wasn’t a playground I was in my room. My entire room was dedicated to Rainbow Brite. I had rainbow everything, unicorns everywhere, hot pink, hot orange, hot yellow. I was the quintessential eighties child, even though I never listened to New Kids on the Block or cared about Molly Ringwald.
But I had the instinct for slap bracelets and leg warmers. And Megan had the style I wanted. Third grade, lesbian in the making, she knew how to dress edgy. Every pair of shoes she bought I had to have. Mary Janes. Check. Reebok pumps. Check. “You’d look better with curly hair”. Ok. I let her handle me like a doll. Okay.
When I was in fourth grade I moved to Huntsville, known for its executions and its four story Sam Houston statue (he was the president of Texas when Texas was a country). I hated girls. Check. I wanted to never see a girl again. Okay.
I went to a private school with blue and white uniforms and bluebonnets draped around the entrance, and there was only one other girl I talked to in a class full of boys. Marty. We would get into trouble together, and we both hated other girls. But Marty’s dad drove drunkenly off a cliff and Marty did something that must have been worse then anything I did because she was expelled and I was alone again..
Fast forward to Portland. I moved to Portland when I was 25, and I had just been living in Korea and I was unemployed. I finally found a job at a mac computer store and I can tell you now that everyone working at a computer store is either a nerd or a lesbian. So I had this fear or this pent up anger of lesbians. I told my old boyfriend that I didn’t think there were real lesbians. I thought maybe it was anger at being fucked over by a guy and the self-loathing, stubborn response. But I later realized, when I was alone with my thoughts for along time, single and lonely and then not lonely but just alone, that there were things from my past I hadn’t dealt with, and there still are things. Childhood is blurry and we remember the neon colors while choosing to forget the confusion that causes our fear. But it all helps to begin with unicorns and rainbows, and eventually recognize what’s behind them.
We would be outside the party hating it. We didn’t want to be there. The moon looked larger and brighter than usual. He asked me what I was studying. Dionysius and Apollo.
“Remember that time you told me about Dionysius? I think that’s when I fell in love with you.”
“You weren’t in love with me. You were still seeing someone else.”
“When you bent over the registers I wanted to pull your pants down.”
Coworkers rolled their eyes. “Why don’t you date already.” And we did when I moved into his complex. “You moved into his complex. Haha.”
Sometimes our medicine becomes a pill. He thought I was too silly. He thought I was too serious. He thought I wasn’t serious enough. He liked Norwegian girls, tall and angular. I was so roundish. I was so “cute”.
“You’re like the moon. Sometimes I need the sun”.
Why do we hang on to people for years after they have caused the first pain? What do we expect them to fix? So many emails. So many journal entries. I could have stuck my head in an oven but instead I baked you a giant cookie shaped like a heart.
Remember that time you ran screaming after me with murder in your eyes?
We didn’t have enough knives in the house. We lived so far away from people we could have killed each other and the cat would have licked up our blood and days would have passed before the landlord came by with his horse.
You killed my cat. Einstein was a good cat. I miss her still.