Monday, February 19, 2024

Going Backwards

When I was 5, my father had me and my brother in a vehicle when he stopped at a convenience store on Apperson Drive.

I don't recall what kind of car we had in 1968, but I want to say it was a Dodge Charger. At any rate, he left us both in the car while he went in to fetch whatever he was after.

In 1968 I suppose there were car seats, but we didn't use them. I don't think we used seat belts either, for that matter. Yes, I am of the generation that rode in the bed of the pickup truck, drank from water hoses, and lived to tell about it.

After my father hopped out of the car, my brother climbed into the driver's seat so he could pretend to be driving. I don't remember if the car was running, but I'm guessing my father left it in neutral and put on the parking brake. I think the parking brake was located where today most people would find a cup holder and a console.

Somehow my brother disengaged something, and the car started rolling backwards.

As in, out of a small parking lot and into a busy highway.

My brother seemed oblivious to what he'd done, but as soon as I realized the car was moving, I started to scream. That made him cry. I remember feeling terrified because while I didn't know how to stop the car, I knew we were in trouble and that if the car went into traffic, we would be hurt. I was screaming and crying and trying to get my brother out of the driver's seat while at the same time looking at the store where my father was. 

"Daddy, Daddy!" I screamed, all the while trying to tug my sobbing brother away from the steering wheel. Somehow, I managed to hit the car horn.

I don't know if he heard me, but I saw Dad look up and realize what was happening. He dropped whatever he had in his hands on the store counter and ran toward the car. I was still screaming when my father wrenched the door open and stuck his foot inside and on the brake. I was able to grab my brother then and pull him over to me in the front side passenger's seat.

It was a close call.

My father yelled at me for not stopping the car (like a 5-year-old is going to be anything other than scared to death in this scenario) as he got in the driver's seat, pulled the car back up, put it in park, and went back in to pay for his stuff. I imagine it shook him up a little, we were so close to rolling out into the road.

I'm also pretty sure he told us not to tell our mother what happened. I don't remember if I ever did.

Mostly I remember feeling so angry that he blamed me for something my brother did that the fear went away, to be replaced with a seething darkness. I couldn't tell him how unfair he was being - I did not have those kinds of words yet, or that kind of courage - nor could I take it out on anybody (except maybe my brother, but I was a good girl). Maybe I went home and beat up a Barbie doll. I don't recall. But this incident has always stood out in my mind as a fine example of unfairness tinged with total terror, and it comes back to me when I have the feeling that I'm going backwards in life instead of moving ahead.

I'm not really going backwards. Being sick for a month has set me back. I was doing more physically before I caught this respiratory thing, and now I'm going to have to work to build up my stamina again. I went to Food Lion today and it wiped me out. 

For some reason, though, my life does feel like I'm trapped in an uncontrolled vehicle slowing heading into traffic, with no idea how to hit the gas or the brake pedal because my legs aren't long enough.


  1. I know exactly how you are feeling. After spending all of January sick, today was honestly the first day I really felt well and like my old self.

  2. That was quite the story! We have had incidents like that while raising our kids and I can tell you for 100% certainty that your dad was not mad at you, nor did he think you should have stopped the car. His reaction was just that, a reaction from being scared and knowing what could have happened and that it was totally his fault. Parents will often lash out like that when they get scared, and you being the closest thing there, received the brunt of it.

  3. Recovering from Covid, moving, and now having a cold makes me feel every minute of my 58 years. I know what you mean about stamina.


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