I finally understood my father. Had I become him? He always hated whining.
I do too.
Like a fountain of molten rock, rage welled up. Where did this come from? Unsuppressed, would it continue? Unstoppable? Obliterate me and everything?
I imagined ripping up the sidewalk and tossing concrete slabs like Frisbees. Did I think I was the Hulk? Did I want to be?
Would that shut the kid up?
I glanced at my wife. I strained to speak in a normal voice. “Can’t you do something? Do I have to pull over?”
Translation: Do something or I will.
She stretched around and spoke to our son in the back seat. “Please don’t whine, Billy. Daddy is driving now, and needs to concentrate.”
This fed the tantrum.
In the mirror, I saw a stranger’s eyes. Who had I become? What had I become?
Someone has to run things. Set priorities. Make the rules. I can’t stand chaos. Can’t let that happen. Not the way it’s done in this family.
‘There’s that family that went nuts over in Golden Valley.’ Where did these thoughts come from? Were they even mine?
The kid wouldn’t stop. She patted his knee. He wailed.
I hammered my fist into the steering wheel and lurched to the curb.
She tried to calm me. Patted my shoulder. “Don’t Jeff. Give me a minute. I’ll handle it.”
I slammed it into park, killed the engine and threw the door open.
I dove out and yelling, slammed the door.
Blind with rage, I charged down the blistering sidewalk.
Memories flooded back, not remembered for decades.
I don’t remember what I’d done. I only remember standing on the curb and the smell of exhaust as my father drove away with the whole family. Except me.
My rage and the exhaust cloud dissipated. Only a tightness remaining.
He pulled over and pointed at me. “I warned you. Get out, Jeff.” I got out. I watched the car recede. I only had my shame and a sinking feeling I had done the unspeakable. Unforgivable. That’s me.
I had talked back.
And now I stood by the side of the road. By myself. Blinking back tears.
Is that it?
I couldn’t imagine a future. I didn’t understand the present. Nothing prepared me. Cast out and left to my seven year old devices.
What do I do?
How could this happen? When would they return? Would they?
Who could I ask for help? My teacher? Where is she?
I couldn’t even cross the street by myself. And here I was. On the street.
Ants scurried to escape a tiny flood of water flowing down the gutter. It must have looked like a tsunami to them.
Traffic whooshed. Horns honked. Women with shopping bags strolled by talking and laughing. I stood still as possible. No one saw me. I felt invisible. Maybe I was.
My eyes tracked the water, fascinated by its chosen route. It seemed alive. It trickled and pooled. How did it decide? An ant climbed a dried leaf but found no escape. A dead end. Brief sanctuary?
A fly tickled my knee. It crawled onto the scab which formed after I fell off my bike.
The doctor said I had water on my knee. Mom held my hand while he prepared a big needle to drain it. She left when it got stuck between the bones. That hurt!
I brushed the fly away. My shorts were red. My socks were white. My shoe lace untied. It could wait. I wasn’t going anywhere.
The ‘R’ I drew on my tennis shoe with a pen had faded. It looked more like a ‘K’ now. I didn’t need it. I knew what shoe went on which foot.
I was smart.
I stood there. The future meant nothing. All I knew for sure was this curb and the ant looking for safety.
What if they didn’t come back? I thought about sitting on the curb. I could be careful not to disturb the water. I could move the leaf, so the ant could escape.
Then I heard it.
The roar of the gigantic street cleaner drowned out everything else. Water jets hissed spray onto the street. It got bigger. And louder. Giant brushes spun fast, pulling dust and trash up.
I waved to the driver. He didn’t wave back. Invisible.
I stood on the curb. Safe.
Impossibly huge, it would stay in the street. It was louder than anything I ever heard. I covered my ears as it went by. So close, my shoes got wet.
It wouldn’t suck me in. Stuff like that doesn’t happen.
It went away and the noise went with it. I wanted to drive one someday. See how it worked.
I looked down and the street was damp. But the little stream and my little ant were gone. The brushes got them.
What would happen to me? Should I look for them? Maybe they forgot. Maybe they’re looking for me.
I couldn’t stand there forever.
The street dried. Ants looked for their friend.
The sun was warm. The air was still. I heard a mourning dove cooing on a wire.
So, this is it? What now? I’m alone? How long should I wait? Isn’t there a rule about such things? I never knew. No one told me. So much I don’t know.
I’d need a bed. Food. I know my letters. I could help someone.
A car pulled to a stop in front of me. My Mom looked out the open window. She looked concerned.
She said, “Are you okay, Jeff?” I nodded. “Get in. Let’s go.”
I stepped off the curb. My brother pushed the back door open and I climbed in. The street moved as I pulled the door shut. I was back.
Mom said, “Put on your seat belt.” Nobody talked. We drove for hours.
I couldn’t take it. Had to clear my head.
I stormed up and down the aisles of a liquor store.
Cooler fans blew. Grabbed what I needed and paid the cashier.
My wife watched me approach. She could see I’d changed.
“Thanks, Babe. Look what I got…”
I crouched into the open back door and reached into the bag.
Billy’s eyes lit up. “Ice cream!” He reached for it.
“It’s your favorite, right?” He took it eagerly after I stripped off the wrapper. I handed one to my wife. “And one for you.”
The look in her eyes said it all.
“Use your napkin, Billy. Don’t let it drip.”
I sat on the curb while we ate and cooed enjoyment.
The warm day had me slurping streams of melted ice cream. Chaos. Some dripped onto the cement where ants checked it out.
I’d had enough. “Here you go, boys. Have a party.” I plopped the remains of my cone into the gutter and returned to the driver’s seat.
What a beautiful day!