It was 1992, and I remember the summer heat hung over my father’s trailer park like a blanket of fire. There was no way to get cool and escape its burden. Even leaving the shower induced immediate sweat from the humidity woven over the county.
Fourth of July. The ultimate national holiday for white trailer America. I always felt a stranger in their company. A relative of my father’s girlfriend had invited us to a barbecue. When we got there in the afternoon, most of the party goers were buzzed from the cheap cans of Bud that now lay littered across the lawn. Immediately, my dad found the beer and cracked one open.
There was food haphazardly tossed onto a cheap plastic tablecloth, the usual holiday salads and meats piled high. My father’s girlfriend had spent hours the day before creating ten pounds of potato salad, which she heaved onto the table, its wood bowing slightly under the enormous bowl. Flies buzzed and attempted to land underneath the plastic wrap, whirling through the air in figure eights and kamikaze dives.
Music poured into the air, mostly country with a smidgen of hip hop and pop thrown in for good measure. The host’s daughters, just slightly older than my sixteen, stood on the lawn, showing off provocative dance moves as their family members cheered them on.
Slowly, the party wound into evening, the drinking increasing, with handheld fireworks being set off in different corners of the back yard. By about 9:00pm, my father was piss drunk, beginning to slur, weaving as he walked. He matched the other guests in his tipsy stride. The food now lay mostly uncovered, bowls empty and scraped, crumbs scattered amidst the grass below.
At one point, my father began a heated discussion with his girlfriend’s younger brother, Randy, that devolved into a full-blown argument. When he called Randy’s girlfriend a slut, the situation took a violent turn, with both men drunkenly holding up their fists and trying to aim for the other. In a burst of anger, Randy finally connected with my father’s jaw, forcing him to step behind and trip, rolling backward over a bench seat. By some miracle, he landed from his backward somersault on his feet, standing shakily, unfazed.
The incident spawned a squabble with my dad’s girlfriend, who elected to spend the night at her cousin’s, and he was asked to leave. They both attempted in vain to get my father to lie down and sleep it off. Instead, he brandished his car keys with gusto and insisted on leaving. I begged to stay, and they begged on my behalf. He insisted that I come with him, and refused to allow me to spend the night. I was terrified.
We got into his Chrysler, and he could barely locate where to put the key, scratching the hole multiple times, and dropping the keys twice before succeeding in getting them into the car. He turned over the engine and began backing out of the dark driveway, forgetting to put on his headlights until we reached the rock covered road, turning in a broad curve, almost overreaching into the shoulder. Down the back road we weaved, slowly, my father leaning forward, as if it might increase his focus and ability. We reached the main highway, and he sloppily turned right.
The asphalt rose to meet us in the pitch black of night, nothing else visible but what lie ten feet in front of us. I could see the yellow line down the median, and watched as the car wove across it in a dance: left tire, right tire, left tire, right tire. A constant zigzag that began to make me nauseous from the motion.
We had knocked off about five of the ten miles we had to go, when I peered out to the horizon and saw a pair of matching lights in the distance to the left, steadily moving closer. I yelled at my dad in vain, certain he could hear nothing at this point but his own drunk imaginings. The lights grew in circumference, and brilliance, and I began to scream, positive that we were going to collide head on, and that I was going to die. I wasn’t ready. I was a virgin. I hadn’t been kissed. I had concerts to attend. I had poems to write. I had my whole life spread before me, and I couldn’t stand to watch in slow motion as it all came to a crashing halt.
The other car blared its horn, and by some miracle of grace, my father finally snapped out of his stupor in time to swerve the car hard to the right. We just missed the approaching vehicle, the car’s warning bellowing and fading in a crescendo as we narrowly avoided scraping its side.
As we continued down the road, my father crisscrossing slightly less, I felt my heart attempting to escape my chest, the furious pounding unwillingness to ease. It wasn’t until the car was parked in the driveway that it finally began to settle, and I realized how little I had breathed in the past twenty minutes.
My father stumbled up the concrete block stairs, barely making it inside the trailer. I followed slowly, taking in the night sky and issuing mental, humble thanks to whatever it was in the universe that had spared me. I climbed into the trailer, immediately moving to my temporary bed on the leather couch, not even noticing how the hide clung to my skin from the steam emanating from my body, the adrenaline slowly burning off. As if I were a firework that had risen, unwilling to shatter, landing intact, only mildly broken.
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...