It’s summer in Memphis, TN in 2002. Even when it’s dark, the humidity slicks your clothes to your skin. The first riff of Badly Drawn Boy’s Silent Sigh, a track from the soundtrack of the movie About a Boy, drifts over my speakers,
“Come see what we all talk about…”
The air conditioner doesn’t work in my two-door red 1984 Pontiac Sunbird, so I roll my window down. This car, a veritable tank, is the same age as me. I am youthful at 17 years old; my car is not. The whole thing is creaky. Any slow turns make it scream like it’s in pain. The belt needs to be lubed or, more likely, replaced, but it won’t matter because this car will be totaled in less than a year.
The spring after I turned 18, I, completely sober, let a boy, without a driver’s license or even a learner’s permit, drive my car on a normal weekday evening while I sat in the passenger seat.
We drove less than a mile before he tried to take a New Jersey left, turning without a green arrow in front of opposing traffic. This decision — a dangerously stupid one — left him unharmed. I, on the other hand, was concussed and temporarily blind, my face smashed into somewhat recognizable pulp, shards of glass embedded in my scalp, cheeks, chin, arms, and legs.
As I felt him take his foot off the brake as soon as the light turned green, I thought to say something like, “Stop” or “Don’t,” but it was all too late, the chance for disaster to be averted sailing away from me. A SUV plowed into the passenger side of the car — my side of the car. My seatbelt didn’t engage, one of my old car’s many failings. My head smashed against the window, then the dash, and then the window again.
The third blow knocked me out. When I woke some time later, enough time had passed for us to no longer be moving. The boy had unbuckled my useless seatbelt and was clutching me, his head against my neck. I knew this all only by touch and sense because I didn’t want to open my eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” I heard him say.
“Keeps down the sound of your
Silent sigh, silent sigh silent sigh…”
I opened my eyes yet I saw nothing. I blinked them.
“I…can’t see,” I told him through lips that felt slick and fat. “I’m blind.” I blinked my eyes more rapidly, as if I just needed to clear them to be able to see again.
“Call my mother,” I said at some point.
“Where is your cell phone?” I heard him ask. My clunky early 2000s Nokia phone was somewhere in the car. It had been on my lap when we’d been hit. I swallowed my own blood as I slumped against the passenger door crumpled tight against me. I heard him rooting around on the floor.
“Here it is,” he said. “What’s her number?” I told him and heard him press the keys.
They used the jaws of life to get me out. By that point, the darkness I saw had lightened to vague silhouettes of bodies and objects.
When the door was off, I was lifted onto a gurney and put into an ambulance and taken to the ER. At some point, my clothes were cut off my body. Pieces of glass the nurses, doctors, I, or my mother removed from my face, hands, and legs. My chin was stitched. My nose was set. I could expect two surgeries and to wear a splint for weeks.
“The bone of your nose is like mashed potatoes,” the doctor told me.
When my mother, so angry at me that she swore at me in front of the medical staff, asked me later, “Why did you let him drive your car?” I said, “I don’t know.”
I had a bad feeling about it when I’d asked him if he wanted to drive a car. It was one of those kinds of premonitions you ignore to your own detriment.
“Stop baby don’t go stop here…
Could we love each other”
Even if he hadn’t totaled my car with me in it, I would have never loved this boy. He, like most boys and men I would hang out with or date from then on, was inappropriate for me. I was pathologically addicted to someone’s potential, lilting from one heady, bottoming relationship to the next. The fact that this short-lived affair would end with my face smashed should have been the worst kind of omen.
“…it eats the heart from your soul”
The idea for him to drive my car had been mine. Our mutual friend had let another mutual friend drive his car, so it felt like it was the “cool” thing to do: let someone who had no driver’s license drive your car, especially the young someone I was now hanging out with. Maybe I thought it would solidify me as cool or in control, neither of which were actually true.
My life, then and for a while after, was a skittering kaleidoscope of awful choices.
The boy sent flowers to my home. I threw them out and never spoke to him again.
“But don’t love each other
No don’t love each other”
I must have known he didn’t have a license or learner’s permit, but I said I didn’t. I sometimes think he never told me. I sometimes think he did. I don’t remember or maybe both things happened. Hard to keep track of the truth anymore 17 years later.
But this is before all of that, in 2002. I am driving. The soundtrack to About a Boy is on my stereo. My clothes are slick against my skin. I am young and hardly scarred. I stick my left hand out the window and ride the current of the wind.
“Keeps down all move me down”