After months of inquiries and test-drives, my father and I finally found my first car.
I could already feel the freedom that this car would bring me. It would turn out to be a short-lived freedom, but neither he nor I knew this at that time.
The car was a ’72 Pinto. It was dull red, with weathered cracks encasing the hood, and the front quarter panel on the passenger side had a bow-shaped indentation (the scar from the trunk of a small tree that had fallen on it). Only a first-time car owner could see the beauty of my red dragon.
It took a mere twenty-four hours for me to realize how quickly twelve months of savings could disappear: tags, insurance and gas gobbled the remainder of my hard-earned fortune. But I did not mind. I labored for hours – cleaning, waxing, shining and polishing my hungry dragon. Last of all, I picked out my special, good-luck riding buddies, from my stuffed animal collection, to display like small trophies in the rear window. The dragon was prepped and ready. So was I.
I ran errands for my parents. I ran to town and bought a cup-holder and floor mats. I took my sister and brother for rides. I experienced what I considered to be wild abandon. I felt transformed into instant adulthood. For two days, I must have walked on the clouds.
I slept peacefully on the second night, smug about my new possession. The next morning I would take my dragon to school, where my squad was to host a cheerleading competition. Fully rested, I was bathed, dressed, and out of the door twenty minutes ahead of schedule (an awesome feat for me!). I was on my way to display my status symbol. I had attained freedom.
Upon arrival at school, I found that I had worn the wrong socks for my uniform. My best friend, Paula, had an extra pair at her house; if we hurried, we could get them and return in time for our “greeting cheer”. Although Paula had her own car, mine seemed the most practical to take, since it was only three days old. Besides, I had to prove that my red dragon could fly.
As we raced down the dirt road, we discussed all sort of important things: the latest rage in music, the best-looking boys and the impending end to summer. We crested a hill, wings seeming to sprout from the dragon’s underbelly and dust spewing from its tail: we seemed to really be flying! Oh, to own a car is such a marvelous feeling!
Paula called out a warning that the road was bad up ahead. “Bad?” I thought; “I don’t see anything bad.” Almost instantaneously, the red dragon’s small tires collided with the road washboards.
Panic washed over me as I slammed my left foot onto the clutch. My action seemed to anger the dragon! As dust snorted from all sides, the dragon careened downhill, bounded precariously across the road and fishtailed into the ditch nearest me. I reacted. The dragon counter-reacted.
We shot straight out of the ditch.
We shot across the road and headlong into the opposite ditch.
My eyes focused just in time to see the tall weeds part and reveal the concrete abutment that protruded about three feet up from the ground in front of me. Paul screamed “HOLD ON!” at the same time I yelled “Oh, SHIT!”
The sheer force of impact shot me into the windshield; simultaneously, my hands braced onto the steering wheel as my chest flung into the wheel and forced it up to meet the dash.
The world now spun, as we slowly tumbled through the bowels of the dragon, like flannel underwear in a dryer. Gritty dust seeped into every exposed orifice, as the dust swirled round and round like a dark mist. Suddenly, with a bone-jarring silence, all movement stopped. I’m not really certain what happened right after. I do recall a picture of hazy contrast, in which I looked upon my twisted, unconscious body.
Paula was suddenly shaking me, asking “are you alive?!” My mind seemed as foggy as the dark mist we had just experienced. I sat up and slowly realized that I was perched upon the interior roof of the car. My eyes, nose and mouth had been invaded by the gritty road dust. The permeating smell of gasoline pierced the dust, which angered my lungs and caused my stomach to heave.
I came to my senses and asked Paula if she was alright. She held forth her forearm to display an angry gash on her right elbow, from which oozed a fine trickle of once confined bright red blood.
Reality beckoned and called. We had to escape!
We tried my door, but it was wedged shut. We turned toward Paula’s door, but the handle was gone. We turned to the front and noticed that the windshield looked as though an invasion of spiders had occurred – fine, thin lines wove across the entire pane, with an intricate maze centered in the middle of the driver’s side.
Perhaps we could knock out the glass of the windshield? We began a rhythmic kick: one, two, three – KICK; one, two, three – KICK. The dragon was not going to let us go so easily. The glass held as if by a magical force.
We were about to give up, when we noticed the rear window: it had come loose from its moorings and daylight could be seen at one corner. We moved past our bucket seats, which had detached from their tracks, and settled on our bottoms, legs lifted and ready for attack. We easily kicked the rear window out of its frame, not a single crack in it. We crawled out of the bowels of the dragon, over the collapsed window pane and into a shallow creek. We stumbled through waist-high weeds, up the embankment and onto the dusty road.
I glanced back at that awful red dragon just before we broke into a frantic run for the nearest farmhouse.
It was laying upon its broken back, its front tires leering wildly in a mantis-like pose.
Its snout, smashed beyond recognition, clutched wild grass in its metal folds.
The once-loved red dragon would fly no more.