It’s funny what triggers a memory. Something as simple as a song and suddenly you’re having a vivid recollection of something that happened over 30 years ago. In my case it’s something I would have preferred to have kept buried deep in my head but there you go, your head doesn’t seem too much care what it drags out into the daylight at any particular time. What’s worse is that I’m not even sure I believe it except it happened to me so I’m inclined to. I’m not sure you’ll believe it but as I’ve started telling it already I might as well finish up and let you make of it what you will.
I was 9 at the time.
My parents had just purchased a reconditioned Chrysler. I could try and tell you which kind and act like some sort of greasemonkey but the truth is I just remember it was a Chrysler and that’s about it. A 4 door stationwagon with a tailgate that dropped down and a hatch that went up. It was a pale bad yellow in color.
Obviously there is a whole lot of other details I could give you about my life at age 9 but the story really revolves around the car so I’ll skip a lot of the unnecessary junk. Just assume my life was a typical suburban upbringing with the usual daily dramas and triumphs. Well, maybe short a few triumphs compared to the other kids in the neighborhood but not completely devoid of them either.
One night I overheard my Dad tell my Mom that the previous owner of the car had gone headlong through the windshield… except without his head which was still sitting in the front seat wrapped up in his seatbelt. I figure it was is easier to say it that way than tell you he went headlesslong through it. Anyway, from the time I heard the story the car creeped me out.
It didn’t help that my bedroom looked out over the driveway while my parents room, down the hall 3 or 4 football fields away it seemed, overlooked the back yard. They would never believe me when I told them that the car would sometimes wake me up at night. This was before camcorders and cell phones could have easily proven my case. Every time I would go wake them we would run back and all would be quite on the driveway and I would get yet another lecture about my overactive imagination.
It was always that stupid fucking song Cars by Gary Numan. Playing softly over and over again until I came to the window. I would look down on the car and every now and then it would flash one headlight like some sort of malevolent wink. Doesn’t sound very scary but when you’re 9 years old and you hear a weird synthesizer in the darkness it freaks you out a little. Then there was the time I looked down and there was a headless corpse laying on the hood and the windshield was all smashed up and there was blood everywhere. I screamed so loud that 3 other houses in the neighborhood had their lights pop on and people in bathrobes came pouring into the streets to see what had happened.
Needless to say there wasn’t any corpse on the hood of our car and my parents made the usual apologies to my worried neighbors. They almost made me see a shrink but I convinced them it was all a nightmare.
In a way it was.
So from then on I didn’t try and tell my parents anything about their car or the damn Gary Numan song. Even the time I was looking down at it and watched the driver’s side door slowly open. No song that time. Don’t even remember why I was looking at it. Maybe it was just part of my nightly routine by then.
Looking back I can’t believe that even this became normal to me but when you’re 9 I guess you can stomach a lot of weird shit.
I guess your first reaction upon hearing this whopper is to ask did I ever ride it to which the answer is an “of course”. Almost every day. Somehow in the daylight it was almost ok and it never seemed to misbehave when my parents were around. I do remember hearing Cars on the radio almost every drive but it was 1979 and I guess the song was a big hit so who’s to say that this was unusual.
One day I was sitting in the backseat ready to go when my Mom said that she forgot something in the house and that she would be right back. I remember immediately starting to cry and begged her not to leave me in the car but she was already out the door and half way up the front steps. As soon as the door shut behind her the engine turned over and the doors locked. Funny, in telling you this story I suddenly remember the feeling of the air conditioning coming on full blast. I had goosebumps anyway but the feeling of the cold air on my face as I felt the car start to roll backwards makes the hair stand up on my arms even as I type this.
My eyes were shut tight at first but I remember the feeling of backing over the mailbox, the little rumble it made underneath where I was sitting terrified. The car braked hard and I sunk into the seat a little before the sound of squealing tires hurt my ears and made my eyes pop open as if to see the last things I would ever see.
The volume was cranked up and Gary was singing with what seemed a chorus of demons.
Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
It’s the only way to live In cars
I try but I can’t remember many details of the ride. I just remember driving faster than I’d ever seen my parents drive or anyone else for that matter. There are little snippets of concerned faces and hairpin turns but in no particular order. I remember the feel of the warmth running down my legs as I wet myself.
Here in my car
I know I’ve started to think
About leaving tonight
Although nothing seems right
Eventually the drive had a conclusion, I will spare you the clumsy metaphors about life being a journey, and I ended up in a ditch surrounded by at least half of the local law enforcement in addition to a few Illinois state troopers.
Now you might think that this led to me being grounded for the better part of my childhood but the entire was forgotten very quickly actually as the next night my parents were killed in that same car. Apparently they tried to beat a train through a crossing and ended up not quite being successful. I later found out they hit it head on and for many years wondered if it was the shame of having a crazy kid that made them want to do it.
Like everything else, all the pain and fear eventually disappears into the past, only to surface when something makes you think about it. Usually these triggers are unwelcome and you do your best to avoid wallowing in them.
Maybe that was why I ended up not only buying a Chrysler recently but not even thinking about the connection it had to my past. Now some might argue that your subconscious leads you to make a lot of odd decisions without ever knowing that you’re the one making them but I think I’m being totally honest when I say that I never even thought about it. I just liked the look of the new Town & Country.
So what are the odds that the last three days when I turned on the car that the same song would be playing? What are the odds that it would be Cars? I reckon the odds are pretty slim which is why I’m sitting here behind the wheel typing this and posting it before I turn the key again this morning.
Heart racing and every hair on my neck standing straight up.
Anything but Gary Numan.