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It was the first day of summer vacation, I was 16, and I had some money to burn. I gathered some things and set off for a shopping trip. I remember feeling this great sense of independence and freedom - a car, some cash, a sunny day - could it get any better than this?!
Not even a mile from home, I realized it was time to put some music in. I felt around the seat next to me for the cassette tape I was in the mood for.. Marilyn Manson? Nah. Tori? Not today.. Ah yes, here it is.. Wilson Philips, "Shadows and Light". Perfect!
Oh, c'mon you stupid cassette.. Go in the tape player! *fiddles with it*
The next thing I know, my car has been flung off the road. I'm driving in the ditch at about 50mph. I remember screaming, and feeling like this wasn't really happening, when my car flew over a waterway and crashed head-on on the other side. The impact was unlike anything you could imagine. The car hit head-on, then toppled over to one side, with the passenger side facing towards the sky and me facing the ground.
After a lot of screaming and crying, I realized that the car was going to explode, that I was in the middle of nowhere, that I had to get out, that no one would find me, and that I would die. I unbuckled my seat belt, managed to stand on the steering wheel, unroll the passenger-side window, and pull myself out of the car. I wish I had that on tape. That must have been a sight! While I was pulling myself out, I noticed my left forearm bend inwards - kind of like how your arm does at the elbow? Only this was my forearm. How I didn't faint, and how I still managed to pull myself out of there, is beyond my comprehension.
Now what? Well, I've got to find help. I hobbled a half-mile until seeing a tractor out in a field. I waved frantically, and this poor old farmer drove over to see what was up. I tried to remain calm, for his sake, even though blood was streaming down my face and legs. He drove his old tractor home and called an ambulance.
When all was said and done, I had bruised my lungs, cracked my sternum, and broken my left arm so badly they had to put it back together with a metal plate. I had plenty of deep cuts, too.. I managed to still smash my head into the windshield, even though I was wearing my seatbelt. (which saved my life, I have NO doubt) After a full week in the hospital, doped up on as much morphine as the pump would let me have, I was set free..
.. to spend the entire summer recovering.
The crash came at a strange time in my life. I had been dabbling in the occult - Wicca, Tarot, New Age. My destination the day of the crash was Barnes & Noble, to look over their New Age books. I spent a lot of time that summer wondering if this was some kind of sign? A warning? Then I would think "Don't be silly. If 'God' wanted to send me a message, he could be less dramatic about it!" But I still had to wonder.
My Tarot cards were with me in the car when it crashed. I kept them with me almost always. Upon impact, they scattered and flew everywhere. When I got home from the hospital, my brother brought them to me. He had gone through the wreckage and gathered them for me, as many as he could find. It meant a lot to me that he did that. A few cards were lost - it's no longer an entire deck. But I still have it with me. I like to look through them sometimes and think how we're the only things that survived that crash.
I had to work through a lot of guilt and anger about the crash. I went through the terrible "What If's" countless times.. What if I had waited a little longer to go? What if I had just listened to the radio? What if I didn't have to buy a book about Wicca? What if I just stayed home? Or the blame-game: Why was there loose gravel on the road? Why weren't there guard-rails by the waterway? (there are now, by the way) Why was God punishing me?
I've found peace now. I was sixteen. I was happy and careless.. I wanted to listen to Wilson Philips. I hit some loose gravel, and ran off the road. And, that's it. It was scary and shitty, and my body is forever changed because of it, but I've survived.
Wilson Philips: "Hold On"
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Down the road from our house was a small creek. As true midwesterners, we pronounced it "crick", something I've had to un-learn after getting strange looks from others when I've said the word for whatever reason. It was only a 15 minute walk, but back then it seemed like it was eternally far away. Like it was a huge adventure, to go down to the crick.
And it was pretty amazing. In the spring, grass would grow tall on either sides. Tadpoles, minnows, and sometimes surprisingly large fish would swim by. We would drop a stick, or sometimes just a blade of grass, over one side of the culvert, and wait for it to emerge from the other side. Sometimes we'd grab rocks and 'bomb' them once they came through.
For some reason we always wanted to walk beneath the culvert. During the hot summer months, the water would get low, and sometimes dry completely. It always upset me to see the dead fish left behind. My brother and I would creep down and explore, the smell of dead fish overwhelming. One winter, the water froze, and my brother tried walking on the ice, and I begged him not to, sure that the ice would break and he'd drown in the crick.
