Fall 2016 (Volume 20, Issue II): 20th Anniversary Issue
8 Crashes, 1 Thud
8 CRASHES, 1 THUD
2 boys zigzagging
This one’s the thud. Unbearable, the impact-noise of child and colossal machine. Does it matter that only one brother doesn’t run fast enough, when they weave between parked cars and zoom across Bagley Street, that main drag of Mexican Village on Detroit’s southwest side? Does it matter I’m 7 months pregnant and craving gorditas—little fat girls— with pico de gallo—rooster’s beak?
What the cop says to me, the mean one: were you speeding? Were you drinking , drugging? This at 10 in the morning, with my belly protruding like a basketball. While everyone hunches at the curb waiting on the ambulance. While I wail like a tornado siren, far louder than the child clutching his leg, the mom rocking back and forth.
What the cop says to me, the nice one: You need to stop. It’s not good for the baby. Anyway, these things happen.
1 broken ankle: what the mom tells Husband-Steven later that night when I beg him to call for news. It wasn’t so bad, really, she says. And maybe he’ll learn this time. But probably not.
I’m maybe 3, so this comes in starts and flashes, like slides quick- projected across the backs of my eyes. There’s the smell of vinyl hot from the sun. There’s the shudder of my mother’s car—the VW bug she’s decorated with bath-mat daisies—as it rides low to the road. My mother, white hands on the wheel—I watch her turn it to and fro from my front seat perch. Because this is decades ago, who knows from toddlers in the back, from booster seats, from using the seat belts, even? Who wants to be so tied down?
There’s sky unfurling past the windshield, then oncoming red, then nothing. The crash is implied.
What Bubby says years later: Oy Gevalt, your mother. She came stumbling like a refugee to our door, bloody baby hanging in her arms. You, Bubulah. Why she didn’t drive straight to the hospital I’ll never know. I’m bound to a metal table, cold where my skin touches it. Straps bite into my wrists and ankles, someone’s hands press my shoulders flat. My head is blocked into place so only my eyes move, and a needle swings in and out of vision. In and out. Steady as a pendulum—an image I must have added later. And I’m standing outside the stitching-room, my mother beside me wavering from solid woman to dotted outline. Inside, another child is bound to the table, another needle attached to someone’s ghost hand. I want to know about that child. I ask and ask, until my father shouts at me to stop.
It doesn’t matter. When you’re older, you’ll cover it with make-up and no one has to know: what my father says to me of the scar I carry center of my forehead. Before he leaves Detroit and fades like a bruise from my life.
When I buy my first car, a ‘71 Mustang. Its white body so dolloped with rust it looks poxed. Never mind. It tootles me well enough to work, to school, and offers a blast of satisfying speed when I jam my Doc Martin-ed foot on the gas.
I get it cheap. 500 bucks hard-earned at Changes—that doomed novelty shop in the upscale suburb where Mom and I land after her second divorce. Where Bob, the owner—who knows a guy who knows a guy who gets me the Mustang—paces all day with his undiagnosed ADHD for company. With his piled-high afro, his Hawaiian shirts half-unbuttoned, ubiquitous Star of David nestled like a mouse in his chest hair. Back and forth he tromps, crashing into customers with a hearty, oh! Sorry, so sorry. And for a moment he stops, looks fondly in my direction, or reaches toward this or that shelf and strokes with his big, flat-tipped finger the skeleton earrings, perhaps, or Never Mind the Bollocks coffee mugs. Like he can’t believe his luck, being in just this place at this moment.
7 months: how long I own the Mustang before a classmate comes blasting from a side street in her father’s Mercedes and t-bones it, just bashes it to dust and metal scraps—leaving me surprisingly whole. Go figure.
By the time I unwind from the seatbelt and stagger upright, she’s already raged her way to a pay phone down the block, is shouting into the air and waving her arms like a squid. Mercedes-Girl, popular and pretty with her yellow, feathered bangs, her pink and green prep-wear. There in the math hall of my high school, where next day I hear her telling a beautiful boy she’s grounded and has to miss the party, the secret one everybody’s talking about. And how unfair that is, how horribly, impossibly unfair.
22 minutes ago
I’m inch-by-careful-inching the car—newish car—into my narrow driveway after dropping Daughter-Celia at school. All the while, the terrible countdown goes on ringing behind my ears—only 2 years, 3 months and some days ‘til she’s off to college and the rest of her life. I push that aside, ease past Neighbor-Dominico’s house on the left, past the fence, Husband-Steven’s peonies and nasturtiums preening all around. Queen serenading me from the radio— “Bohemian Rhapsody,” of course. And I’m singing along to the last words, because sometimes it’s true, nothing really matters, and Freddy Mercury died too young. Because he was beautiful and brilliant. Because I’m tired this morning and sometimes the truth aches like old bones.
Because and because, I keep on slow-driving, bang, right into the garage door.
No new damage, nothing broken—car, door, me. Just a little knock, really. And a big noise. But, still.
4 gang boys in a boneshaker Cadi
It’s seen better days, that Cadillac, the one that comes clanking around a corner and—just like that—sideswipes Husband-Steven’s van as he drives past Evie’s Tamales in Mexican Village. We’re talking on the phone when metal crunches in my ear through the cell. While I stand in our kitchen across the city, in a patch of sunlight, sipping white wine from a jelly jar. What the hell? shouts Steven. Then, they’re still coming. And another bang like bombs exploding, and another. The water-song of shattering glass. And, what’s going on? I’m shouting now. What’s happening? And the dead line.
