In 2005 AD I couldn’t understand it.
What it meant
If it meant anything.
Or if it’d cursed me, somehow. Cursed my family.
But now, looking back, I think I do see the importance. Or, at least believe that it can’t not in some ways have affected me: that my dad’s dad’s dad invented getting hit by a car.
That he was the very first victim of vehicular manslaughter.
And that’s a true thing about me that some people know.
And my father did swear–with his palms facing me the frontward way like he was going to shove me off the sidewalk–that one of us in the family would become famous for something much better than just getting hit by a car; and that it was nothing to be proud of; or funny; or interesting. He promised to God that we’d do better. And that really meant something coming from my dad because he’d been in the priesthood outside of Dallas for all those years. Then he’d spent those years after he left the church near the New Mexico border, watching the five, six and seven o’clock news every morning, making sure the world hadn’t changed too much while he was sleeping.
I think he thought our family was destined for greatness.
I think he really thought that.
He was leaving for Wales, and me and my sister were getting his bags into the taxi.
“It’s in the police report,” my father said, again stepping towards me. And he was crying. And even his lips were crying somehow. And I’d taken so many Percocet and green bars I couldn’t even swallow the spit in my mouth. Nothing about me was working as my father kept talking. “The very first pedestrian. The first victim. But we’re not victims–no! You two certainly aren’t.” And he pointed at me. And then at my sister.
I was happy for him, and wasted, so my hug was tight.
My sister thought he’d lost his mind, so her hug was half-hearted and very not tight.
He cry-smiled our whole drive to the airport. And even though his teeth weren’t the whitest, he still looked terribly handsome to me that afternoon in late May or early June. He was like an explorer. Or a movie character. And it must have been late May, because my father needed to be in Wales for the first shearing of the summer. He waved once more from the security line with his shoes in his hands. Then he was gone. Gone. Headed halfway around the world, to where his brother owned some land. Farmland. And, even against my sister’s advice, he really did work hard with the sheep for a time. But the sheep wouldn’t take to him and were constantly getting lost or sick. And the dogs he bought would often run off, only to come back to his cottage hours after dark. It was sad, the emails me and my sister would get from him. Always with a picture of him in a blue sweater, holding a sheep by its stomach so that the sheep was up on its hind-legs, its front trotters out like the sheep was waving, my father and the sheep sending us love from his new homeland.
It went like that for a while: dad trying, dad failing.
Then, after a few years of the sheep not working, he began growing potatoes in a field beside a flooded field. And all the moisture from the flooded ground made his potatoes taste like celery. Like cold air. Like a freshly clean, freshly scrubbed vagina, my sister once joked.
The potato thing worked for a time.
A bit of time.
Until one day our dad’s brother’s wife, Ama, found dad next to a half-dug post, way out at the far end of the field, the crows circling high above in the endless crow-colored sky.
Overwhelmed with joy.
That our father had died in their field.
* * *
In Los Angeles, I asked my therapist if any of her female patients fantasized about having their breasts ejaculated onto. “Is that something that’s common?” I asked, crossing my arms, putting a softness in my voice that I felt, maybe, feigned a type of curiosity. “I’m asking. Because it’s always seemed–at best–like something a girl pretends to be into to get the guy off.”
“Do you think women often pretend with you?” my therapist asked in her stupid way.
“I bet they really like it if it’s a famous person,” I said, ignoring her. “Or if it’s like a fictional character they fantasize about. Because then it’s a power thing.”
She asked what I was looking for, reaction-wise.
What I wanted her to say?
What was I really asking her? she kind-of marveled.
I continued, “I came on Ashley Tisdale’s–who’s famous–tits, in a private room, at a private party at her agent’s house. She said she liked it a lot. Do you think she lied? Do a lot of women think about getting jizzed on? Seriously? Do they? What about the glueyness of wiped up cum?"
“These aren’t real questions,” she said, spinning her watch around her narrow wrist. She wore a Van Cleef with no hands on the dial: a watch incapable of telling time, only suggesting it. “You seem to be feeling real distre––”
“No, no! This matters, this matters, this matters. Seriously. How often does someone come in here and tell you they dreamt about sex? Or cum? Or Mickey Mouse getting laid? Or Harrison Ford or Michael Meyers having their cocks out? Does that happen?”
For a moment I thought she might laugh.
But she didn’t.
She only sighed. Then she looked at me like I should keep going, like I should finish my stupid little thought so it wouldn’t be in my head anymore.