As much as we loved going down there, I was always horrified of the water itself. It was usually clear and looked clean, but I was scared of the things living in it. It was fun to look at from a distance, but not too close. So of course there was the time I fell in. I don't remember how it happened, exactly. I was leaning over the edge, peering down, and then I was falling through the air, and SPLASH! I'm sure I was out of the water in about 2 seconds flat, and had to walk home in squishy shoes, which I was certain were filled with fish and "things".
And there was the year, during January or February, that we decided to follow the crick - something we never considered before. We walked along the edge, and eventually got to a very muddy bit of land. I started sinking, and my right foot got impossibly stuck. Mud was probably halfway up my leg. I started crying, and my brother was pulling me and pulling me, and nothing was happening, and we were so far away from home. Finally, I yanked with all my might, and my foot came free of my boot. We walked home, in freezing weather, with my right foot bare. The boot was never recovered.
A year ago, I moved back in with my dad. One day, even though it was cold, I decided to walk down to the crick. It seemed so simple. Just a walk. The ditches were littered with beer cans, beer bottles, beer cases, food wrappers. I got to the crick, only to find it similarly littered. A wine bottle sat at the bottom of the stream. I couldn't help but feel a sense of sadness and loss for the innocent little creek that entertained us for so long. We've abandoned it, and it only received drunken visitors now.
Natalie Merchant: "Where I Go"
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When I was 8 years old, my father came up with an idea. Since there really isn't any work for farmers to do during the winter months, why not pack up all of our stuff and move to Florida for a few months?! He'd get a job, make some money, and then we'd come back to the farm once winter was over and go about our normal lives. So, probably sometime in November, we moved to a town called Marathon - in the Florida Keys. It was a completely surreal experience. One that I have some memories of, but was still young enough where a lot of things are lost to me.
We lived in a doublewide trailer on a dead-end street. The Atlantic Ocean was in our backyard. I'd watch jellyfish with sick fascination (the little buggers scare the hell out of me).. and my brother and I would go exploring when the tide went down.. discovering crawling crabs and other strange sea-creatures hiding amongst the rocks.
And it was one of those times where I thought everything was good and normal and happy, until more recently when I learned the adult truth about the situation. Like, my dad never found a job once we moved down there. He made my mom get a job. She cleaned houses. She would carpool with other people so dad could have the car, in case he needed it to go out for any interviews.. So much anger bubbling beneath the surface, that I was so oblivious to..
I can't listen to the B-52's without thinking of my father. As frustrated as he sometimes makes me, all I have to do is think about his unusually hip taste in music to remind me that "Hey, he ain't so bad after all.." My dad was a huge B-52's fan when they first hit the scene.. I bought their best-of collection in '98, "Time Capsule", because I was curious what their music other than "Love Shack" was like. When dad saw that I had bought the cd, he was so excited. He looked over the tracklist, commenting on the songs. "Oh! 'Quiche Lorraine'! Oh yeah! 'Deadbeat Club'!" And whenever I listen to The B-52's: "Rock Lobster", I can't help but think of those few months in Florida, because of my dad's brilliant idea, searching the ocean for a rock lobster of our own. :-)
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Frail hinges pivot on a case's door. Clear the dust from smiles in boxes. Pass a patterned wall. Recall their voices.
"Tension Makes a Tangle" by 10,000 Maniacs
Of all the various places I've lived in over the years, I'll never forget the old farmhouse I grew up in. My memories of that place are so vivid.
My brother and I had bunk-beds for a while. I'd usually get scared at night and climb up to the top bunk to sleep with him. For some reason my parents would get furious when I'd do this - so I always tried to be as quiet and sneaky as possible. Of course, in a creaky old farmhouse, you can barely breathe without the floor making noise. Just as I'd climb in bed, I'd usually hear my dad's voice booming up the stairs: "Paaaaul! Get in your own bed!! Now!" Sheesh.
On Sundays, while mom and dad were working in the field, we'd go down in the basement, put on roller skates, and skate around in circles listening to Casey Kasem's Top 40. I was always mesmerized by the blue flames flickering inside the old furnace. It was always sort of thrilling and scary to skate around the furnace, because it was in a dark corner. You could just sneak behind it, thus giving us about another 5 feet of precious roller skating space.
The basement was such a strange place. Lots of weird stuff in boxes. Lots of fishing equipment. I'd go through tackleboxes looking at the strange bait. I was always intrigued by the package of fake rubber worms. I'd squeeze them with repulsion, but would do it again and again. There was some kind of file cabinet with a combination lock on it. Usually my brother and I would take a skating break to try and find the combination, putting our ears up against it like they do in the movies.