What Steven tells me later: how the Cadillac lurches a little, then just ambles away. How some other guys drive up and chase it to a liquor store. Then come back. We didn’t want to get out of the car, man, they tell Steven. You couldn’t pay them enough to piss off the Cadillac-boys— little gangsters, wearing their manifestos etched into skinny arms and necks, t-shirts bulging with God knows what. Falling all over the place, giggling.
I see them, all jutting chests and scratched knuckles, baby skin beneath the ink, pushing at each other, stumbling across the potholed parking lot as they leave the Cadi—steaming, battered Cadi—behind. And disappear, poof, poof, poof, poof, into smoke.
Because I wasn’t there. Wasn’t even on the phone with Steven—it was his sister after all—though I remember every texture of the afternoon, the phone tight in my hand, the great boom and hard jolting of the van to the right. Sun burning my face while I wait for the cops who never come. For the tow truck to arrive, for the sun to set and moon to climb the sky. For the driver to give Steven a lift home where he finds me in the kitchen, snipping the tips off green beans and sipping wine from a jelly jar.
Next autumn, the 100-year oak out back
With no warning, not a single moan or tremor as clue, it lets go 1 enormous limb—like a bolt of lightening dropping from heaven— which lands with an almighty crack across Steven’s replacement van. Smashing it like paper, towards its center. An origami fist clutching the branch, leaves golden and shuddering in the breeze.
Daughter-Celia’s age when I, post-partum crazy, no-sleep crazy, terrified-of-my-baby crazy, slam the car in front of me on the freeway, then get slammed from behind. In the rain, en route to Therapist- Mala. Even as I know what she’ll say—how all mothers wound their daughters eventually. Forgive yourself ahead of time, toss 9 of 10 of the how-to books and get on with things. But there’s my miserable daughter who cries all the time, who vomits the formula I have to give her because my milk won’t come in, even though Le Leche has been to my house and manipulated my nipples every which way, even though they’ve taped tubes to my breasts so Celia can get the full sucking experience, so she can stare into my eyes from the proper distance while I sob like a deluge.
On that day my friend’s mother comes to watch Celia. Such a thriving , happy baby, she coos, and I look at the puking thing and I can’t see it. Perhaps she’s happy for other people, I decide, which sends me out the door that much quicker. Never mind I haven’t slept 10 minutes in the last 5 days. Never mind I’m afraid to touch my baby for fear of breaking her.
Not that I arrive, to that safe space with its new-age tchotchkes and photos of Mala’s grandkids. There’s the gravel rattling in my skull, my sandpaper eyelids blinking, blinking. There’s the skid across wet asphalt like a carpet torn from beneath me, and the inexorable crash. The cops who watch while I’m stuck sideways in the road, who don’t bother to move ‘til another car bashes into me minutes later, how I watch it coming, clench every muscle against certain collision.
I wait. It comes. The cars are all goners—to the scrapyard for them. We’re all 3 sore, but the other drivers seem unbroken. I am broken to start.
15 years old
I take Teenager-Celia driving when she gets her permit. I consider all likely calamities, give careful directions ahead of time. In a block, click your left blinker and move slow and steady into the center lane. Make sure to look first. Don’t rely on mirrors. When the car jerks, I say, it’s okay. It happens to all of us. When someone honks, I say, you can’t please everyone.
When we’re set to cross 8 Mile, at the road turnaround, I see cars coming fast from the right and don’t think to say, don’t go. Wait ‘til they pass. You have all the time in the world.
And when the truck hits us—because it can’t help it, because we drive directly into its path—we spin twice and come to rest at the mouth of a side street. The back end of my Nissan gone, just gone. Groceries in its trunk flung like confetti in all directions, across the sidewalk and nearby lawns, so we’re surrounded with puddles of milk, with pita slices like abandoned Frisbees, dish soap sleeking someone’s calla lilies, hunk of salmon huddling where a back tire should be.
I’m sorry, says Celia. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. And I’m thinking, if it happened a second sooner. Just a second. But, it’s all right, I say. We’re okay. Are you okay? When she nods, I say again, we’re okay. You’re all right. Nothing else matters in the world.
And the cops, when they come, are kind. Do you have to write her a ticket? I ask. Nice-Cop #1 shrugs and whistles. What’s the point? says Nice-Cop #2.
3 days after I get my new car
First new car I’ve ever owned. Blue, blue, electric blue. Low and kind of sleek. Sleek as the mom of a teen can aspire to. We won’t eat in this one, I tell Celia. We’ll bring any garbage directly in the house. No stickers on the windows. Mom, I was 7, says Celia.
We’re two blocks from her school, stopped at a red when there’s a thunk and we jar forward. Not hard enough to set off the new airbags, but still.
We pull onto the shoulder and I get out, examine the little dent, the scratches. I wave my arms in the air like a squid. I want to shake my fist, because it’s been 3 days and already my car is broken. But there’s a kid, high school kid, and he’s putting his hands over the front of his glasses and saying how sorry he is, how he’s never done this before, how his mom will be so angry, his dad disappointed.
And I find myself saying, it’s okay. A little thing. It hardly matters. Then I tell him this secret: how everything breaks—breaks down, breaks to pieces, dust to dust—even for the luckiest of us, even as we occasionally speed it along. But never mind—mechanics, like doctors, are skilled. And for what’s broken beyond repair, something else always comes. Not in its place, not the same. But still.
And how for all of us, that’s got to be enough.