Sometimes I lose the image, but it never really leaves. It rolls under the driver’s seat and stays there for months: out of sight, if never completely out of mind. And if I sometimes hear it rattling, I can tell myself it’s only gravel from the road.
In the car, I have control of the radio. In the coffee shop, not so much. The song begins, and I look at the ceiling and mutter “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” Paul Simon is singing about a father who had a son and longed to tell him all the reasons for the things he’d done. I consider leaving without my cappuccino. The cappuccino arrives, and I consider throwing it in someone’s face.
I’m being smacked in the face with an image of the image: nine years old, sitting on the furrowed blue vinyl of the back seat of Dad’s car with that song on the radio. Nine years old, and that song smacking me in the face with the image: pale skin, blond eyelashes, hands and tongue slip-sliding and slithering their way into my mouth and my pants.
My mouth might as well be blue vinyl for all the good it’s done me. I sit in the back seat, and say nothing.
Twenty years later, my voice comes back and I try to tell my mother. “These things happen, dear,” she says, “and people get over them.” When did it happen to her? When did she get over it?
Twenty more years, and there’s still nobody to help me understand. Nobody to fit the image into the larger puzzle. Nobody to wake me up and tell me all the reasons. My orphaned story rolls around under the family’s back seat like an empty soda can. I think I can hear them, telling themselves it’s just gravel.
Like the image, my voice comes and goes. Here it comes again, red and raw and scratchy. Prickly heat. A too-small sweater. Here it comes, peeling my face off again. Here it comes, and I can’t stop it any more than I can stop the image.
These days I sit in the driver’s seat, and I scream for all I’m worth.