Country driving and city story-telling

May 29, 2009 at 3:12 pm (my life) (, , )

I have a story that I’m working on so I can hopefully read it at The Moth in June.  This will be my first time doing something like this in New York, so I would appreciate any feedback anyone has, especially if you’ve been to/read at the Moth before.  The topic is “wheels”, and this is a story about how my sister and I learned to drive.

When you grow up in the country, the usual rite of passage of getting your drivers license often means very little.  A lot of kids learn how to drive around the age of 10 thanks to the magical combination of boredom, abandoned country roads, and “POS” cars.  POS means Piece of Shit, and most families had at least a few barely functional vehicles to spare.  When I was 7 I spent the night at a slightly older cousin’s house, and came home crowing about how she got to drive around, tearing up the dirt in the field behind their farm, and why couldn’t I learn to drive already?! My innovative parents answered my whining by presenting my sister and me with our very own child-sized vehicle.

“But Dad, that’s the lawnmower.”

“No it’s not, I took the blades off of it!”

And thus began our tenure on the orange and black metal hunk of a riding lawn mower that we named the AttackTrak, for reasons I can’t quite remember.  It wasn’t a rusted out truck, but it would do, as it made us the hit of the neighborhood kids with its opposite-of-purring engine and lack of turning radius.  It also made us the bane of flower gardens everywhere. At first my sister Molly, three years my senior and a fellow wild child of the road, was the only one allowed to drive, leaving me to scrunch myself into the seat behind her and hold on for dear life. I mean this literally.  It’s not like anyone ever built a riding lawnmower for two.  Often I would have to forget the seat entirely and hop on the three inches of metal behind the seat, digging my fingers into the peeling vinyl seat and exposed stuffing while Molly peeled off, all screeching tires and coughing engine. “Come on!” she would scream. “The blood is still fresh, we’ve got a real chance at solving this one!” I would adjust my imaginary trench coat, run, and jump onto my perch, screaming “GO GO GO”, and off we would go, solving crimes and destroying all plants in our way. Time was of the essence when we were playing detective, and as much as I enjoyed Molly’s fast-paced imaginary life, I wished that sometimes we could pretend to do calmer things, like go through a drive thru, or make a delivery.  Occasionally Molly would take off before I was even close to being securely on board, and I would fall off gracelessly, landing headfirst on the pavement.

My inability to brace my own falling became somewhat legendary. The first time it happened, I felt the impact and heard the AttackTrak’s screeching brakes at once, and Molly rushed over, terrified, to carry me inside to mom while I shrieked endlessly. Hitting your head is not the kind of pain that anything but time can help, so I would just cry weakly until I felt better, while Molly solemnly promised to always make sure I was in the seat before taking off. But she didn’t, and I never got any smarter about it. After three more landings directly on my skull, I could tell my head was wearing out its welcome. The third time I watched my mom, looking wavy through my tears, throwing down a magazine with a tired-sounding sigh.  “Again?  Alright, come here….”  To this day, the back of my head can withstand a pretty heavy impact.  Who knows how much brain damage has been done.

The fun ended, as most fun ends, with poor decision-making. After a few months of tooling around our neighborhood, I was granted permission to drive! I put the pedal to the medal and kicked Molly to the curb, preferring solo missions instead, wind streaming through my long blonde pigtails, seat sticking to the backs of my legs, perfecting my drifting technique. I started a taxi service for small woodland creatures, but except for a turtle I found once and surely utterly confused, my only fares were my stuffed animals, all looking to get to a fun party somewhere.  Driving alone made me feel superhuman, giddy and noble and powerful all at once.  One day my sister beckoned me over to the swingset, where she was hanging on the monkey bars above my head, and encouraged me to drive under the bars while she held on. I thought this was a fantastic idea and carefully aimed the AttackTrak between the metal confines of the swingset, laughing hysterically. About five feet before I reached her, my sister lost her grip, as she was also very excited, and fell to the ground in front of me.  And because I’ve never been good with quick reactions, I ran over my sister with the lawnmower before I was able to stop.  I threw it into park and ran to Molly, who was lying dazed, having just watched her legs be, well, mowed over.  Luckily she was fine, just pretty bruised up, and the only casualty was our relationship with the AttackTrak, which we were henceforth forbidden to drive.  I was ok with that, as I realized that it kinda led up to its name a little too much. I never lost my passion for riding in cars, just my passion for riding lawnmowers.

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