First Car — Jacqueline Kirkpatrick

I’m sitting in a car I bought from my sister’s boyfriend for twenty dollars. I’m listening The The’s Soul Mining on the tape deck and smoking Marlboro Reds until my throat feels raw because I am still unsure how to cope with being back at home again. I have been sitting for hours in the backyard, on the grass, draining the battery down to near death to avoid explaining to my mother on repeat how it wasn’t her fault that I became a drug addict. I start the car, let it idle, flip the tape, and repeat. Every hour or two, my mother brings me out sandwiches. Mayonnaise on white.

J, she whispers as she hands the paper plates through the crack in the window, you can’t live like this.

I love the way she says my name. As though it has a purpose. As though it were her purpose. As though she named me herself.

The take tan leather sticks to my bare thighs. My underwear sticks to my flesh, wet with sweat. The sun burns through the windshield like a magnifying glass. The air freshener spins with every exhale. A lemon-yellow tree that lost its scent years before I could drive. A plaid blanket is bunched up in the backseat. My mother put it there, just in case you break down and it’s cold.

A lot of my mother’s life was consumed with things that happened in or around the automobile. A blanket for freezing. A water bottle for dehydration. A tire pressure checker thingy, to be sure. A reminder to wear clean underwear in case of an accident.

You don’t want the ambulance driver to think you’re dirty. 

I run out of cigarettes. I get out of the car and go to my father’s shed and I open the black metal doors and I step over the front wheel of his riding mower. This is his prized possession. He insists on backing it in. Cleaner, easier, he says. Lazy not to, he says. I stand up on the back wheel and reach over the tall metal cabinet that hold his drills, hammers, bits, ropes, dude shit, and tap the tips of my fingers along the shed frame until I find another pack of Marlboro Reds. His stash.

He quit smoking two years earlier, or at least he wanted my mother to think that. But I knew. And he knew I knew. He can’t tell me to stop smoking because he knows if he did I’d tell her I found his cigarettes and if I told her that she’d know why he wasn’t getting any better. And he couldn’t live with that.

I consider cutting myself because I am bored, angry, and anxious. Withdrawals will do that to a body. There is a razor blade in the console. A remnant from my sister’s boyfriend. Its edges are rusty. I imagine Bud cans dripping condensation over it as he drove around town, honking at girls. I imagine it collecting the sweat of his fingers as he used as he cut up coke on the dashboard. I imagine his tongue collecting the powder off the sides, careful and careless at the same second.

I think about Amanda H. who told me she was a cutter in ninth grade. She used scissors. Silver ones she kept in her canvas purple JanSport bookbag. They were so sharp. Right after we chose not to run the mile in gym class and Brian P. called her a cow, she stabbed herself in the upper arm. Blood dripped down her arm and she said she felt better. She said she didn’t want me to be like her, but if I was, I’d feel better.

I trace the blade over my thigh. Nothing. I guess I am expecting some joy or maybe even a sensation of interest. I push in a little. It hurts. I stop. I remember that I don’t like pain. I put the razor blade back in the glove compartment, next to a pair of Goat sunglasses Kenny gave me on a car ride to school, along with an insurance document in a State Farm red envelope. I consider the normal things other people put in glove boxes. Scissors. Band aids. That eye glasses screw driver thing. Lighters. Tampons.

Whenever someone leaves me alone in their car I have to dig through their glove box. I don’t know why or when it happened but it has become a craving. I once had an ex that kept his locked. It was as though he had another girlfriend living inside it.

That infuriated me. I still wonder what he kept inside.

The sun sets. I can see the TV go on through my mother’s lace curtains. It’s time for Jeopardy. Every day. I can see the back of her head. A pile of freshly permed gray hair. I flip the The The tape to side A. Again. I let the battery drain. I resolve that I will have to call my Uncle in the morning to give me a jump. I drop my head against the seat. I close my eyes. I listen.

this is the day your life will surely change


Jacqueline Kirkpatrick is a writer in Albany, NY. She has been published in Creative Nonfiction, Thought Catalog & The Rumpus. Follow her @thebeatenpoet.

Image: Fire, Max Braun, Creative Commons