This is a story of how I spent many years in the backseat of a melted Volvo. We all have moments in life where we take a situation and define ourselves by it. Often we carry this scenario with us throughout life, like a duplicate of the original crime scene, re aligning all the components of our current reality so that they match. It’s as if life only makes sense when our pain is lined up with the pain of that which defined us at some point. And we re-play it over and over with many different characters and settings, but the ending is always the same. We re-affirm whatever it was we mistakenly learned about our self that day.
When I was about 7 or 8 my mom’s parked car got into an accident. You can only really understand the story as it was told to me if you have ever had a conversation with a schizophrenic. The story was wildly colorful and completely unfeasible, yet so convincing in detail and in the emotion with which it was conveyed. She was in the bookstore at 3 AM reading self-help books trying to be a better person and finally get some where in life after years of everyone trying to thwart her. She tried to read as much as she could in the book store so that she didn’t spend money on books and instead could afford to buy organic vegetables. She stayed up all night making baby food out of organic vegetables when I was a baby, unlike other mothers who pumped their babies full of pesticides. The owner closed the shop at 9 but gave her the key because he could see she was a sincere and conscientious person and trying to better herself, if only she could get a break. Her sciatic nerve was irritated again and so she had to stand to read and couldn’t read as fast as others who had the luxury of reading sitting down in the store, so it wasn’t fair that she should have to leave the bookstore at the same time. Listening to this story as a small person, I was confused by the strength of the words in contrast to what I was observing- which was bloodshot eyes, the stench of cigarettes and alcohol, and an outfit that said “I’ll do dirty things to you behind a dumpster for the right price” much louder than “I’m settling in for a long haul of power reading while standing for hours in the self help section”.
In any case, as the story went, a pickup truck was towing a corvette on a rope that was too long and when it went around the corner it smashed my mom’s car all along the side up over the curb and into the side of building, compacting it bumper to bumper along both sides. The doors no longer latched, nor did the hatch back. (I am not going to mention the part about this very same suspicious accident happening twice, years apart, to 2 separate cars.)
And so after the accident, any one else might’ve called their insurance company, junked the car, etc., but not my mom. She went straight to the junk yard and got some giant industrial chain and hooks and chained the inside of one door to the other so that they stayed shut. To get in the car, we climbed through the hatchback and over all the piles of junk that were accumulated back there like two demented Billy goats. I would’ve followed my mom anywhere. That’s love, I suppose.
Driving in the car was a special sort of hell, leaning against the chains and having my mom scream about the carbon monoxide being sucked in the trunk and into the car and how we were being poisoned and going to get bladder polyps. The blurry, yet distinctively horrified faces of people driving by. The sound of the road coming in from every angle, the creaks of the giant chains and the general instability of the parts of the car they were attached to. We began to sneak around whenever possible, early morning hours and late at night so that we wouldn’t get pulled over.
Imagine these two characters climbing out of the hatchback at the grocery store a midst a sea of new minivans and SUVs, like rats infected with the Bubonic plague emerging from a sewer. Imagine climbing out of this demented circus car at school, a midst the church-going, cookie-baking moms and shiny, freshly cartooned and spaghetio’d children.
And then came a ray of hope. Jonathan was a guy that my mom met at the health food store. She was a highly skilled predator and he was exactly the kind of guy she would devour. The kind of guy who has had the same haircut since 2nd grade and seemed to be missing any genetic contribution from a father. They had some kind of ongoing thing which is another story in itself. In any case, he said he found a car for sale and was going to get it for my mom.
When he arrived with the car, I got into the back seat. I listened to Jon and my mom in the front and their crazy banter for a bit. It puzzled me that Jon seemed to have no awareness about the alternate reality that my mom existed in. I started to zone out and look around. There was sticky tape residue at the tops of all the windows as well a strange smoky film on the glass. The backs of the seats had a black soot coating. The smell was acrid, maybe like burned thick plastic. It was like notes of Bbq without whatever the final component of that smell that makes you think “yum”. Instead it was thick and bitter and frightening. The interior ceiling was black and charred over the front seats. All of these horrors coming into focus lead my eyes to crescendo of this amazing sensory experience, and I realized the dashboard was melted like a Salvatore Dali painting all the way to the floor.
Finally I asked what happened. The guy whose wife was selling the car had committed suicide by taping the inside of the windows and putting a hibachi in the passenger seat and lighting it on fire. Through out my life I continually flash to the mental image of my little face in the rear view mirror upon hearing this news. I remember looking through the filmy foggy windows and seeing the oblivious kids playing on the lawn next door. I remember looking up at the blue sky that they played under and wondering why I never got to play under that sky too. I remember feeling the smell of the car and the death it contained seeping into my skin like acid. I remember the feeling of being completely contained in this, completely separated from whatever connection I felt to other kids, and other humans, just the rest of humanity in general.
I constantly get flashes of my little face in the rear view mirror, alone in the fading light of the day, the fading hope of my life, the expression captured timelessly in my mind at the moment of being told what had happened inches from where I sat. I never knew why, but now I get it.
I never really got out of that melted Volvo. I left the part of myself in there that felt equal to others, deserving of the same love, happiness and mercy as others. The person who deserved the same types of relationships as everyone else. The person who deserved to be treated with love and kindness and taken care of in important ways, just like everyone else. I became a person who lived under a separate sky.
I have always found myself in “special circumstances” without being sure why really. There are countless examples, but perhaps the biggest one is that I have only dated people who create a certain type of atmosphere of tension and negativity where I cant help but look around and notice other people all relaxed and enjoying themselves in ways that I have only dreamed of. Somehow I always seem to find myself enveloped in this dark sooty scenario right in the middle of everyone else’s Rockwell painting, separated by special laws of suffering that only apply to me. I have recreated this scene where I was involved, yet separated from the rest of the world and suffering in a personal hell through out my entire life. I’ve never looked for love the way other people do, because somewhere I just don’t feel that things like and all the things that go along with it apply to me.
I suddenly realized the other day why I constantly have flashes of the image of my face in the rear view mirror that day. That little person I abandoned is calling me to let them out of the car. After all this time, after all these years, I’m finally reaching for the handle to let that little person out into the sunshine. Time to live under the same sky.