During my senior year of college, I was assigned to write a memoir of sorts. I recall writing the paper and being pleased with it. I even remember receiving a rare “A+” after uncharacteristically applying myself. Over the years, I lost track of the paper — until today.
Like most of us, my mother is practicing social distancing and self-quarantine. “Get ready,” she texted me, “I’m sending you an old piece of writing.”
Gearing up to laugh at something ridiculous I’d written as a child, I was surprised when she sent me this. Having written it when I was 22, of course, there are cringe-inducing sections. Nevertheless, it’s kind of special. I resisted the impulse to delete what I hate, but it’s a glimpse into my mind over a decade ago, and I suppose don’t want to delete that.
A few days ago I was driving down Pacific Avenue in typical Sarah-fashion; sitting half Indian style with my left leg folded under my right thigh, right foot laying heavy on the gas pedal, hair whipping widely (due to my firm belief that windows were made to stay rolled down,) and my speakers blaring. At this particular moment of no significant importance, I was rocking out to The Beatles, more specifically “Ob La Di, Ob La Da.”
I rested my left elbow on the door frame and held a grossly overpriced iced latte from Starbucks. I rarely drink coffee and seldom indulge in a Starbucks beverage, but that day I was sleep-deprived and both those actions were justifiable. After clearing a yellow light with plenty of time to spare I popped open the cup holder for the sake of my latte. Subconsciously I knew what the outcome of this action would be. My cup holders hadn’t exactly been able to fulfill their purposes since the car fell under my ownership.
I glanced down at the expected scene. Bobby pins jetted out at every angle with emergency iPod headphones interlaced among them, a plethora of pennies scattered below and a recent crumpled up Safeway receipt tossed on top.
Perhaps because this assignment has been looming overhead or the fact that I recently moved in with a neat-freak of a roommate who would have an anxiety-induced heart attack at the sight of my cup holders, an idea was born.
I began a mental comparison of my life to my car. “This cup holder sorta embodies my life.” I thought as the track switched and Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” came on. I considered the ways in which I am unorganized. I went
through the list of things I had not done for the next day and the nagging reminder that I had misplaced a bag of new crisp white socks from Costco. Who loses socks? As my thought process continued and the creative juices started to flow it became more apparent that several aspects of my car, apart from the unsystematic cup holders could represent my life.
I began thinking about everything that encompassed my car, whose name became Goby upon ownership, (pronounced goh-bee,) when it was given to me by my parents in my junior year of high school. Goby’s experiences parallel my own. Some of the most important moments in my life can be represented through the existence of “The Gobster” as many people affectionately call my car. So, I will divulge my life story in relation to my car Goby.
Chapter 1: Keyed
I ripped off my small, smelly, ketchup and beer covered apron in an anger inspired motion. Stomping up the stairs to the designated smoking area where my boss resided and employees’ possessions lived, I yanked my purse off the table and stomped right back down. (Maturity levels through the roof, clearly.)
At the emotional age of 18, I was absolutely positive my boss at Tigin Irish Pub was the sorriest excuse of a human being. He was rude, bitter beyond belief and apparently held himself accountable for making everyone around him equally as miserable. Once outside the restaurant, I located my getaway vehicle. Goby was relatively new and I was still amped on the power windows, sleek blue body and super sweet sunroof. Feeling grateful that the night could not get worse I headed toward my loyal chariot.
To my horror, there in the light of the streetlamp was the retaliation to my previous thought of the night’s end. Some petty-low-profile-criminal had had a field day keying the crap out of my car. The damage spanned from directly above the tire all the way back to the gas cap. Goby had been hit on every panel and then some.
Five years later those marks are still there, though now turning a nice rusted shade of orangey-red. I still notice them, obviously; the jerk did it on my side so unless I’m riding shotgun I get to enjoy his or her handiwork every time I drive. However, it doesn’t bother me as it once did. Immediately following the incident I cringed each time opening my door was required. A thought process filled with hatred would branch out toward both the car keyer and
the boss I associated with the car keyer.
Although I once tried to save up the thousands it would take to repaint Goby, I’ve come to the conclusion that experience expenses are more worthy of my money. I’ve moved on. The marks no longer bother me and create a downward spiral of negativity.
Many aspects of my life that I was once angry at have since dissipated just
as the keying mishap has.
