My mom has had bad luck with two things, basically her entire life: men and cars. Some of my first childhood memories involve her tiny, brown Toyota Celica that at some point hit a bicyclist, while I was in the car with her. She also owned an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme from the 70’s. It was a huge, gas guzzling boat with a custom paint job and nice rims. Tragically, the Cutlass mysteriously caught fire one day while my jilted stepdad was driving it. It had never had any mechanical problems before that. I still mourn that car. I had really hoped to inherit it someday.
But the one car that has possibly the most memories attached to it is her Dodge Colt. It was small and white, with two doors. Driving anywhere, street or highway, it always seemed to be working very hard. It had seen better days by the time my mom owned it. The paint was scratched, the maroon interior shabby and worn, no real amenities besides an FM radio and a too hot heater. There was a cup holder as well, for the ever present plastic Big Gulp cup, typically full of beer. Occasionally it was filled with soda and ice, but usually Bud Light.
This Dodge served us well for a couple of years. It did the job without much fuss. But by the time I got to junior high, it was beginning to show its age. It was starting to struggle. My mom had recently left my stepdad. The summer before seventh grade we had very little money. We had moved to a new apartment and my mom had gotten her first job after years of being a housewife. Things were tight and we needed this car.
Unfortunately at the time school was about to start the Dodge took a turn for the worse. One day the reverse stopped working. No warning, just gone. Luckily for my mom this car was compact and light weight, so naturally her solution was to stick out her left leg and push.
While I could appreciate my mom’s creative problem solving skills, my tolerance for her scrappiness was worn completely thin one afternoon when she picked me up from school. She had not yet begun to let me walk to and from school, even though it was no more than a fifteen minute stroll from our new apartment. On that day she rolled up, spotted me and a couple of my friends she sometimes gave rides to. We got in and my mom sized up her parking situation.
“Okay Andi, open your door.”
“I need you to help me back up the car. Open your door and put your leg out.”
Not only were my actual friends in the car, but there was a large crowd of kids I barely knew standing a few feet away. I knew my mom didn’t want to hear about why I couldn’t do that in front of everyone. The social implications meant absolutely nothing to her. I also knew it wasn’t a request, it was a command.
After a few moments of hesitation I knew I had no choice. I opened the door and put my foot down onto the pavement and I pushed. My mom maneuvered the steering wheel and got us unstuck. I could feel the quietness of the backseat. I knew they were either stifling laughter or sensing my embarrassment, or both.
I felt heat in my cheeks. I also experienced, possibly for the first time in my life, tunnel vision. Somehow I managed to completely tune out the crowd of kids outside and focus straight ahead as we drove away. While I sat there mortified, hot with irritation at my mom for not thinking this was a big deal, she just laughed and told everyone in the car “It’s like we’re the Flintstones!” I remained silent for the rest of the ride and shortly after that day I stopped getting rides from my mom.