“My seat belt’s uncomfortable,” she said. “Do I have to wear it?”
“Yes,” I said. “Safety first.”
You buckle up when you ride with me.
My passenger shot nearly a full tape of video on the drive back from Montreal. A state-of-the-road-trip report every hour on the half-hour. Many of the shots are of me being stoked. Drumming on the steering wheel, waving my index finger in the air, singing along with every single song at the top of my lungs. Ramones, New Order, Bad Religion.
I played “Everything That Rises Must Converge” by Shriekback followed by a tape of Pop Will Eat Itself covering that same song and howled along with both of them.
And she don’t know which way to go
She says “If you find it darling, let me know”
And he says “Well, this could be so”
Says “I’m a car crash, now tell me, baby does it show”
I was wishing I’d have a computer waiting for me at home to edit it all on. I’m going to take this opportunity to tell you all that my computer is screwed. My hard drive reported a critical error: “Hard drive status: failing. You should back up your drive immediately if you are still able to and replace the hard drive.”
My iBook hadn’t been starting up at all, but I managed to get it going tonight and I’m typing this as the hard drive chugs towards oblivion. Could be the last time I’m online for a while, which sucks because I live alone in the country.
There is an Apple repair shop an hour’s drive away in Fredericton. But…
We drove through Florenceville (the french fry capital of the world) and the plan was to hit Hartland (home of the longest covered bridge in the world) and Nackawic (home of the world’s largest axe). Coming around the corner at Exit 170 into Hartland, we could see the bridge through the river mist.
Just before the hairpin curve of the off-ramp, a yellow sign suggests 30km/h as a safe turning speed. Going from 100 down to 30 is a fair bit of deceleration in a short distance.
Going downhill, on wet pavement.
Especially when your brake pedal goes all the way to the floor without doing anything.
I pumped it. “Okay, I’ve got no brakes,” I said. I think I had time to yell: “No brakes… Hang on!”
The exit sign was on a large metal pole and Carmen went off the road and smashed into it. I looked over at my passenger at the instant of collision. Both of our heads slammed forward and the seatbelts threw us back.
“Are you okay oh my god are you okay are you okay.”
No one was hurt. I hit my knee on the dash a little bit. The engine was still running. The tape deck still played.
We got out of the car. I almost laughed at the absurdity of seeing Carmen, my Carmen, the giver of life and love, wrapped around a metal pole in Hartland, New Brunswick.
I was hardly aware of being shaken up. That came later. At the time, I was on the cellphone, calling CAA to arrange a tow truck, trying to figure out what the hell we were going to do, what this was going to mean.
The tow truck took a long time. This being New Brunswick, every single car that went by stopped to see if we were all right. One fellow hung out with us for a while.
“Yeah, cut off a chunk of the fender here, you might be able to back ‘er right out.” I got in and started up the car. The engine still ran fine. I put it in reverse and drove backwards a few feet. “Except, no brakes,” he said. Yeah… that and my front end is friggin’ crumpled.
A Mountie pulled up and got down to the paperwork after a bit of sympathetic small talk.
I had yanked up the emergency brake. Everything happened so fast, I scarcely remember doing it. Skid marks scarred the grass and the very last little bit of pavement. Coulda been worse, yep, seat belts, emergency brake, coulda been way worse.
A few feet to the right and the car would’ve missed the pole entirely. Maybe it would’ve hurtled through the field, straight towards a cliff that drops all the way down to the mighty St. John River. Maybe I would’ve had to jump out of a moving vehicle.
The thing is, I would’ve been ready.
In my dreams I’ll jump out of Carmen and chase her down. Jump back inside. Save her somehow.
I took a picture of the metal pole, dented with chunks of maroon paint, ringed with pieces of a broken headlight.
In his car, the Mountie was talking on the phone for a long time (What’s he talking about?). The tow truck driver arrived and got to work without speaking. He tilted up the flatbed and started to winch Carmen up onto it. Coolant ran out of the busted radiator, green blood from a mortal wound.
The tow truck made a brief stop at the garage. A mechanic looked her over and signed the death warrant. Front end smashed and bent all to hell, radiator cracked, brakes, god knows what else.
And then it was off to “The Compound.”
The Compound was just a big clearing in the woods at the end of a long lonely country road. Some of the cars in the yard where so twisted up they looked as though they’d been bombed. If Carmen had to be totalled, couldn’t something crazy at least have happened to her? Like, rolling over three times and bursting into flames. Why did I have to hit a stupid pole?
Among these heaps, junkers and wrecks, Carmen found her final resting place. I left all my gear in the trunk knowing I’d have to come back and say goodbye.
The tow truck driver dropped us off at the Esso truck stop where we waited for my father and brother, who were driving from Saint John to bail us out. When my supper arrived I had to push back from the table and put my face in my hands. I got the shakes in my arms and legs. A sick feeling passed through my stomach for a moment, and then it was gone, and that was that.
My computer, my bicycle and my car were all lost within days of each other. I’m just trying to figure out what this means for living alone in the country. I’m being driven into seclusion like a nail being driven into a piece of pine. Staying is going to be very difficult, but moving is going to be impossible.
When my father and brother showed up we returned to The Compound to rescue all my stuff. The clearing was quiet and peaceful but nonetheless seemed to echo with the noise of a dozen violent collisions. I took a few pictures as heartbreak seeped in.
All my music gear, all my cassettes, even the garbage on Carmen’s floor had a sentimental value. Am I in mourning over the loss of a mechanical object? It seems grief is easily triggered these days, an automatic shift.
Once everything was loaded into my father’s car I sat behind Carmen’s steering wheel for the last time. I honked the horn once and turned on the parking lights. I left them on, so they could slowly dim into darkness as the battery went dead in this country junkyard.
And then it was time to go.
“Lock her up,” I said. She’s still my baby.