At the time all I could think about was her father. How would he react? How would he justify his anger? Probably the cost to fix the truck. Or, maybe the truck—it was a big Dodge dually—was necessary for something, farm work or whatnot. Even more lost money, possibly crop or livestock holdups too. Most likely it would have been the simple fact that she kept on pulling forward then backing up into the concrete pillar beside the gas pump. That she didn’t have the sense to stop somewhere between the first or sixth time, look at where she was and where she needed to go, figure on the best way to do so. She didn’t do that because she was embarrassed.
I watched the young man come out and yell at her, then direct her to back up, towards my car parked at the adjacent pump. He had to beat on the truck to get her to stop about 2 inches away from my passenger door. That was enough for her and she peeled out of the gas station, the young man still yelling. Turned out he was in a different car. He apologized to me profusely, until I told him that she had not indeed hit my car. Then he gave a slow smile as those words registered. He didn’t have to defend her to me anymore, so he attacked her for her stupidity. In doing so he defended his own actions in trying to get her to stop. There was more than the usual spittle at the corners of his lips. His eyes moved slowly back and forth behind dirty glasses. He was in a white collared shirt with a blue tie, and as he walked away I could see a tag still stuck on the back of the shirt collar. Curious. He reminded me of those other white-shirt-and-tie kids who ride bikes door to door in our neighborhood, asking you the kind of things those kids ask. But somehow less, without the vigor of the Holy Spirit or the balls to bring it into my face.
All I could think about afterwards was how awful and angry and guilty I’d felt in making similar dumbass mistakes as a young man, sometimes even now, today. How so much of my life has been defined by what I’d not done right. When I picked up my son later that evening, I recognized the same in him. Worse, I recognized my own hand behind those terrible emotions he held on to. Fortunately he is still young so I have time to correct it. But how?
That young woman, she couldn’t have been much over five feet tall, driving this hulking truck, she was the same as me. The same as my blonde haired, blue eyed mini-me. It cut me deep to think of that. When I look forward and see the stupid things he’ll do, or his younger brother will do once he’s been born and lived a while, I assume the responsibility of error correction, among other things as a parent. But how do we correct in ourselves the things we teach others? It doesn’t have to be your kid(s) even, but your coworkers, your spouse or neighbors. We live life surrounded by others that we teach and learn from everyday. Unconsciously through body language or our facial expressions. We are walking billboards of our teachings and leanings, of our preachings and rages.
Honestly don’t know what I’ll do when one of my kids backs into some concrete pole at the gas station. Probably laugh. Not sure why that comes to my mind, but something about laughing it off seems right. Show them that it’s not the end of the world maybe. To allow them the same breath of relief that lets go of the guilt and anger. I’d bet some serious cash that girl’s father was not laughing. The truck would be a couple grand to fix, easily. That’s assuming no damage to the frame. Will I be upset about the money when my time comes to be in his shoes? At this point I assume it’ll depend on how much I have. Does a rich man yell any less at their kids when they screw up?
We go around in these circles, thoughts, emotions, reveries of glass that shatter the instant a teenage girl almost backs into your car. Couldn’t tell you what I was thinking about before it happened. Not sure it matters, anyway. And yet, here I am, trying to make glass into metal or stone, something far more durable for when this thing, this experience becomes relevant again in ten or fifteen years. When I’m the guy bailing hay or writing or whatever work I do at the time, I’m the man who gets his glass shattered when one of his kids does something dumb because they are scared or embarrassed. The fragile thought I’ll have before that specific moment will be gone, and immediately in its place—once, of course, I know everyone is unharmed—will be about some teenage girl who once was in the same position. I can’t promise I’ll react in any specific way. But there’s no question that, like a giant stone, this durable memory of today will come screeching in, asking for direction, reminding me to error correct as opposed to allowing rage its due.
In the old, second-hand copy of Demian I have somewhere in a pile, there is a quote from Hesse that says something to the effect of, “I wanted only to live in accord with the promptings of my true self. Why was that so very difficult?” I’ve thought often of that phrase and it’s truth in my own life. But I felt my true self while watching the truck go forwards and backwards, grinding against the pole. It urged me to tell her that it was OK. It’s just a car. Take a breath, relax, evaluate and then pull forward a little. It doesn’t matter that the truck was damaged. You’re OK. And yes, your parents may be upset. It may even cause them hardship. But they should also tell you that it’s OK. Learn from it, sure. But it’s OK.