Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cards For Pain

Part One

The atmosphere inside the car became moist and sultry after a few minutes and positively tropical shortly thereafter. Where windows were open for fresh air, water splattered inside. I hunkered down facing forward in the driver's seat, winding a skein of yarn into a ball as water splashed down my back. I don't know how long it was before the first car zipped past me on the slick, winding valley road, screeched to a halt, drove backwards at a breakneck pace and screeched to a second halt. The driver jumped out and came running.

I pushed the car door open, and by open I mean up, and I climbed out from under the door.

Dude: Are you alright?
Tata: I am! I'm waiting for a tow truck. Everything's okay.
Dude: Are you hurt?
Tata: I'm not! It's not actually my car.
Dude: Whew! A truck's coming?
Tata: Yes, thank you, it'll be here soon.
Dude: Okay, then...

By the third time, I was apologizing.

Dude: Are you alright?
Tata: I'm fine, and I'm sorry I scared you. A truck's coming.
Dude: Are you hurt?
Tata: This is my friend's car. I'm just waiting for the tow truck. Thank you so much! I'm sorry!
Dude: Okay, then...

Yes, and picture all this with rain like a firehose turned on our faces. An hour passed, during which I thought at great length about Dad. I was doing exactly what Dad would have done, or had me do. I had no doubt in an uncomfortable situation. There was no folding and slinking back to the house. I was honoring my father by being the capable person he wanted me to be. When the sixth vehicle stopped, skidded, careened, and skidded again, the rain...stopped. I got out of the car soaked to the skin. Suddenly, I was in a National Lampoon movie.

A family of four blond people jumped out of a big pick up truck. For about a second and a half, it was as if the film sped up when, as one, they rushed to the edge of the ditch and came to a springy stop. Then the film stopped for a second or two as they stared at me in slack-jawed horror. The younger blond child licked a lollypop.

Dad: Didja have a downpour?
Tata: Yes, I am okay. There's a tow truck coming. It's my friend's car.
Mom: Are you injured?
Tata: No, I'm fine, thank you. Everything is okay. I'm sorry you were worried.

We stared at each other. Seconds ticked by. Their expressions did ...not ...change.

Mom: Can we get you an ambulance?
Tata: My family is at the end of the driveway and I am unhurt. I wasn't in the car when it slid into the ditch. The driver is being cared for at the house. The combination to my high school gym locker was -
Dad: You sure about that tow truck?
Tata: I am entirely desperate for you to have a good day, and I'm so sorry I frightened you.

The family turned dubiously back to the truck, disappointed that I wasn't bleeding. The younger one licked her lollypop. I smiled at her and wrinkled my nose. She climbed back in the truck. I slid down the grassy embankment and back into the car. As if on cue, the rain started again. The windows remained fogged. I felt mossy, like a fern in a crooked terrarium. Eventually, I saw flashing lights through the fog. I rejoiced: it must be the tow truck! No, it was the local police. I pushed the door up and climbed out from under it. Though my hobbies include bread baking, swearing and beautifying America one room at a time, I was unprepared for the handsome man's impatient reaction to seeing me.

Cop: You called the police?
Tata: I didn't! Must've been one of those concerned citizens who drove by.
Cop: What the hell are you doing?
Tata: I have to stay with the car. The tow truck should be here any time now.
Cop: No way! Folks'll keep stopping to pick up the body. Get in the cruiser!

For once in my life, in the rain, completely soaked, wishing I had solved the ditched car problem and had returned to being a mourner, I did what I was told without an argument, but I did laugh. In fact, I giggled like a teenager as I explained.

Tata: My father's memorial ...at the house ...not my car ...auto club ...tow truck on the way ...friend with a cane...
Cop: You called the auto club? Where's your card?
Tata: In the car. I'll go get it.

I trudged the ten steps in the monsoon, slid down the side of the ditch, climbed into the car and got my wallet. On the way back, I lost my flipflops. By then, I was laughing so hard, I got back into the cop car barefoot. He called the station. The station called the auto club three times. The auto club said they'd never heard of me, then said, "Just kidding!" and sent another truck. By this time, the cop was irritated but apparently warming to my soggy beauty.

Cop: What's the phone number at the house?
Tata: It's...540-I GIVE UP! But it's right over there.
Cop: Where?
Tata: My Dad lives at the end of the next driveway.
Cop: And what were you doing there?
Tata: He's dead and we were having a memorial.
Cop: Where?
Tata: Over there!
Cop: I have to take you back there and get the phone number for the report.
Tata: Can I get my flipflops?
Cop: Grrrr.

I retrieved the flipflops in the soaking rain and once again, as soon as he turned the car around, the rain stopped. I directed him down the driveway, which everyone at the house could see. As he shut off the car and we got out, a crowd spilled out of the house and into the driveway to meet us. The cop was shocked that my story was true.

Darla: Sweetie, I bet that's not the first time the police brought you home!
Tata: If you can believe it, I've managed to elude capture! He needs the phone number here.

He wrote down the number but he never asked to see Melody, which confused me, but when he pulled away, it didn't matter anymore. The tow truck came and pulled Melody's car out of the ditch. Guests told us stories, guests came and went. A few hours later, Darla and I sat on the dining room floor, talking about the future of literature. Daria and Todd appeared in the doorway, laughing.

Daria: You won't believe what just happened.
Tata: Try us!
Daria: Fred told us about the time he and Dad grabbed meat cleavers and stalked a burglar through an attic. It was a riot! Then we were standing there by ourselves. Nobody else would have gotten this! Todd said -
Todd: "From ze day he was born - "
Daria: And I said, "Shebop shebop shebop."
Darla: " - he vas trouble."
Tata: "Shebop shebop shebop."
Todd: "He vas ze thorn in his mutter's side."
Daria: "Not her back but her side."
Darla: "She cried in vain."
Tata: "Not the artery but the vein!"
Todd: "But he never caused her nozing but shame!"
All: "He left home ze day she died!"

Then we all did the twist.

I miss Dad terribly. Since the end of last year, I have been battered by terrible situation after terrible situation and little time to deal with the separate griefs. A time may come when I end up small and shattered but I don't feel that way now. I feel lucky to have had the father I did, who didn't metaphorically bind my feet. He knew I'd need them to land on and stand on.


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