Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Death Car

The Ford Fordor that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were shot to death in on a windy, rural Louisiana back road became known as The Death Car. It toured the country afterward, dented like a tin can and riddled with holes from 167 bullets that had given their bodies the same treatment. We came to refer to my father’s blue, beat- up station wagon with its wood paneling and sloping hood like an ant eater’s snout by the same name: The Death Car. It sat in our driveway for a full year after his death, the newspaper he had bought on that day still waiting for him on the back seat. I had planned on grabbing the paper and saving it, adding it to the growing collection under my bed that commemorated important worldly events, but never did. When the car was finally towed away for use by some desperate charity, I wasn’t around to collect the memento mori.

When my mother kicked me out of the house for using heroin my senior year of high school*, I assumed she’d let me come back home. I assumed I’d have plenty of places to go and not being able to handle her guilt and worry, she’d not only let me come back, she’d beg me to come back. I was intensely wrong. My bad reputation and her itchy phone finger were formidable enemies, prefacing me like a disclaimer wherever I went. My arrival at any friend’s house always seemed to come after her phone call to their parents. Soon enough I had no place to stay that didn’t involve sneaking in through a window or an unlocked door in the middle of the night. So when I wore out my welcome or found the window locked, I’d go to my father’s car in the driveway, utilizing its broken door locks, and sleep inside, reading the newspaper on the back seat over and over again till I fell asleep.

One morning I awoke to my grandmother staring me down through the back passenger side window. The look of disgust on her face reached through the glass and shook me awake violently. She never liked our neighbors, but suddenly they were the most important people in the world. While her weighted glare had melted the window's glass, her greatest wish was to build it back up again tinted black.

My grandmother had always disliked my father, with his six children by two different women, his lack of papered education and uninspired employment history, but death had given him the ability to live up to a very basic parental responsibility, one worthy of recognition if only she could have seen past her grudges and embarrassment to acknowledge it.

When I had nowhere else to go, my father had taken me in.

© Fiona Helmsley

* her hope was to force me into going to rehab.