A creative non-fiction piece
Published in the Spring 2016 Asbury Review Literary Journal
My legs weren’t even long enough to reach the floor of Dad’s red Ford pickup truck. Four-year-old me sat strapped into the middle seat straddling the gearstick while the corduroy seats caressed my spindly legs. My cousin Whitney, younger than me by a year, napped in the passengers’ seat. Her long eyelashes rested on her coffee-colored cheeks and her beaded braids clicked against the car window as she stirred, dreaming.
Mom had borrowed Dad’s truck to run some errands. She was a stay-at-home mom who babysat on the side. On most days we had at least three other kids running around our little rented house, but on this particular day it was only Whit-Whit and me.
I imagine mom blustered through the house that morning—a frenzy of yellow cleaning gloves, the smell of Pine-Sol, and dish suds on her arms. She kept a clean house. After that, I’m sure there was a blur of helping silly little girls get dressed—jumpers buckled over shoulders and shoes velcroed over lace-socked feet.
After breakfast and playtime, she managed to wrangle us into the truck. The cassette deck played some Christian attempt at “contemporary” music styles and Mom hummed along. As we drove, Whitney waded through tiredness and tried to fight off the waves by batting her lashes. She was no match and soon, fell asleep.
Mom pulled into our pastor’s driveway. His family was set up to have a yard sale and mom wanted to stop by to show her support. She put the truck in park; we were on an incline so it rolled back a little before stopping. Mom, her hands still on the steering wheel, glanced over and saw Whitney’s velvet face, sweet in slumber. She looked at me and whispered, “I’ll only be a minute. Can you stay in here with Whit-Whit? I wouldn’t want her to wake up and be all by herself.” I nodded my head. “Be right back,” she smiled, leaving the keys in the ignition and the truck on.
Through the windshield, I watched Mom walk up the driveway as the smiling members of our church greeted her. It was like having my own private T.V. where I could peek into the grown-up world. At first, it was riveting—fascinating to see my mother talking with people other than Dad or the babysitting kids or myself. She was so poised, so confident.
Mom greeted everyone and then delved into conversation. I couldn’t hear what they were saying so my attention waned. I looked at Whitney again and saw how peaceful her nap looked. My eyes grew heavy watching her and I started trying to get comfortable in the cramped middle seat so I could sleep too.
I sprawled out and kicked my legs trying to find a comfy spot. That’s when it happened. Motion. I felt in my stomach first — the truck was rolling backward. I had knocked the gearstick into reverse.
From the omniscient artist’s perspective, my whole life was merely a smudge of red pick-up truck paint smearing down white paved canvas.
I saw my mother getting slowly smaller and further away. She didn’t notice that the truck was on the loose. In the rearview mirror, I saw the street, cars whizzing by, and the little white house across the street. At that moment I knew that the truck would keep rolling backward forever and I clung to fate like a good Catholic clings to her rosary beads in fervent prayer.
In my mind’s eye I saw the truck roll across the street, gain momentum, crash through the house, and keep hurling backward for miles and years.
I would never see my family again.
I sat and let the truck—my life—roll backward, doing nothing to stop it or guide it, Whitney and I were fated to grow up on the open road, powerless to stop the vehicle or even redirect it. It must have only lasted a second, but I didn’t feel fearful—no, I had already resigned myself to fate.
It wasn’t until then that the grown-ups noticed what was happening. Everyone was wide-eyed, mouths open. My mother was frozen in fear—everyone was frozen except for the pastor’s son. He ran, opened up the drivers’ side door, and slammed the truck into park. We screeched to a stop where the driveway met the road.
After worrying over us and making sure all was well, Mom got back in the truck, buckled in, and, carefully, put the truck in reverse. Whitney woke up, unaware that anything at all had happened.
I told her about the truck, about our fate to roll forever backward, and about our salvation. She sniffed and went back to sleep. I sat in silent reverie.
Then the recurring dreams began. Me. Trapped. Rolling backward. Powerless to stop.