My hands gripped the steering wheel. I couldn't remember where "first" was. I put my foot on the clutch....holding it, as if for ransom, or perhaps it was holding me. I let go. This must have been third. The front of the truck flashed it's red hood and bucked twice. Something crashed against the tailgate. The engine breathed its last breath without a goodbye, and I sat quietly at the bottom of the hill.
In first grade, just seven years ago, Mrs. Bergstrom would tell us to sit quietly. If ever we were upset, getting ourselves all worked up, getting hot with emotion, she would tell us, "just sit quietly. It will pass." And the thing is, it usually did, so we believed her. She was tall and thin. Not the kind of thin from exercise, but the kind that comes from having loved and lost. She wore her survival tightly, within the confines and authority of her gray pencil skirt. Perhaps it's easier to trust someone who's been left. Maybe we trusted that she, then, would stay. She stood upright, and we sat quietly.
Some took it more seriously than others. David Holte, who was my desk neighbor and also my neighbor on Van Dyke Road took it most seriously of all. Returning from recess, we all sat at our desks. David looked even paler than usual. He lifted the top of the desk and threw up his lunch without making a sound. He closed the desk and sat quietly. Mrs. Bergstrom didn't find out until his creamed peas on toast started leaking through the pencil hole at the bottom of the desk. The janitor was called. We left the room in single file and she was right. It did pass.
I waited at the bottom of the hill. I hated that red truck. My father's truck. I didn't know how to drive it. I didn't know how to drive. I didn't have a license. I wasn't 16. I was old enough though... old enough to know that the only reason I was in this truck was because he hated my mother. He couldn't even get in this stupid red truck and go get her from work. He told me to get in the truck. "This is first, second, third and fourth." His hands moved through the gears. Practice a few times and then go get your mother." What? First? What happened to her car? He slammed the door, almost as hard as the day he left us the first time. I had told the back of the door that day, "I hate you," I told this red door the same.
I rode the clutch down the bottom of the hill. I couldn't remember where "first" was. Jim Norton pulled out of his driveway. I ducked. He was the kind of father that came home every night. I was ashamed behind the redness of my father's truck.
I pushed through gears and the truck bucked. What kept hitting the back of the tailgate? Push. Clutch. Release. Buck. Smash. Sigh. Push. Clutch. Release. Buck. Sigh. I hate this truck.
Maybe we hate things more for having loved them at one time.
I played softball in the summertime. I rode my banana seat bike to the Dairy Queen field - the softball field behind the Dairy Queen. I think it had a different name , maybe a former police chief, or mayor, but I don't remember anyone calling it anything other than Dairy Queen field. Ice cream, or ice milk as I guess this was, made me sick, so the Dairy Queen never had the same appeal to me. Even when it put in the brazier grill, it was not better for me. They put pickles on their hamburgers. Couldn't order them any other way. I hated pickles since the lunch room monitor made me eat the ones I had left on my tray before I could go back to he safety of Mrs. Bergstrom's classroom. So while the other girls ate ice cream and hamburgers, I drank water from the fountain in a Dennis the Menace official Dairy Queen cup. But these were still good days. Summer. Bikes. Friends. No thought of winning or losing. Just play.
On a Wednesday afternoon in July, the skies turned a deep shade of gray. Lightning strikes cleared the field and the rains poured. We all ran into the Dairy Queen. One by one the girls were picked up by mothers and brothers and babysitters. I watched my unlocked bike through the dripping glass windows. All my friends were gone now. I would have to wait out the rain. I watched one woman eat an entire brazier meal in the corner booth. She finished with a banana split, wiped her mouth with a red and white Dairy Queen napkin, and snuck out the back door. Despite her three hundred pounds, her afternoon secret was safe with me. The all day rain was true to its name. I sat quietly. The glass turned a pinkish red. I could see the outline of a truck. A red truck. My father threw my bike in the back and took me home. I loved that red truck that Wednesday.
Somehow I bucked my way to the top of the hill. I got back to our driveway and stopped. "What have you done?" He asked angrily and looked at the paint compressor in e back of the truck. "You broke the nozzle off." That was the noise. He knew he would have to go pick up my mother. I don't know which made him more angry.
The truck pulled out of the driveway, so smoothly, so easily. I sat in the gravel. I wondered if he had once loved her. Maybe one rainy, Wednesday afternoon he had loved my mother. And it comforted me. The red pickup would soon be gone for good. She would survive. People would trust her. I sat quietly.