My life was keyed at the tender age of seven. When I was called upstairs on the life-altering afternoon in mid-May I was sure it was for a reprimanding session from my mother for a crime my sister, brother and I had committed. Instead, my mom sat me down on the couch and explained through sobs that my Dad was leaving. Unbeknownst to me, my father was an alcoholic. However I had no concept of what alcoholism was, therefore it did not exist.
Later I would learn that his drinking was the main component of the divorce, but that knowledge would be obtained much later. All I knew was that prior to the divorce my dad was my hero.
I loved nights after dinner when I’d sit on his lap, and try to guess which cheek he’d fill with air and I’d “pop.” I loved the winters he’d make fire like magic and the autumns he’d make the meanest, coolest jack-o-lantern in the world, Sunday mornings when I woke to the sound of his loud singing and smell of sizzling bacon and when my brother, sister and I watched by the fireplace in excitement my dad and my mom struggled with “Operation get-ten-foot-Christmas-tree-upright in the living room.”
Then there was my daily favorite when my siblings and I would yell “Daddy’s home!” as he pulled in the driveway and we’d gleefully watch as our yellow Labrador Casey went careering across the house to greet him.
When the keying wounds of the divorce were still fresh I “hated” my dad. I hated the divorce. I hated missing class and going to the stinky stale office of the elementary school’s social worker. I hated the boys who called me “divorce girl” and the fact that it spread like wildfire across the third grade. I hated seeing my mom cry and I the way it made my brother emotionally and physically disappear. I hated the putting up of signs up around the house, with sad stick figure people accompanied by depressing phrases like, “Please don’t leave Daddy.”
My dad re-entered my life after seven years right after my fourteenth birthday, and the wounds of being keyed were still open. “Your father wants to take you on a road trip cross country,” my mom had told my sister and me. I imagined the awkwardness, felt the anger, and pictured the disgusting derelict Ford Station Wagon we’d be cruising in.
But, somehow my indestructible “no” turned into, “I guess I’ll pack my bags.” I can’t imagine what my life would be like without taking that trip. My dad told me about the hard years of his life; his recovery from alcoholism, the destruction of his law career, the struggles to hold onto a failing marriage.
For the first time, I saw him as a human being, not just a man who had betrayed me. I remembered the man from my childhood, was reacquainted with his classic humor and witty jokes, (which I have totally inherited,) I realized how much I had missed him and how hard he was trying. I realized how much he loved me, and that night I forgave my father.
That forgiveness opened the door to not only a new relationship with him, but to my relationships with everyone else in my life. I lose that tolerance sometimes, forget what I learned, but I continue to work on it. I am growing up.
Chapter 2: Sunscreen
We were idling through traffic on I-80 somewhere near the outskirts of Chicago, and we were fighting again. My sister is my best friend and I love her to death, but last August we drove from Connecticut to California, and until we came to the realization that we were cranky on empty stomachs, The Gobster was filled with some seriously heated arguments. We didn’t catch on to the bad-mood-empty-stomach syndrome until Iowa, and we were still in Illinois. As she drove we argued and as the traffic got worse and the hunger increased the fight escalated. I leaned forward to emphasize my point and placed my left hand next to my left thigh as I pivoted my body towards her. It was then that I felt something warm, slimy, and disturbingly gooey.
Stopping mid-sentence, I hesitantly looked down to assess the situation. Sunscreen. I had unknowingly been sitting on an open tube of SPF 30 and it had oozed everywhere. Picking up the lotion-coated bottle, I paused. For a split second, I was taken down memory lane to a time three years prior…
With a sigh of half exhaustion half accomplishment, I let my sixty-pound pack to the ground.
I was hiking in the mountains of the Sonoran Desert in Mexico with the National Outdoor Leadership School, (N.O.L.S.), and we had been hiking for 14 hours, which was usual only when utterly lost. Such was the case of my group this day. The night was falling so we made an executive decision to set up camp. Each of us got to work unpacking, with food and rest on our minds. Attention was drawn to Dan, commonly called Dano-the-Mano, when we heard him say, “uh oh.”
His “uh-oh” scenario entailed a bottle of sunscreen that had exploded, melted, and percolated through his entire pack. I watched as Dan dissected the messy sight. Three of his four shirts had been contaminated along with his spare socks, toothbrush, and boxers. In the midst of my mental tally of just how much it sucked to be Dan, he laughed. Shrugging, putting the sunscreen down he looked up covered in the lotion and said,
“Anyone need some extra sunscreen?”
If what happened to Dan had happened to me at that point in time, I would’ve had a hissy fit. Piece by piece I would have inspected every lotion infested item and rated just how terrible the damage was. Watching Dan react the way he did reshaped my attitude forever.
