It’s fall, and I’m six years old. That puts us at 1996. Dad’s taking us home from an away game, and I’m still in my little league uniform. Dad’s been drinking, but we’re all playing that game we play, the one with no name, where we don’t say anything when he swerves into the other lane and lazily corrects himself. It doesn’t have a name, but I decide to give it one. It’ll be called Sit. We are to sit and listen to the radio as the Fugees’ version of “Killing Me Softly” plays, Lauryn Hill filling in the spaces between car horns and shouted expletives with something sweet, something soothing. We are to act like there’s nothing overwhelming about the sourness coming from Dad’s breath, my mom swatting his hand away when he tries to grab her leg. I feel like I am floating, anticipating something big and unknown.
No one says anything until Dad goes through his first red light. The intersecting car comes close enough where I can see the poorly-done fillings in the driver’s teeth as she screams. Her car misses us, but barely. Dad cranes his neck to tell us to calm the hell down, that he’ll turn this car around. I tell him that we’re already heading home, and he tells me to shut my goddamn mouth.
I’m letting the Sit game slip away. Drew’s keeping it up, but I can see his knuckles go white from where he’s gripping his belt buckle, can watch as he buries his feet under Mom’s seat and holds on for dear life. Mom is beyond the game, I think. The mirror inside her sun visor is exposed, and the look on her face is more terrifying than the situation itself. It looks like she’s already been killed and is now being made to sit where she died, a simulacrum of a human being, the uncanny valley on display, like a creepy robot–it’s close, but something’s off. You don’t know what, but it’s giving you the chills.
I get flashes inside my head. Images of me leaning forward and taking the wheel, my tiny hand turning it hard to the right, getting us to stop somehow, someway. My concept of driving in this moment is that a grownup gets in and then you sit in the backseat while they do the rest, watching the world stream by outside your window, doing that inexplicable thing that a certain generation of kids would do, making an invisible finger-man run in place, pretending to jump over fire hydrants and climb up buildings before leaping back down to the ground. So that’s what I do: I look outside my window. I reach my hand up, but the finger-man won’t come out.
Dad swings a wide left, so wide that he lops off the side mirror of a parked car, sending it skittering down the road like a mechanical cicada that’s had its wings clipped. I smash into Drew from the turn, without meaning to, and he channels his energy into pushing me away, telling me to fucking move. Dad tells us to shut our holes, but he can barely finish the word before he stops the car at a green light. He swings his car door open and vomits onto the pavement, the smell coming the moment it leaves him. Mom’s finally moving now, finally doing something other than just sitting, and she’s putting her hand on his back. It’s almost reassuring.
I look out my window, where the finger-man should be but isn’t. I raise my hand and find myself pulling my door handle. It won’t open–child locks. My mom tells me to sit down. Sit. I reach for the window and turn the manual crank. This model hasn’t gotten around to childproof windows, so I can bring it all the way down. I climb out and tumble onto the street, luckily missing what my dad’s left. Then he’s screaming, and my mom’s screaming, and Drew’s screaming, and I’m running away from them–first down the street, then down the sidewalk. I can’t be sure, but I can almost swear I see the finger-man across the street, running along with me.