The Cast: Myself (sadly mistaken), Robert (my mother’s half-brother’s ex-wife’s oldest).
You know those times when you steal a car but didn’t mean to? Yeah, this is one of those times.
My mother’s older half-brother’s ex-wife, with their children, had moved to our town, from Mexico, to be near family after their divorce. I didn’t even know they existed until they appeared at our door. I was barely aware that my mom even had an older sibling, she didn’t talk about him.
Anyway, my mother’s half-brother’s ex-wife’s son, Robert, was about two years younger than me and couldn’t wait to drive. He would spend time practicing driving with my uncle and cousins. Robert even saved up and bought a motorcycle. He was overflowing with young driving enthusiasm. It was almost obnoxious. I was 17, didn’t have a license, but also didn’t care about that. In my small town I could walk everywhere I needed to go. And if I needed a ride to somewhere farther away, someone else was going and then I would just pay them for the gas. So, no worries.
Now, where were we? Ah, yes, Robert’s Mr. Toad-like driving mania.
One fine summer’s day Robert was fixing his motorcycle in my backyard and had borrowed a lot of tools from my uncle to complete the task. He was not looking forward to walking the little-over-a-mile distance to take them back after getting a ride with them all to my home. So, after some careful thought, I suggested we borrow my sister’s car to run the tools to my uncle’s house. It was a side street dirt road to get there, and a straight shot, pretty much. Robert could drive there, to practice and I would drive us back. No one was home to ask, and besides, what could possibly go wrong? Famous last words.
The two of us arrived at my uncle’s house without incident. So we decided to extend the driving lesson by allowing Robert more time on some back-country dirt roads. Farming communities can be great in that way. The new deal was that Robert would drive until a crossroads at which time we would stop and trade places, then I would drive home. Nothing to worry about. Famous last words.
At the end of the side street from my uncle’s house, we turned right and began a simple, straight drive toward the West end of town. We reached the final stop sign, no incident, all would be well. Famous last words.
The two of us began our simple, intended to be short, drive out of town. Robert was doing fine. Despite his shorter stature, he was doing fine. I was watching the scenery speed by. A little too fast. “Slow down.” Famous last words.
We were nearing the intersection where we would turn around. It was a three road junction and the intersection was a triangle, with a gap in the middle, that bridged a large ditch. And my sister’s car was a parental hand me down. There were a few… quirks. “Robert, slow down. Remember, the speedometer doesn’t work.” Famous last words.
“Robert, here’s where we turn around. You need to slow down.” Famous last words.
Robert began the left turn without sufficiently slowing down. On a gravely, dirt road with no one around, the car began to turn and slide right off the road and then slammed hard, front first, into the ditch. My body was thrown forward with great force, my face was less than an inch from the dashboard for the longest time. I was able to analyze the material used in its construction. Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, I was slammed backward into my seat. Oh yeah, I had my seatbelt on! Whew.
As I sat there processing what just happened I looked over our situation and it wasn’t too bad. Well, we just need to get some help to get the car out of the ditch and everything will be just fine.
Then the car began to tilt. The left side is beginning to lift up, or is the right side sinking? No, the left side is rising. That’s ok, it’ll drop back down and all will be just fine.
Hmm. It’s still rising. That’s alright, it’ll just drop from a higher angle, maybe do a little damage. We’ll be just fine.
Oh-kay… The car is almost on its side. Well, We can just climb out the driver’s side window. Maybe we can push it back onto its’ wheels. Maybe some frame damage. We should be just fine.
Oh. Oh-no. It’s beginning to roll over. OK, maybe the car will get stuck on a rock or something and we can push it over and it will all be just fine.
No. No. No. No-no-no-no-no-No! Do not roll over! DO NOT roll over! Oh, We’re rolling over.
It is said that in certain moments of terror or tragedy time slows down. It certainly did for me at that moment. It must have been only seconds but it felt like an eternity. I remember watching everything unfold slowly. Each moment was stretched out. I honestly thought that it would really “all be just fine” (famous last words).
Robert and I found ourselves suspended upside down in a ditch. inside my sister’s car, that was now filling with water. We’re filling with water!!! “Robert, We’ve got to get unbuckled and get out of the car or we’re going to drown. Now!”
That same belt that had prevented my face from making a real impression on the dashboard earlier was now doing its best to keep me in place. Good job safety belt! Good Job. Robert had freed himself, turned over, and then began to open the driver’s side window so he could get free. “Stop! Stop it! You’re letting too much water in! I’m not free yet.” Robert closed the window and crouched on the ceiling of the overturned car, afraid, waiting for me to get free. As the car began to fill with dirty gunky, smelly ditch water I struggled to undo the stupid buckle. The water was almost to my eyes and I really didn’t think I was going to get free. “Robert, If the water gets too high, just get out. Get out of the car! Do you understand me?” He tried to protest, but it made no sense for us both to drown.
Suddenly—finally!—the buckle released and I dropped into the cold, nasty, debris-filled water. We had to use manual hand cranks to open the windows (power windows were a luxury back then). The car began to quickly fill with filth. We held our breath, closed our eyes and tried to push our way out through all the weeds and garbage found at the bottom of a ditch. The two of us surfaced, each on opposite sides of the car, wet, muddy, a little cold, covered in weeds and grateful to be alive.
On the walk back into town (almost no one had cell phones—this was a long time ago kids) some friends of mine happened by and they gave Robert and I a ride back into town on the back of their car—we were nasty and her mom would have killed her if she let us sit inside the car. When she dropped us off she smiled, wished me “Good luck” and gave me a final farewell look as she drove off, because she knew—just as I did—that my mother was going to kill me.
Yeah, the next few hours were bad. The uncle—who’s tools were borrowed—had to get a backhoe to get the car out and tow it into town. My mother had the police come and charge me with whatever I could be charged with—which is the only thing on my Juvenile Record, thank you very much—and that is: Joy Riding.
I had stolen my sister’s car because I did take it without permission. I was also partially responsible for it getting… let’s just say ruined. So I have promised myself that if fortune ever smiles upon me, and I come into enough “extra” money somehow, I want to buy my sister a new car. If lucky enough, a brand-new car. Because what happened that afternoon is not what was supposed to have happened. Famous last words.