In that brief moment, he taught me to accept a situation for what it is, to harness my emotion, and call upon humor instead of anger when possible.
That moment in the mountains of Mexico changed my life… I came back to the present with a smile on my face in memory of Dano-the-Mano. As I held the tube my sister waited for my reaction, and his words came back to me for the millionth time. Looking from my slathered-up hands to my sister, in one motion I covered my face making it look like I had gone headfirst into a bucket of white paint.
“Hey Katharine,” I said, picking up more lotion from the passenger seat of Goby, “is it all rubbed in?”
We laughed so hard our stomachs had stitches, the hunger was forgotten and the fight was over.
Embarrassment and ERR Every once in a while Goby will read “ERR” across the CD player where the track name should be. This goes on for a few days until the CD that’s stuck is spit out and the “ERR” disappears. I assume this is short for “error.” I recognize that I too have made some errors in my life, so I let this slide with The Gobster.
One such “ERR” lives inside me and influences the way in which I encounter the world on a daily basis, and it happened in a split second some fifteen plus years ago…
The whirly swirly red slide stood at what I remember to be over 100 feet tall. Looking back I can recall my sentiments of the slide and the fact that in levels of excitement, it came in at a close second right below Santa Clause. However, there is only one day, one moment of a day, which sticks out from every visit to the Bruce Park slide. It could’ve been spring, summer, fall or winter and my age could have been anywhere from four, five or six years of age; the only
aspect that resonated with me was the lesson learned.
Maybe my sister let me win the race to the slide because I was two years younger, or maybe by some stroke of luck I had reached the tower of power before her. I’m not sure how the arrival came to be; just that my sister was behind me, and a small boy was ahead of me. He was much younger than I, with brown curly hair, and he was taking for-ev-er, one tiny slow step at a time. This kid was the only thing between me and that slide, dammit, and at the rate he was going I’d never reach the top. Suddenly he lost his footing and began falling backward. I seized my opportunity to get ahead.
I squeezed around him on the narrow stairs as one of his hands barely held on to the metal railing. He started crying in fear. After my victory in advancement, I looked back and saw that my sister was stabilizing the curly-haired boy, beginning to calm him down and descended the stairs to take him to his who I remember to be babysitter.
The feeling of disgust that washed over me is unforgettable. I have no further memories of Bruce Park after that day. The only salient characteristic is the embarrassment of the “ERR” in judgment I made. I am still in disbelief of how I could have been so cruel, or how I could have placed the importance of getting to the top of the slide over the safety of a toddler in front of me.
My mom never knew about this incident until I told her years later and my sister didn’t remember until I reminded her. Friends today describe me as extremely friendly, outgoing and kind. I can’t help but wonder if my gregarious, affable personality qualities I have attained came from the overwhelming guilt as a direct result from that experience at Bruce Park.
Chapter 4: Phish
“I love that I can always tell which car is yours,” I’ve been told on numerous occasions. There are thousands upon thousands of blue Honda Civics traveling the roads at any given moment. However, there is only one bombing around with a “Phish” sticker in pink, yellow, red, and blue lettering smack dab in the middle of its bumper. Goby’s sticker originally served as a tribute to my favorite band in high school years.
Now it serves multiple purposes; one being the independence factor. Goby stands out with that multicolored Phish sticker and it makes the car
mine; it represents my independence the way the cup holders represent my lack of organization.
The placement of that sticker can indirectly be tied to my mom, who taught me what it means to be hard-nosed, independent and determined. She taught me from a young age to speak my mind, be confident, and stand up for what I believe in.
Those morals may sound lamely cliché but they make up who I am today. My mother amazingly undoubtedly the strongest person I have ever met. In the
years after my father’s departure, she taught me what it meant to stand strong. She is a solid, self-sufficient pillar of strength and she truly amazes me. I’ll never forget the first Christmas tree we struggled with, the time we attacked a vending machine because it stole our money, (laughing the entire time) or the unforgettable night we moved all the couches in the living
room and did the Macarena. The Macarena dance has since symbolized our “breaking free” movement.
She is silly but knows when to be no-nonsense. No one has ever taken advantage of her and when my dad left her with three kids, a house and no job she rolled up her sleeves, entered the corporate world and put all three of her kids, not easily, through college.
We are very similar in the sense that we are expert listeners and communicators. Think first, she taught me. Make “I” statements when arguing. Let go. Don’t date a boy unless he’s close with his mother. Only buy asparagus that’s got compact tips.
