I spent the summer before fifth grade with my father. When I waited for him in Georgia, I figured he’d come back. He had to. What would he tell my mother, “I kicked her out of the car in Georgia and didn’t go back to get her?” He taught us, among other valuable lessons, the importance of deductive reasoning. And, however flawed his techniques, he loved us as much as he loved himself.
One hand was pressed against my forehead as a visor. The sun pinched my forearms, my cheeks and the tops of my thighs. In my other hand I had a bag of extra salty, bald and boiled peanuts. Earlier, after a night of driving, Dad kicked me out of the car. The highway was rural; two lanes going in opposite directions and the road, flat and endless, rolled out like a thick tar pie crust, from one end of Georgia to the other. I’d had hours, sitting in a scatter of sand to think about how I could have avoided the situation.
I had decided, that after a night of driving I’d been tired. People made mistakes when they were tired. Mom had told me that. I had been tired. But I’d also gotten sick of listening to preachers. Dad said who people prayed to and what they grew, taught you everything you needed to know. So before I got booted, we’d listened to preachers and studied farmer’s fields, for most of twenty-four hours. A preacher who held his praise-be’s too long, in a dramatic shaky voice made me forget the rules. I pushed a knob. And the preacher disappeared. For a few seconds, Dad and I were both stunned by my misstep. Then Dad boomed, “get out of the car, now.” He jerked to the side of the road and wrappers, cups and empty boxes No-Doze slid across the dash and wedged into the corner. I looked at my father to see if he was serious. He was gray-serious, stone cold serious. The engine idled. I pressed my palm to the tinted window and felt a hint of invisible heat.
An elderly couple from Stowe, Vermont had entrusted their creamy rose Cadillac to a Drive-Away-Car franchise in Miami, Florida. The franchise guaranteed that the couple’s car would be delivered to their home in Vermont. Dad had been hired to make the delivery because 1) he had a valid drivers license & 2) no criminal record. We were like long haul truckers Dad said, long haul truckers “bringing the Caddy back to a couple of richie-rich gray heads in Vermont.” He was excited. I could tell because he was smiling and laughing and there wasn’t a trace of his bad moods in the air. He might as well have said we were taking a magic carpet ride. Because when something was exciting to him, I was thrilled. If anyone could make hours and hours of driving into a game of make believe, he could. We started as long haul truckers but before we got to Vermont we were bank robbers (with a Robin Hood mentality ), scientists carrying an atomic weapon attached to the undercarriage and an Amish family forced to drive a Cadillac instead of a buggy.
“Don’t break a thing on this car. Not a goddamn button. We can’t afford to fix a button.” Dad checked the mirrors and adjusted his seat on the electronic sliding tracks. He’d even grabbed sunglasses at a gas station because for long haul trucking you needed to protect your eyes from the glare. Usually he didn’t make concessions to things like the sun, but as a trucker he was willing to, “we’re on the clock, we have a time frame.” He grabbed No-Doze along with a pair of black-lensed Foster Grants. Every truck stop we slid into, my father came back with paper cups of piss brown coffee, one for him, one for me. The Cadillac rode smooth and cool and the outside was like one big steaming mirage.
Mostly Dad went on adventures alone. Always, he said he wasn’t coming back. Usually I watched his back as he struck out on solo adventures, the green canvas slung over one shoulder. I would get teary because he was, over and over again, leaving for good. I was the only person left in our family who still believed him. His bag, along with my turquoise vinyl, bold orange plastic flowered, broken zippered suitcase was in the Caddy’s trunk. Headed home. So I knew he’d come back to get me from the side of the road. He loved me and playing games wasn’t fun alone. Who else would he play bank robber with? And Mom would be pissed if he showed up without me.
When Dad came home from trips he’d said he wouldn’t return from, he brought agricultural gifts. Because, you learned about people by what they grew and who they prayed to. Peach pits from Saskatchewan, apple seeds from the Ozarks and alfalfa from North Dakota. We were bringing my sister a watermelon from Mississippi. The watermelon, and its slippery black seeds was my sister’s gift from an adventure she’d missed. I twisted around and checked on the thing nestled inside back seat, a white leather bench with generous dips for “easy living asses” dad said. “Just put the watermelon in one of those and keep an eye on it, because it that fucker leaks we’re up a creek without a paddle.” He wasn’t really worried that the watermelon would leak because “that thing is inside a GE capitalistic womb, safe as a baby.” As we drove, dad shouted happy -like he had a bunch of people listening who cared about what he had to say. Even though it was just me. But that made me feel special that he’d tell just me all those exciting thoughts and important information.
He roared about GE and their moneymaking machine, union-hating corporate headquarters. He banged the seat with his fist . And sometimes he rolled down his window to let out a howl or holler, “the president is out of touch…we are sheep being lead to slaughter.” He shouted about poverty and the places where people were struggling to survive, “all over the globe and right here at home! We have a great divide of haves and have nots.” With the window open again, Dad slapped the roof of the car and declared, “the very car we’re in is a metal symbol of obscene decadence!”
Meanwhile, I worried that the watermelon would break and then we would ruin the Cadillac and then we would have to pay for the damaged car.
“Why are we riding in the thing if it’s such a bad car?” I asked.
“Because we’re doing a job. Working like the rest of the world, for the haves.”
I wasn’t sure what that all meant. But I knew to have more than you needed was wrong and that to say the pledge of allegiance was blasphemy because Dad said so. I stood and mouthed the words to the pledge of allegiance. But I did not SAY them. I also knew that to make me say the pledge was illegal. Dad said so. But I liked my teachers. And I didn’t want to explain my Dad or the snippets of the constitution he’d told me about. I mouthed the words and kept everyone happy.
When the No-Doze high dipped, Dad would stop talking long enough for me to think about what would be going on when I got home. Summer would be in full swing and I was still too fat to feel comfortable at the town pool. I was ten years old. I had hoped to get skinny before we got home.
That’s what I thought about in rare spaces of quiet, before I got kicked out of the car.