“Do women imagine,” I said, starting slow. I shoved my hands between my knees like a schoolboy. “Like King Kong launching himself off a rooftop to go fuck. On a rainy day. Everything’s slick out. And bouncy. And yes–okay, okay–it’s one of those purple-cloud nights that New York does sooooo well. And Kong rips the Statue of Liberty off her cupcake stand and drags her back into the city. He drags her right into the heart of Times Square. And–boom–Kong’s pulling up her copper skirt, it’s up over her head and people are taking pictures from the windows of the Nike Store. And Kong’s got these little green flecks from Lady Liberty’s crown in his pubes from having her blow him. And his cock’s got metal shavings running up and down the whole thing, and he's still–he's still going. Of course, everybody starts cheering him on: Get it Kong! Get her! And the NYPD officers start free firing at the Broadway signs! All the bucket drummers get in rhythm with Kong’s fat, monkey hips! And the tourists–oh! the tourists–in their already-falling-apart I-❤️-New-York-t-shirts. Everybody duck! Everyone get down! Because the crane operators start spinning backwards, taking out the corners of the very best, very brightest buildings and then–now stay with me–one of those crazy fucking crane guys floors it straight into the water pond at Ground Zero! He blows his motor! Kong blows it on those perfect green tits! He’s monkey screaming! And! And! The entire city runs out onto their fire escapes, throwing the loudest things they own–televisions, frying pans, fucking gold bricks–just hoping to get a little louder! A bigger crash! A scream! The city folding up into animals! Turning into a bunch of mini Kongs! Going wild! ‘Cause, you know people love remembering their contribution to everything–how they were there too! Even King Kong titty-fucking the Statue of Liberty. Because people want to be there, right? Be a part of the world? So, now tell me–how often do your other patients think about getting came on?”
For a time, she was silent.
Notepad in hand but she stared at my feet, my ripping sandals.
One room over: the microwave beeped.
Someone had forgotten their lavender tea.
I popped every joint in my hand that I could think to pop. Then I asked her if she’d ever been to New York. “No,” she said, “I haven’t. Have you?”
“I went with my parents.”
“That’s interesting,” she said.
“Do you get in trouble if I kill myself?” I asked.
She took a sip of her mug and leaned back in her chair. “No. Not trouble,” she said, setting down her coffee, picking up her pen, clicking her pen and then writing down the name of another doctor on the way other side of town. “But we’d have some explaining to do.”
* * *
I was taking a new drug that was making it so I could talk to my car.
That was the fun part.
Beside that: I was not thinking great thoughts; it was a not-great-thought kind of day; an unfun day. I had asked a girl in a chatroom I’d been spending my afternoons in if she would write me a love poem. She did write me a poem and the poem did make me cry, so I went out on my little terrace and called my sister to read her the poem.
“Gulf Stream Kindness,” I said into the phone. “By, Kaitlin_Is_2real. A current of love in the air, air––” Of course, reading the poem to my sister didn’t go the way I was hoping, and we both started yelling real, real good. Then my neighbor–the one with large muscles and the dog who’d lost half her ear when she got it stuck in the silver fence near the silver lock box–came out onto his own little terrace, and, even though the sun was in the perfect part of the sky and there was a nice, good Los Angeles breeze going, he was still heated about all the yelling. He leaned his head out over our divider wall and accused me of being a “hundred-percent pussy.” For my part: I lied and told him I was screaming at my sister’s husband for taking my car without asking. To which my muscular neighbor nodded, like he understood my plight, and we each headed back inside to our own respective apartments.
Back inside my troubling thoughts continued.
It was this picture I couldn’t shake: the thought of getting out the gun that Aaron had given me instead of rent the month before he moved out. Which was fine with me at the time, because I was still rolling off the dough from doing that submarine movie with Harvey Keitel.
Anyways, I couldn’t stop thinking about the gun. More specifically: about holding the gun up against my arm and slitting my wrists with a bullet.
A weird thought.
But one I couldn’t shake while sitting on the sofa.
I needed out of the apartment, which was good because me and my car had agreed that we’d take his engine block apart when I was done eating lunch and running the laundry. Me and the car were trying to figure out if the ticking behind the dashboard was a rat? Or a bird that had flown in beneath the undercarriage and burrowed? Something?
Before I left, I smashed up a little bit more of this great white drug.
I snorted hard in the kitchen. Then I tilted my head back and thought about how unfortunate it was that even with all the movie roles and the tv roles, I still, regrettably, was not more famous than my dad’s dad’s dad for being the first person hit by a car. Which hurt me. Because night after night I was acting my butt off at this shitty little dinner theater, trying to keep all the bills paid and getting my face out in front of any prospective agent or casting director who might be out for a silly night on the town. I’d inured myself to the walkouts. The laughing-coughs. The sad, acid penned Yelp reviews which often reflected a very real and very intense contempt for not just me, but my “essence” as well. (Also mentioned were my boxy ears; uneven eyeline; and the suggestion, when excited, of a severe lisp I’d carried with me through much of my elementary school years.”
The drugs started rolling my eyes towards my hairline.
I sat down on the kitchen floor and kept thinking about how I needed so much that the world refused to give me. A good job. Fame. Antihistamine and blood thinners and beta blockers. Food that didn’t make me sick. And, if it wasn’t too much trouble, maybe even someone kind to kiss, and hold, and scratch my back after a night of staying brave on stage.
