Nonphenomenal Lineage

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When I was 5

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When I think back about being five, two things stick out in my memory, and both have to do with grandfathers and cars.

The first happened while riding in my grandfather’s big, floaty tan car, which smelled like new plastic and had those little metal switches in the arm rests on the doors that controlled the motorized windows.

One day, while riding in it, he warned me, unprompted by anything I said, that if I peed in his car, my urine would ignite the linoleum seats in flames and we’d all die. I’m not sure why he gave me this little talk. The only reason I can think of is that he was terrified that I was still too young to have full control over my bodily functions. Perhaps he thought threatening me with death would be effective. I remember, that from his tone, he seemed to be unaware I had been successfully potty-trained some three and a half years before.

The second story begins during the summer, on a warm, sun-soaked day, circa July 1985 in the suburbs of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We lived in a friendly neighborhood that had lots of children. My best friend, Cheryl, lived next door, and, if she couldn’t come out to play, I always had variety of other kids to play with.

There was Dennis, the kid from wrong side of the tracks. He was a bad boy, but sometimes we played together. He taught me how to give the bird, but not what it meant. (He probably didn’t know either) We would stand on opposite street corners and flip off all the passing cars. One night, I remember, upon returning home, showing my mother my new trick. She was putting her hair up in curlers, and I was so proud to show what I had learned. She was confused, and asked me not to play with Dennis anymore.

Then there was Jeffrey, who was kind of a round little kid, who seemed to have a soft spot for me and was always very kind. He had a cute little lisp, and used to say he was scared of “funder and lightning” which I remember my mother and I laughing at later. Oh, and the kids whose yard backed up to ours. I never saw them except through their fence, but they had a Bassett hound and also they could not tell me what their last name was.

Down the street there was this girl, named Rachel, that I hung out with from time to time. She lived about 5 or 6 houses down from mine, which was sort of outside of my playing limits, so I rarely went to her house. She was my age, and we got along mostly, although sometimes she was kind of mean. She had an older sister, Cathy, who Rachel always referred to as not her real sister, but her adopted sister.

Cathy was tall, with a short little messy blonde bob. She was in fourth grade and was 10. She had a mild case of autism or down’s syndrome, I can’t remember, exactly, but it caused her eyes to look a little twisty in her doughy face. She kind of weirded me out a little, and I only played with her when I went to Rachel’s house and Rachel wasn’t there.

One day, I when I went over to Rachel house but she wasn’t around, I went in to play with Cathy. She offered me some Kraft cheese slices and and some of that cheap sugary juice, the kind that has a rather unnnatural taste and is only sold in gallon jugs. Then, she asked me if I wanted to go on a ride to the hardware store with her and her grandpa. I said I wasn’t sure if I should go, that I should ask my momma first. She said “we won’t be gone long”. Still not sure if I wanted to go, but feeling pressured by Cathy, I agreed to go as long as we would return very soon so that I wouldn’t miss dinner. She assured me we wouldn’t, and so she and I piled into the back seat of her grandpa’s Buick.

I don’t really remember any sort of conversation that her grandpa and I had, other than maybe a gruff hello from him. I got the feeling that he wasn’t bringing Cathy and I along for fun, just that maybe she was under his care and he had to go somewhere so she and I were drug along.

As we drove out of the neighborhood, down the main street, and into town, Cathy reached down to pick up a little wad of silvery paper that resembled tinfoil from the floor. She showed it to me, smiled, and without a word, began to mold it into the shape of a crude horse. There were several little tinfoil wads on the back floor, why they were there or if they were really tinfoil I will never know. After a minute of watching little dim Cathy, I thought it would be fun to make a sculpture like hers. I reached down, to pick one of the the little silvery bunches, and I began forming mine into a horse too.

We approached a stoplight, and Grandpa slowed the car to a stop. Then, he turned around, slowly, stared me right in the eye, and said, as I was showing Cathy my tin foil horse, “If you ever touch that again, I will chop your fucking head off.”

I remember a moment of being stunned. That was the first time I had ever heard that word, but I knew it was bad. This was also the first time my life had been threatened. I wasn’t sure how to react, because I felt that I hadn’t done anything wrong, and Cathy had been playing with the tinfoil for several minutes, without comment. Why was I being attacked?

Having spent the majority of my life among adults that were always good to me, I assumed that whatever this man was saying must be in jest. Not knowing how else to respond, I said to him, “Oh, you’re just kidding!” with a little knowing grin.

I turned to smile at Cathy, so she could be in on the joke, but she wasn’t smiling. She stared me down for a second, all beady eyes and serious face, and said, “My Grandpa never kids.”

Grandpa stared at me for one minute more, his face as serious as a mafia member, and then turned around and started driving again.

It was in that moment I saw my little life coming to an early end. I carefully set my tinfoil horse on the ground, as Cathy continued, uninterrupted, to play with hers. A noxious combination of fear, confusion, embarrassment, and misunderstanding flooded my little head. The rest of the ride to the hardware store, during which, Grandpa was eerily silent, was spent with me figuring out how I could escape the car and run back to my house. I didn’t talk to Cathy anymore either, although I sort of remember her trying to make light, cheery conversation with me, as though nothing had ever happened. I just sat, quiet and small, staring straight ahead, trying not to incur the fatal wrath of Grandpa.

While sitting in the car with her while he went in to the hardware store buy his nails and hammer or whatever, I fidgeted in my seat, trying to devise ways to escape.But I was trapped, because I didn’t know how to get home.

A few minutes later, Grandpa got back into the car. The short drive back to our neighborhood was conducted in complete silence. It was maddening. I was expecting to die. I knew that at some moment, this unstable, insane man would pull over the car and bludgeon me with whatever tool he had purchased at the hardware store while little autistic Cathy watched, while casually toying with her tinfoil.

I wanted to cry, but knew if I did that would just make him angry. So I sat very still, breathing in short little breaths, planning my escape from his car, and thinking of my mommy.

Miraculously, I was still alive when we pulled back into Cathy’s driveway. I was sitting on the left side of the car, and I remember looking out towards the west side of the street, the sun now beginning to lower in the afternoon sky. I could see my house from the car. I knew that if I got out of the car as quick as I could, then I might have a chance to escape before I was murdered.

As the car was rolling to a stop in the driveway, I opened my door, jumped out of the moving vehicle, and bolted. I didn’t look back, but ran as fast as I could away from Cathy and her evil evil Grandpa. I remember her saying something to me, as I ran, like “Hey!” or “Where are you going?” as if she didn’t understand why I was running away, but I didn’t respond.

I just kept running. I made it back to my house, ran in the door, shut it behind me, and leaned on it, gasping with relief. I had escaped death.

An hour or so later, Cathy and her grandfather came over to our house, unannounced. I saw that they were coming, and hid in the kitchen and peeked around the door jamb when my mom went to answer the doorbell. I remember our little Dachshund, Gretchen, running up to the door to meet them, and I wanted her to run away, because I was scared that Grandpa would try to hurt her too. Grandpa, who was standing, rather sheepishly, behind Cathy, had apparently come to talk to me. I refused to come out of the kitchen, but he saw me as I peeked my head out to stare at him. He waved to me, but I just slinked back in fear. I have no idea what he told my mother had happened, but I’m sure his explanation didn’t include the words “I will chop your fucking head off.”

—–

Currently listening to: the beeping of a truck backing up outside.

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Written by pocheco

June 6, 2006 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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