Saturday, July 16, 2011

the almost exorcism

every time i think about it, it makes me ill.

maybe if i tell you about it, this gut-punch reaction will go away.

back in the day (make that way back in the day) on a warm summer afternoon, a friend of mine drove up in a new car. it wasn't new-new, of course. our parents didn't have that kind of money.

but it was new to him, and more importantly it was a set of wheels, which was pretty damn cool no matter how not-new it was.

i no longer remember what kind of car it was. if i had to bet, i'd say it was a 1969 chevy impala. yellow, with a black hardtop, and black vinyl seats.

but, you know, that's a guess.

the car wasn't in perfect shape. it needed some body work and some paint and four new tires. it eventually got the paint. didn't matter. my friend (we'll call him "tyrone," even though that wasn't his name, and i've never had a friend named "tyrone") was fired up about his new ride. teenage independence, and all that.

so here was tyrone, in front of my parents' house, showing off his car. we walked around it, we sat in it, we cranked up the AM radio. eventually tyrone popped open the hood so we could peer in at the engine, which looked like it had been power washed. which it probably had.

full disclosure: i'm not a car guy. never have been. i subscribe to donald sutherland's philosophy about tanks in kelly's heroes; "oh man, i only ride 'em, i don't know what makes 'em work." (his character's name was "oddball," if you appreciate the irony of such things.)

my ignorance, however, doesn't explain away what happened next, or why it's haunted me all these years. did i say it makes me ill? it really does.

tyrone was investigating something low on the car's grill, a ding or some other minor flaw that no one else would ever notice. his hand, supporting his weight, was above the grill, his fingers gripping the edge of the frame.

at that point i think i may have said something like, "are we done here?" and i think he may have said yes. so i pulled the the hood down.

heavy, spring-loaded, the hood dropped like a detroit guillotine. microseconds before it sliced through his fingers, tyrone blithely moved his hand off the car.

he wasn't even aware the hood was in was blind, preposterous luck that his avulsed fingers weren't at that moment twitching atop the engine block.

i don't really remember any more details of that afternoon. i'm sure i had a shocked look on my face, and i'm sure tyrone was equal parts relieved and annoyed. outraged, maybe. like, "what are you, fucking stupid?!?"

can't say i'd blame him. but at the end of the day...nothing really happened. and since that's true, i'd guess tyrone has long-forgotten about the whole thing.

me, i still think about it. not often...but when i do, it's as if his fingers actually had been lopped off. i get the same sick, shuddering feeling, all over again.

i think it's because i did something really stupid, something with disastrous consequences for someone else. the fact that they were almost-consequences is completely irrelevant.

when i started this little exercise, it was in hopes that i could purge the memory of that day, and never have to think of it again. second-best would be not to have to deal with the lousy feeling in my gut every time it pops back into my head.

but now i'm thinking something else. now i'm thinking maybe tyrone and his not-lopped fingers are a great reminder to wake up, pay attention, and always be vigilant about what i'm doing.

and the fact that i get this reminder without anyone actually having been hurt is a ridiculously generous gift from the cosmos. or, you know, whomever.

now that i've told you about it, i hope it doesn't go away.

having said that, i still advise caution if you drive over one day to show me your new car.

you can't be too careful.

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