We'd skate in circles. Endlessly.
Nelson were big back then. The twins with long blond hair? I had a secret-crush on them, and would root for their song each Sunday, hoping it would climb higher in the charts.
In the summer, we would ride our bikes up the road to an intersection. We'd wait for a car to come, and when we saw one coming we'd ride our bikes back to the driveway, trying to get "to home base" before the car reached the intersection. It was a pointless game, really.. but we loved it. And some nights no cars would come at all, and we'd just spend the evening talking, before giving up on our patrolling.
I could go on, but you sorta get the idea..
The house is gone now. It's still shocking to me, to drive down that road and see emptiness where there was once a giant house. A yard full of trees. Cars in the driveway. Bikes in the garage. A basketball hoop. A swingset. It's all just a cornfield now. And it makes me sad that I'm one of the only ones who will drive down that road and know the history of what lies beneath that soil.
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My parents never gave me a sex-talk. And actually, part of me was hoping they would.
When I was in 5th grade they sent notes home with us to give to our parents, letting them know that we would be learning 'sex ed' soon. So, if they would rather talk with their children about these things first, then now would be the time.
I left the note displayed prominently on a table, and waited for one of my parents to give me "the talk". Days went by.. and, they never did. So I had to learn as much as I could from a sex ed course, taught at a Catholic school. Needless to say, I was still a little unclear on certain things. Regarding sexual intercourse, our teacher said "A man and a woman's body fit together so perfectly." And that was it. That was all she said about the actual act of sex. And I remember sitting there trying to think "Okay.. so.. how do they fit together? What?" Obviously I'm still confused on this topic.. never really figured it out.. :-)
A few years later, a revolutionary television show called "My so-called Life" began to air. I watched the show religiously. Normally I'd watch it once, by myself, in my bedroom. Then I'd watch it with my mother. And later watch it again with my brother. But one night I watched an episode as it aired with my mom.. and it happened to be the episode where Angela's mother tries telling her about the importance of using condoms. My face burned red as Angela sat there feeling awkward and mortified, and I sat there feeling the same. Playing in the background of this scene was The Cranberries: "Dreams". I was practically holding my breath, waiting to see how the characters were going to handle this uncomfortable conversation. And once it was over, Patty leaves the room and Angela lays down on her bed, and I exhaled. In a way, I'd finally had my sex-talk.
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It was 1997. October, I think. I was going to turn 17 in December. And on this October evening, I couldn't believe it. I was driving around Peoria with my dream-guy! Earlier that year I had professed my love to him, only to hear him say: "Uh, I'm not gay."
But time had passed. He called me one day, out of the blue, wanting to get together.
Turns out, he was gay after all. And he wondered what might have developed between us, had he 'known' when I first confronted him about my feelings. So we started hanging out again, and my intense and maddening obsession with him could continue.
On this night, it had to be done. I had to experience my first kiss. I had to! I was almost 17 for crying out loud! Out with it, then! *takes a left onto Jefferson* "So, I've never been kissed. Would you kiss me?" Ahh youth, in all its socially awkward clumsiness! But he agreed, (!!!!!!!), and said "But I'm scared that once I start, I won't be able to stop..", which I thought was the most romantic thing I'd ever heard. We drove outside of Peoria and I found a place to park. Looking back, I had picked SUCH an OBVIOUS makeout spot. But I was young, and oblivious to these things.
The moment came - his face scratchy, his lips wet, and the sickening and foreign taste and smell of nicotine - all forced upon me. My stomach churned - it was finally happening! Remember everything! Am I supposed to feel nauseous?
And the music playing in the background this whole time? Loreena Mckennitt: "Night Ride Across the Caucasus". The music wasn't planned, but I cannot think of a more perfect first-kiss song. Not only is it exotic, mysterious, and beautiful - but it was so fitting lyrically.. "Ride on, through the night.." I was on my own little adventure, riding through the night.
The moment was ruined shortly thereafter, when a bright spotlight illuminated my car, and we saw flashing cop-lights. A cop car pulled up next to my car! "No way! This only happens in movies!" I thought. But no, it had happened to me.. during my first-kiss! The cop wanted to know what we were doing. "Uh! Just talking!" He took our I.D.s, ran a check, and then let us go. "Go find somewhere else to talk!" he barked.
Oh well - for a few minutes there, it was magical.. I'll always be grateful for Loreena for being a part of that life-experience of mine.