Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pink Lady

Last Wednesday The Lady-Killer called me up while I was at school and said, "Hey. How do you feel about going to New Hampshire?"

As a general rule, I feel pretty good about going to New Hampshire. It has no sales tax! It has liquor outlets! Its state motto is Live Free or Die! What else could possibly be needed to coax a person into a state?

So I told TLK I felt swell about going to New Hampshire. "And just what are we going to New Hampshire for?" I asked, hoping the answer was to buy liquor and shout the badass state motto at passers-by.

"To buy a car," he said.

Turns out the hours TLK spends skulking in the CARS AND TRUCKS section on Craigslist paid off. He'd found a car he was in love with. And it was a pretty serious love. When he showed me the ad, I could see hearts and rainbows and unicorns swimming in his big eyes.

"This car," he told me, "is fast."


"I mean FAST-FAST," he said.

"I don't doubt it," I said.

TLK loves fast. When his last car could no longer pass inspection because it was rotting, he and his friends tore everything "unnecessary" out, hollowing it out to be a rally car.

One day he and I went to his house, picked up his brother, and together we drove down to an old railroad bed that was now a rough gravel road that extended God knows where. TLK pointed his car toward the God knows where and asked which of us wanted the first ride.

His brother went first. And when they came back, the brother's face was flushed and excited. "I screamed!" he said. "Also, we were air-born!"

Then it was my turn. "Listen," I said as I buckled myself in, "if you kill me, my father is going to be very disappointed in you."

TLK nodded gravely and then, in the next second, he had us roaring down the road and we were transformed into nothing more than a spout of dust. And then we went air-born as TLK launched us over a bump.

I don't know what the appropriate reaction to a thing like that is, but the reaction my brain chose at that moment (and most moments since) was laughter. I squealed and I giggled and I buried my head in my heads.

When we got back to where we'd left his brother standing, TLK cracked a grin my way. "Just imagine if this was turbo," he said.

So it didn't surprise me at all last week that he decided in order to properly grieve for the loss of his beloved car (the one now turned in a hollowed-out shell of its former self), in order to properly process the loss, in order to move past the heartbreak, he needed to buy a car that would smoke his old car.

So I told him, yeah, okay, let's go to New Hampshire. Sure. Why not?

And so we did, and TLK inspected his car and then forked over the money for it and said, "I'll follow you home."

When we got home a few hours later, I parked my car and TLK pulled up behind me. I grabbed my purse and stepped out of my car. And then he gave me a gesture--a simple nod--that almost made my heart explode out of my chest. Here was a boy who was so pleased with himself, so happy, and he wanted to take me for a ride in his fast car, so he was giving me a nod, telling me, "Hey, Baby. Jump in." It was the world's most perfect nod, born of beautiful old films where the men wore leather jackets and white t-shirts and tight jeans, where they smoked cigarettes and slung a sun-tanned arm out the window of whatever smooth machine they were driving. It was American Graffiti meets a Bruce Springsteen video.

I went around, opened the passenger door. I slid into the seats--which were not normal seats but seats you'd find in a racecar--and strapped myself down.

One minute later, after TLK had driven us down the long road that circles the small airport around the corner from my apartment, we were sideways. The car was roaring, I was screaming, TLK was smiling as much as I'd ever seen him smile. We tore into a curve and the car slid through it gracefully, as if over ice.

It was then that I realized something very important about myself: I have always wanted to be this girl. I am the girl Milner gets stuck riding with in American Graffiti. I am a Pink Lady. I am, at all times, hoping to star in my own version of Grease. This would explain why I consistently disappointed my friend Greg in grad school when I chose rough-tough-working boys instead of, say, poets, which was who he thought I should be with. I said I wanted a man who could discuss literature with me, who would write poetry about the way my hair smelled or the way I looked coming out of the shower, but, really, honestly, deep down I wanted nothing to do with them and everything to do with someone who could get his hands dirty in a way most darling MFA boys will not.

If I'm completely honest with myself, I am certain this has something to do with the types of men I grew up around--my grandfather, my uncle, my brother, my father. My father, of course, isn't a rough-tough-dirty-man in the way that some of the others on that list are, but he grew up around cars. He grew up loving cars. He's the type of man who can identify the make, model, and year of any old car when it passes on the street. He's the type of man who, when I smile and ask him sweetly, will change my brakes for me.

So maybe I've always been looking for what I'm used to. And while I was in the sideways car, shrieking and giggling and saying, "Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!" I realized that, hey, look at this. I've found something I've always been secretly looking for, and in finding it, I have managed to transform myself into the girls I always wanted to be, the girls I always identified with: the ones who would run down the stairs and into the car of a boy who's wanting to take them out, show them some fun, drive them fast along the dark country roads where no one else is around and all that's there is the long squeal of a tire and a quick flash of light in the place where, just seconds ago, a car had been.

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