He hated to watch us cross the street. But it was even scarier to not. We lived on a side street, in a cloistered suburb, and there was no thru traffic. What cars did come moved slowly around the curve, driven by neighbors. When we crossed we had to look both ways, even though the lane was short and we could hear any vehicle coming. Us dying pinned to a vehicle’s hood was his greatest source of terror.
He told me that when he was a little boy, he had a friend who lived across the dirt road. This was in Tennessee, before his father abandoned the hills of the Cumberland Gap for the Lake Erie salt mines, taking his son and wife with him. They lived in the sticks before then, real hill billies with little to their name.
He was young and purely ignorant, and his best friend was a sweet young girl who walked across the dirt road so they could play together. Until one day a semi truck (perhaps loaded with coal? Or lumber?) barrelled down at unprecedented speeds, stiking the girl dead-on, dropping her in a flash of blood and cracking bones at my tiny father’s feet.
He started having seizures soon after that. The girl’s dead eyes regarded him and marked him, left him with persistent shakes and the fear of early death.
— — –
In retrospect this must be why he was so terrible at teaching me to drive. Every error was inflated into a life-and-death matter. Every delay was an inability to dodge a barrelling semi in time; every rash action was dooming another fragile child to death before his eyes.
He considered himself a good driver. Took pride in it, said he was incredibly safe. His fear and precision made me a bad driver. He filled me up with doubt, and screamed and made me flinch at every flaw. I never developed the skills to meet his expectations. He always worried about me. My mother had to teach me to drive instead. We circled the church parking lot for hours, smooth R&B crooners keeping us company as we parked, pulled out, and swerved slowly around.
— — –
In kindergarten I attended Safety Town. It was a week-long summer school program where I learned about stranger danger, navigating my neighborhood, and talking to police. It culminated in a street-crossing exercise, outside of the school on a sleepy little sidestreet facing the Board of Education offices.
We were all gathered, little feet on the curb in a row, teachers flanking us, parents waiting expectantly on the other side. One by one my classmates looked left, and right, waited for uncoming traffic to pass (there never was any), and then crossed the chasm into safety and maturity.
It was my turn several times. I passed. I let other people go ahead of me. I was last.
I stood frozen, head swirling with images, heart thudding. When I lifted my foot I could see a vision of a semi truck rushing out of nowhere, striking me dead-on, and falling me like a log, deceased before my parent’s feet.
— — –
I never realized why I had that fear, never saw the connection to my father’s experience, until the very moment of this writing. Perhaps it’s a conincidence. I can’t recall Greg telling me about the girl that he saw die, not that young in my life. Certainly not with such vividness. So why is it that now, when I picture my outlandish fear of dying on a vehicle’s hood, does my memory of imagination and my father’s real-life tragedy so perfectly line up?
Is it a trick of memory, or is it just another example of me absorbing his neurotic essence, dread by dread?
— — –
Half a mile from my house there is a road that feeds into the highway. Commuters clog this street all evening. They are tired, frustrated, and desperate to get home. In their fury and herd mentality, they plow into the intersection, and linger there as the light turns yellow and then red. They are always blocking the sidewalk, the crossing lines, the paths of perpendicular-facing drivers.
It is a chaotic intersection. I have to weave between hoods and bumpers and into the street, if I want to cross. Sometimes cars cut quickly in front of me, turning left from Kenmore onto Hollywood. I have seen pure white-eyed terror awaken the faces of drivers who have almost killed me. I’ve stared, pissed, into the faces of cabbies and commuters who show no sign of stopping. I’ve slapped and kicked at hoods, screamed “BE CAREFUL” or worse, and jumped back as a vehicle has swerved along an icy lane.
I have told multiple people that this intersection is the place where I will die. I can picture it, vividly, in crimson and chrome. It is easy to take the near-misses and edit them in memory, recast them so that I haven’t dodged, and instead died. It feels premonitory, a doomed fate more than a fear. This is how I will die. This is always what my father feared and he was right.
Is this how my father felt? Is this how he foretold his own death, too? Is this why he was so paranoid in our little neighborhood? Is this what he knew?
Originally published at erikadprice.tumblr.com.