Sometimes, it’s not worth it to chew through the restraints in the morning.
Today, I had an appointment to meet with my writing professor at the community college I attend (mostly for fun) to go over the new part-time position I’ll be holding for the college’s literary journal, Eclipse. The intern who is leaving was also coming to this meeting to show me the ropes and basically transfer all the paperwork, etc., to me. And, the department secretary (or chair, I’m not sure which) was going to be there to meet me and file all the paperwork and make it official and whatnot. Three people coming together to teach me something. It’d be in my best interest to show up, wouldn’t it?
The appointment was at 9:30 am. I had been planning on taking the bus, but I woke up later than I meant to; still, I wasn’t late yet. If I drove, I wouldn’t be late at all. I had time. For those of you who don’t know me, I don’t drive. I have a disorder called OCD that, in shorthand, prevents me from driving. It’s not that I can’t drive—I do have a license—but, well, I can’t. It’s somewhat complicated, but trust me when I say that getting behind the wheel is a big deal for me.
My sister was still asleep and, though I’m sure I could’ve woken her up and asked her to take me, I thought to myself, This is a good time to test my skills. I have to jump in sometime, right?
I grabbed the extra key from the wall (where we hang our extra keys) and headed out. I knew if I thought about it too much, I’d freak out, so I tried to do what my father says he and my brother do when they drive: be angry. Be angry at other drivers, poor parking jobs, traffic, whatever… so as to distract myself from the monumental task (at least for me) I was about to undertake.
I got in the car and turned the key; the engine sputtered to life, a good sign. I decided to take it slow (ie: avoid the freeway) since I hadn’t driven in, well, a while. I rolled down the hill and to the first stop sign. So far, so good. Turned right, then left at the next stop sign. When I got to the light, I turned on the radio to distract myself.
I thought, This could end up having been a Very Good or Very Bad Idea.
I turned left at the light and eased into a stop at the corner of H— and V—. When the light turned green, I slid through the intersection and headed down toward the college. After Verdugo, it’s basically a straight shot down to campus, so I relaxed a little and took a look around me. I started thinking about the position I was about to inherit (a paying job in my field of work!… even it was only a student job).
Right before I got to the part of the street where V— and L— meet (in front of the Magic Wok, if you know where that is), I glanced to my right. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a car roll out of a parking lot—right into the side of my car. There was a huge jolt, like I was playing bumper cars, and then nothing.
My first thought was, Blue sky and spidered windshields.
(That probably doesn’t make sense to anyone, so let me explain briefly. On 31 December 1999, my cousin and I were driving on a hilly gravel road in Texas outside of Austin in a Suburban SUV-type vehicle. The road was really only wide enough for one car, so when another truck came hurtling over the hill in front of us, my cousin (who was driving) swerved to avoid hitting it. He swerved back the other direction to avoid hitting some trees, and we flipped the SUV and landed upside down in a ditch on the other side of the road. I remember looking at the beautiful blue sky through the front windshield, which had cracked to look like a spider’s web.)
When my brain thinks there’s danger, I usually work well until the (immediate) threat has passed, at which time I completely fall apart. That instinct kicked in. I pulled over, put the car in neutral, and got out to wait for the other guy. He immediately pulled to the side (he’d just been pulling out of the parking lot, anyway) and got out with profuse apologies. I looked over my car where he’d hit it—there wasn’t even a dent. Not a scratch. It was practically a miracle. His car wasn’t that much worse off for the wear, either—just a dented bumper, which is exactly what bumpers are for, after all. He was an older man in a fishing hat and coke-bottle glasses; it’s possible he miscalculated the distance between my car the space his car was taking up—I have no idea. We exchanged information and I headed back home; no way was I going to have a break down in my professor’s office in front of people I didn’t even know.
As soon as I got home, I called my professor and tearfully explained the situation. He was sympathetic and, amid my repeated apologies, rescheduled all of us for another time. I sat down immediately to begin writing what happened (just in case something comes of it, which—admittedly—I doubt) when I remembered I’d left something in the car. I headed back out to get it and, for some unknown reason, decided to start the car again. I mean, I guess I was amazed everything was okay and it looked like nothing happened at all, especially because I felt like I was falling apart inside. My reaction was completely disproportionate to the occurrence, it seemed to me, but that didn’t stop me from reacting so.
The car didn’t start. The engine didn’t turn over—not even a sound. Turning the key to the ‘start’ position did… nothing. I started to panic; I’d just killed the car.
Why did I even do that? I thought to myself angrily. It’s not like I want something to be wrong with the car. Maybe it really was too good to be true.
I went back inside, debating what to do. I looked at the clock; it was after 11 am by this time. Shortly, my sister came down dressed for work. Oh no, I remembered, today is her first day of training.
I explained the situation as briefly as I could manage. “Are you okay?” she asked.
“Physically, I’m fine,” I said. Then, everything started to rip at the seams in my mind. “It was scary.” I started to cry.
She came over to me and hugged me tight around the shoulders. “We’ll figure it out. As long as you’re okay, we’ll manage.” We headed out to inspect the damage together. She couldn’t see any scratches or dents—as I’d told her. We got in and she turned the key in the ignition; no response.
We went back inside. I called my dad. He was angry. Or rather, he was frustrated with the whole thing. (We’d just had the clutch replaced for almost more than the car was worth, for example, among other things.) This was just another worry on his plate.
“When you tried to turn on the car, did you hold down the clutch pedal?” he asked my sister. She couldn’t remember. “Check the lights,” he said. So, we went out and tried again.
“Are the lights on?” I asked.
“Oh.” She turned them to the ‘off’ position and said, “That might be it, actually. Did you have the lights on when you went down to school?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t mess with the lights,” I said.
My sister headed off to her training with more assurances that we’d figure it out when she (or Mom, or Dad) got home. Since she drove another car, obviously, I was left alone with the dead one.
Well, the day’s not over yet.