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There are certain occurrences in life that leave behind a mental residue. Whether they are in fragmented images or the length of the entire event they hold enough significance to be branded into the cerebral cortex, allowing the mind the capability to revisit them. Deep in the rifts of my mind lies a very specific memory that stands out among all the others I’ve collected through my life time. This memory is more recent than most as it takes place in the blistering summer of 2015. My boyfriend, Sean, was away in Arizona for advanced training for the US Army, and I, home in Boston, was spending a great deal of time with his father Pat, and his brother Mike. I, not having any family of my own, bonded with Sean’s family greatly during this time, but still held up a protective front. After growing up in the toxicity of a physically, mentally, emotional abusive home I didn’t trust many people, particularly not older men. And it wasn’t until one sunny afternoon during a routine driving lesson that things changed.
“Take a left here. I’ve never been down this road before,” I looked over to Pat nervously as I heard him say this from the passenger seat, but followed his instructions, trusting his judgment. Driving made me nervous. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up and every aching muscle in my body tighten to the point they would cramp every single time I got behind the wheel. Being in control of a racing, four thousand pound metal machine on wheels was enough to turn my twenty year old hair grey. But, helping me get my license was something that Pat desperately wanted to do, and as much as the queasy unease in my stomach protested, I wanted to let him aid me. I liked having a reason to see him every week, and I liked having something to bond over. I cut the wheel to the left, hand over quivering hand, and began to slowly increase the pressure to the accelerator as the Toyota made the steady incline up a hill. The trees began to grow thick on either side of the asphalt and houses disappeared completely in every direction. By the time we reached the peak of the intimidating mountain we were completely submerged in woodlands. I slowed the car to a near stop as I stared down the curving slope ahead. My eyes must have been the size of dinner plates, because Mike’s voice sounded from behind me, “You’re doing great. You don’t have to slow down that much.” I nodded timidly, letting the anxiety rush from my core up through my fingertips, tightening them on the wheel until my knuckles turned white. There were no lines on the road. Most backroads around Millis didn’t have them, and this road in particular was much too narrow to divide. Taking a deep breath I began the decent down the vine like path, picking up a little bit of speed as the small oak bridge beckoned us from the bottom. We were almost in the clear, edging the bridge, when the white jeep flew around the corner.
The oncoming vehicle did not stop or even decrease in exertion. The sound of wooden planks rattling together rushed through my open window as the four wheeled daemon sped over them angrily, now angling so that the front bumper was rushing straight to the center point between my headlights. My chest felt like the tight nit coil of a spring, waiting to burst with adrenaline in a fight or flight response and my mind glazed over in a moment of pure panic where no cognitive thought could exist. I did the first thing my instincts allowed: I swerved. The white jeep, the deep green of the forest, and the guys vanishing to the blurry abstract of my peripheral as my vision now narrowed to the new oncoming obstruction: the thick, wooden stalk of a telephone pole. A banshee like screech wrestled in my ear against the intensified sound of my own spastic heart beat and the smell of burnt rubber lifted from the asphalt as the wheels attempted to stop the vehicle before the distance between the Toyota and the utility pole could cease to exist. My fingers tingled with the pricks of a thousand pins and needles as they gripped the steering wheel in a sweaty yet firm death lock. My taste buds were flooded by the unflattering taste of aged copper pennies as a red liquid stream began to flow from the nervous puncture wound created on my throbbing tongue. It took every ounce of my energy to restrain from slamming my eyes shut, afraid to watch the effect of the impact unfold, but it never did. In the seconds before the bumper could kiss the oak beam Pat reached his hand over and ripped the wheel the other way. The sound of metal scraping wood rippled through the stunning silence of the forest like nails on chalk board before the car came to a stop, tittering on the edge of the bridge. We all sat in a stunned silence attempting to swallow what just happened, but after a few minutes of mind reeling numbness my vision was snapped back into focus as a hand began to sharply descend towards me.
Before I could help it a yelp of desperate panic left my lips. Within seconds my feet were on the concrete, my chest heaving, lungs gasping for breath. A bitter salt burned my eyes as liquid fear sprouted from them, leaving streams on my flushed cheeks. Then suddenly there were black boots in the line of my blurred vision and a pair of strong arms wrapping around me. I buried my face into the chest of my boyfriend’s younger brother and felt an avalanche fall as the slabs of my stone wall burst under the intense pressure. Another set of hands were suddenly at my back offering a comforting security. I found out later that the original hand coming toward me in the car was to squeeze my shoulder as I hadn’t heard them asking if I was ok.
Pat still hasn’t let me pay for the damage I did to his car that day. I also still haven’t gotten my license. But, despite no longer having the activity of driving as a buffer between awkward conversational pauses, I never miss a weekend with the guys. That summer I got in the car expecting to build a comfortable comradery at the dinner table, but left with a family. I would never say that I am glad to have skinned the paint off of Pat’s car (insurance claims can be a mess and who can afford basic mechanic work, let alone cosmetic) but if I had the option to go back to that moment in time I would turn left again.
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