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My Father's Chevy MAG
He’d been drinking again. I could smell it on his breath the second he walked through the door. His thin dark hair was tangled, and his flannel shirt reeked of smoke. He stood for a few seconds, looking down at me sitting at the kitchen table. I knew what he was going to say even before the slurred syllables escaped his chapped lips.
“Why don’t you come for a ride with me, Jame?”
It wasn’t really a request, but a drunken demand. I pretended not to hear him.
For me, Hell could be described in three words: my father’s Chevy. It was a rusted green prison-on-wheels where my father held me captive on summer nights in his attempt to spend quality time with his 12-year-old daughter. He would drive aimlessly down country roads, holding the steering wheel in one hand and a sweating beer in the other, while I stared silently out of the cracked window at the sad night sky. I never spoke. Sometimes, if he was drunk enough, he would preach about politics or how the government was screwing him out of his hard-earned money. Other times, we’d just ride in awkward silence. I had come to loathe this ritual of father-daughter bonding, and the man who forced it upon me.
He slammed his callused hand down on the table to get my attention.
“I said, why don’t you come for a ride with me, Jamie Lynn?”
I knew better than to keep the man waiting. I rose stiffly from my chair and followed him out the front door into the summer night. The warm breeze teased my hair and whispered taunts into my ear. I felt like a prisoner being escorted by a merciless guard to a slow, agonizing death. Only this electric chair was 12 feet long and read “CHEV O ET” on the tailgate. I climbed into the seat and strapped myself in.
Not a single word was said as we pulled out of the driveway. He quietly sipped his beloved beer, while I stared into the darkness.
I did not know the lonely man sitting across from me, nor did I want to know him. He was a stranger. The only memory I had of my father was the one of him conversing with the bottle. Any other memories had long ago been suffocated to a forgotten death by the hurt and the hate.
We rode on in silence.
He seemed so tense. Since my mom had left us for another man the previous summer, my father had been lost in depression. He usually just nursed his suffering with a couple of Budweisers. Tonight, however, there was something different in how he sped around the curves of the gravel road. He seemed almost weary, as though every turn of the wheel caused him great pain and sadness.
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. We were going much too fast. In all my late-night expeditions with him, I had never seen him like this. His sunburned face hung slack, while his tired eyes gazed into the unpromising distance. He mechanically brought his beer to his lips. I wondered if he realized that it had long ago been emptied.
We had been barreling down the dark road for 20 excruciating minutes when at last he cleared his throat.
“You know,” he said, his eyes fixed straight ahead. “I never meant for any of this, Jame. You know that, right? Me and you, we used to be buddies. Remember?”
Once again, I shifted uncomfortably. We were going too fast. I did not want to be there. In that truck. With him.
When my father realized I wasn’t going to answer, he spoke again.
“Dammit, tell me you remember, Jame,” he pleaded. “Please!”
I was beginning to get scared. Even at his most frightening, I had never seen him like this. My heart was racing like his truck through the dark. I did not know what to do. My mind searched quickly for something, anything, to say to this man who was my father. What about all of those long nights that I spent crying as a child because Daddy never came home? What about the many times I’d wanted to tell him I loved him, but didn’t know how? Once again, I couldn’t find the words to save us.
We were going about 90 now. His fingers gripped the steering wheel so hard that his knuckles began to turn white. The engine thundered like a charging bull, demanding that I say something, but my lips stayed frozen.
This time my father turned to face me before speaking. There was a wild pain in his glossy, drunk eyes. “Jamie,” his voice cracked, “me and you … ”
I had never in my life seen my father cry, but now the tears came. His shoulders shook as he slowed the racing truck to a stop in the middle of the road and hunched over the cracked wheel, his head in his hands. Years of pain and drunken desperation poured out of him in violent sobs.
I touched his shoulder gingerly. He looked up at me, his eyes dripping with shame and embarrassment.
“Daddy,” I whispered softly. “I remember.”