When you-know-what had hit the fan, it didn’t matter to Nancy W. Fountain. We were going to sit down as a family and have dinner. And we did so, every single night. There were nights full of laughter when we’d trail a laser pointer across the kitchen and watch as our cat Kitty propelled herself four feet up the wall. There were nights of serious talks; she was always open to listening. Then there were the nights we’d all be fighting and yelling and swearing, but
the next night we’d all return to the dinner table.
My mom gave my brother sister and me the option when we were raised of getting one big present a year, such as a bike, in replacement of the ability to watch TV. We all chose the bike-like present. When the unused TV eventually broke, no one thought twice.
The absence of TV contributed to my mom’s installation of independence in me. I grew up without a television, without the influence of the mass media, and spent my days exploring the outdoors, reading books and discovering who I was as a person instead of who American culture wanted me to be.
My mom was able to guide me in the right direction without forcing me or telling me what to do, she set boundaries that were restricting but not unreasonable and has become a best friend to all three of her children. Not my brother, sister or I have succumbed to trends or expected norms. We might as well all put Phish stickers across our foreheads.
Chapter 5: Seatbelt Seatbelt Seatbelt
Anyone who owns a Honda made in the 2000’s can attest to the fact that there is no ignoring the “seatbelt noise.” It is a loud, piercing, repetitive beeping that does not cease until the click of the metal hits the buckle. Goby, being made in 2004, has this quality and I’d like to think I do, too. Obviously I don’t verbally make beeping sounds but I share a similar desire to interfere with lives in a helpful yet sometimes obnoxious way.
The Fountain family is full of everything from sarcasm to love to compassion to anger, and quite often: emotion seclusion. Secrets have been hushed up, feelings have bottled up, and backs are sometimes turned. This is where my beeping comes in handy.
Nominated mediator, expressive voiceover, and awkward-argument diffuser are just a few job titles my seatbelt element has landed me.
It was my brother’s 20-something birthday dinner and the whole fam-damily was out to dinner. “Can you pass the butter” led to President Bush and before the butter had been passed a political argument had ensued. We Fountains are a dynamic mix of diehard liberals and right-wing conservatives, which generally makes for an interesting night.
My sister was discussing a course she was taking in which she had learned this and that. My dad began criticizing the course, saying it didn’t sound like she had reputable professors and so forth. My sister went on to describe another class, to which my dad remarked sarcastically. Fed up, (and rightly so)
Katharine left the table. (Insert awkward silence here.) Baffled muttering on my father’s end of the table broke out as to what had made Katharine so upset.
Seatbelt beeping away I explained to my dad that he had just insulted her education, cut her off midsentence, and not to mention the fact that he had not called her once since she had gotten to college six months prior; so who was he to judge what her courses were and were not. “Oh?” He said shortly with an inflection at the end. “Excuse me.” He found Katharine teary-eyed in the front of the restaurant, apologized and brought her back to the table.
Later that night my mom laughed at my innate need to mediate, as usual, just beeping away. Sure, the beeping in Goby is resilient and can be a nuisance, but it’s there for the right reasons.
Conclusion: Full Tank of Gas
Yesterday I detailed The Gobster myself; went to the car wash, invested two hours vacuuming the crevasses of the seats, the trunk, the floor, wiping down the interior and exterior and even got an oil change immediately after. I also gave the tank a full-fill.
Even though his rusty racing stripes on the left-hand side have deepened, the Phish sticker has faded, and the oily sunscreen stain on the front seat suggests a little wear and tear, he’s in better shape than ever, with seatbelt warning in full force.
Once again Goby and I are paralleled. Finally, at the age of 22, I am in excellent shape both inside and out. At one point my life was spinning widely out of control like the time Goby and I hit black ice in the dead of winter. At one point I was cut deep like Goby was keyed, and I didn’t think the wounds would ever rust over.
There are evident bumps and bruises that signify rocky times, like the hole in my back bumper from when I accidentally backed into a small boulder or the scar I have on my knee from running too fast and falling. These experiences have made me certain of who I am and confident in the direction I’m headed.
I know that my cup holder will remain crammed jammed with bobby pins and change because that’s me. I will continue to beep and mediate and communicate because that too is me. But at the same time, I’ll continue cleaning up, detailing the corners of my mind, and checking in on my interior wellbeing. As messy as life (and cupholders) get, I have to strive to be a good person, avoid making “ERR’s” and keep that tank full through the ups and downs.