Lying there...I swear, ...I could feel it. It. Me. My apartment sinking deeper into the dumb Van Nuys ground. I stood up in the kitchen and looked at the dead ants next to the sink; every day I woke up and sprayed the ants before breakfast; every day they found a new queen and climbed on my arms as I ate eggs and thought of my father; and ignored calls from my sister; and took energy pills; and other drugs and pretended my car was like K.I.T.T from Knight Rider except I didn’t need to pretend anymore because last week the car asked me how close I could get to hitting a golf ball onto the freeway, and if I’d ever gone goose hunting, and if I was sad about letting everyone down for so long that people no longer expected me to do things in a non-disappointing way.
Outside: the car is quiet.
“How are you feeling?” I ask. “How’s the engine…What? You’re mad at me now?” “Hello?” “Hello?” “Are you going to say anything or what?”
A jogger passes by with her dog tied to her stomach.
A seagull passes somewhere overhead.
“You left me out here all alone, all night,” says the car. “And in answer to your question, I am feeling much better, no thanks to you.”
“That’s good,” I said, sliding my finger beneath the driver’s-side handle. “Because I really have no idea how to take an engine apart.”
At that we both had a laugh.
Because it was funny to me.
And to the car.
Beneath that hot, hate-filled California sun.
Both of us realizing just how silly I’d finally become.
* * *
“I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know!” I told my car as we drove fast down the 405.
“You said no killing!” my car cried, his voice soft behind the clicking that’d returned to his engine block. I took a deep breath and mouthed the word killer, softly, and only to myself.
“Try not to think about it,” I told him, my hand shaking. The blood from the teller at First National Bank who’d looked like Elijah Wood until I shattered his nose was soaking through my sweatshirt and I could now feel his blood, slick against my skin. I looked down at the car’s glowing lights. The speed gauge. The oil warning. Everything blinking. Tire pressure, no good. The tires were almost done. Done. “Think about that thing we listened to…about the hero dog who pulled that cop out of a burning building in San Clemente even though his fur was on fire.”
“You didn’t say anything about killing,” the car said. “You said it was money, man, just the cash.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, checking the mirror. Still clear. No lights. I pulled the gun I imagined shooting through my veins out of my waistband and stashed it beneath the seat. For a moment it was like I was on television again. Junkie Perp #2, on Blue Bloods. Or Stoner on Park Bench like I was on Law & Order. And I could see the teller lying there, his teeth on his chest and on the floor next to him, his blood all over, a part of his nose still hanging off the end of the gun. I hit him harder than you’re supposed to hit things. Would he die? Was he dead? In my mind, the body of the teller became the body of my father. And the body was waiting on the shorter of the two mortician's tables for me and my sister to fly to Wales and identify it; we couldn’t leave until Saturday because there were no fast ways to get to Wales. Only slow ways. Through England. Through Schiphol international where lost sons called out from baggage carousel, their arms filled with duty-free firewood: cartons of Marlboro reds, brown liquors and Canadian syrups with red-waxed bottle caps. “At least you two liked each other,” she'd said. As we waited in line to board, me and my sister slapped each other’s hands over and over–something we’d done often out of boredom when we were young. It was so strange: we were already dog-tired of having a dead dad. We were already fed up with having lost something so precious.
The car’s rattling got louder. Louder. And there were still no cop lights behind us as we passed a white school bus and for a moment were in the dark. Which is when my car said, “I think that ticking noise is something in my heart.”
“Fan belts,” I said, pressing hard on the gas. “We’re going to make it.”
My car shook his head
“It’s the steering column,” I said, and I was crying a little. “We’re almost there.”
But my car was having none of it. “It’s over, man,” he said. And he meant it. I said: no,no,no,no,no! To which my car said nothing and instead turned off on the next exit ramp.
He pulled slowly to a curb outside a restaurant, stopping behind a car that wasn’t parked quite right. It was a Cuban diner and we could both smell it. I wiped my tears and I asked, “Can you just make it home?” But my car was done talking; he popped his hood, his trunk, he rolled down all his windows and opened his gas tank. “I’m sorry,” I said, as the lights dimmed in the cabin. The car sighed. He let out a deep breath. “It was fun,” he said softly, his voice breaking in the smallest way.
I could hear the sirens way out somewhere.
I put my hands against the cold steering wheel and looked out at the street before me: the unlit storefronts and fire hydrants; the animal trash and bikes politely disassembled; the sun falling between two-story roofs and the clouds, which had come down real low like they had something to say. The sirens were closer now and a dog was doing his business against a chain fence. I turned my head just a little and squinted at the busted sidewalk. For a moment then, I could actually see it. Right there, right in front of me. It wasn’t the last of the daylight playing tricks on my eyes or the bad bend of the powerlines. Nope. And it wasn’t the warp of my dead car’s front windshield. Definitely not. No, I could see the buildings and the street corners, the parking meters and awnings of the Irish pubs, white, green and gold and stretching all the way down Elston Avenue. And like the blood soaking through my sleeve. Or the Elijah-Wood-looking bank teller lying toothless against the hard marble––it was what it was, and for the first time I could see what it was––looking as far down the street as I could possibly look, the city, I swear to God, was actually crooked.