My mentor, piano teacher and woman for whom my daughter is named gave up her keys when she was ninety-something. She did so voluntarily and about a decade later than prudent. She was legally blind and drove the same way she played piano: by touch. My offspring believe I never really lived a life of excitement, having never climbed Mount Everest, swum amongst sharks, or danced on a stripper pole. Those people never got in a car with Lavelle Jones.
After the past week of driving in Nashville, I am ready to give up my keys and hire a chauffeur for Daisy and me. I wonder if Uber will pull a 1959 canned ham camper, because this old girl’s blood pressure just can’t take it any more.
Our town is supposedly an “it city” now. That’s good, I suppose. People are employed. There are cool restaurants. We have our own TV show. However, this cantankerous broad is beginning to feel like the increase of traffic and constant road construction make what Nashville is only rhyme with “it city.” I feel like I’m in a Jason Bourne movie. Everywhere I turn, there is an obstacle and somebody out to get me.
Last week, I picked Girl Child up from school, driving home the usual route. I needed to turn left from a very busy street onto a semi-busy street. Traffic in the suicide turn lane, to turn left was backed up to Kentucky. I was in the suicide turn lane. I didn’t want to be backed up to Kentucky, so I checked my rear view and popped back into the mainstream traffic. Apparently, the Sweet Young Lady in the far right lane wanted to be where I was and I thwarted her plans. She honked her horn politely for about 20 seconds and waved delicately with an extended finger, as she zipped past.
“I’m gonna flip her off,” proclaimed Girl Child.
“No, honey, don’t,” I admonished. After all, we need to take the high road in these things and it’s up to me, the Mother, to set the example. When we arrived at the stop light, I purposely stayed several feet back so that there wouldn’t be ugly looks as we waited on the light. Ohm. Namaste. I got this.
Sweet Young Lady in the right lane took the opportunity and space I provided her, to cut sharply in front of me so that she was perpendicular to my car. Her sweet little face was right in front of mine and she glared. As I think back, I realize I probably mistook her intent and it wasn’t a glare, but an invitation to friendship. I bet she liked the color of Girl Child’s hair and wanted to get her stylist’s number. Or maybe she thought we should all get coffee. Maybe she saw the DaisytheTrailer bumper sticker and wanted to get one. We’ll never know her true intention, because I had a burst of middle-aged-from-West-Virginia-I-am-badder-than-Kathy-Bates-Towanda energy and I multi-tasked the HELL out of that moment. I laid on the horn, extended both middle fingers, would have extended middle toes if I could have gotten my feet above my stomach, made horrible faces and threw up gang signs.
Maybe not gang signs, but that’s what Girl Child thought and was duly impressed. It’s unusual for a mom to impress a teenage daughter and I hated to lose the moment, but honesty is usually the best policy. As Sweet Young Lady finished her creative driving by executing a U-turn, I confessed, “No, honey. Those weren’t gang signs. Those were flying assholes.”
Because not everyone knows what that is, I shall explain. In the Milton, West Virginia culture of the 1970s, one could extend a friendly greeting, by touching one’s forefinger to one’s thumb, creating a circle. Sometimes this is used to signal, “Okay.” However, if one turns one’s hand so that the wrist is facing inward instead of outward, one has created a “flying asshole.” I have a photo of my cousin sneaking one out at my 16th birthday party. A couple of years ago, I made t-shirts with the pictures and passed them out to family members. He was grateful; I’m sure of it. Just as he’ll be grateful for this story.
Still shaking with adrenaline and embarrassment that I used archaic mountain gestures and not hip urban ones, I looked in my rearview mirror. The driver behind me had her phone up, obviously videotaping my moment. I don’t blame her. I LOVE irony and the thought of some crazy woman gesturing wildly to another driver through the frame of stickers pasted all over the back window, espousing peace, love, coexist, and Margaret Meade philosophy is too good to pass up. I can’t WAIT until it goes viral. Please God, don’t let it go viral.
Yesterday, I picked Girl Child up from school and headed toward the hip, cool, trendy 12South area of town. I had an errand to complete and it seemed as if the odds were ever in my favor. I was hitting green lights, Girl Child and I were chattering like chickens and she was playing good tunes from her Spotify playlist. I stopped at a stop sign, happy that the coast was clear, then bolted across a busy one-way street that is part of music row.
I saw a flash of gold and did more than slam on the brakes. I stood on them. I Fred Flintstone hung my feet through the floorboard stopped. I braked two tons of steel with every ounce of my being. Pollyanna, my poor 12-year-old-smells-like-horse-poop Honda Pilot squeezed her eyes closed, jammed up her ABS and hopscotched to a halt, leaving a skid mark like a frat boy’s underwear after Taco Tuesday. There was so much screaming and squealing that I couldn’t discern my voice from my daughter’s, from car brakes from dog.
I still can’t say for certain what happened, but I know with certainty that I will never be a good witness to a murder. I would be an even worse murderer, incriminating myself at every turn. I imagine myself on the witness stand. The prosecutor smells blood. “Mrs. Caldwell, what did you see?”
“A flash of gold. I think it was a dog. It could have been a cat. Or an antelope. Or a baby…OH GOD I HIT A BABY!!!!”
“What happened afterwards?”
“I don’t know. It was all so quick. The dog ran off. I left my teenage daughter in the car in the middle of the street while I ran after the dog and the guy holding a leash.”
The prosecutor will look me up and down, stopping at my rotund mid-section. “You RAN, Mrs. Caldwell?”
“Yes. Which is why I started wheezing and told the guy with the leash to keep looking on foot…to go on without me….”
“So, you LEFT the guy holding the leash? Knowing it was HIS dog who had been hit by YOUR car?”
“Yes, but I was going back to my car, to drive around and look for Simba.”
“The victim’s name was Simba?”
“Is. The victim, the dog’s name IS Simba. He’s still alive. He’s actually okay.”
The prosecutor will throw a knowing look at the jury. Rap his knuckles on the wooden rail in front of them. “So, you left the scene of the crime.”
“No! I drove around looking for Simba. My daughter walked the entire area, alerting The Contributor salesperson on the corner and everything.”
“Mrs. Caldwell, we have here a video of your act of road rage the week prior to your running over sweet Simba.”
“I didn’t run OVER him. I hit him. I think. But I found him! I’m the one who found him in the pre-school parking lot, with the…well, actually some preschooler’s dad found him, but I found the dad, with Simba. And I picked him up – Simba, not the dad — and I got blood on my coat and everything.”
Once again, the prosecutor will sideglance the jury. They all get the joke that is me. I shall rise to my own defense.
“I took the dog and the owner to the vet. Simba is okay. The owner and I are kinda friends now. He’s a really sweet guy and is going to help my daughter make contacts at art schools. They did x-rays. No internal damage. All they had to do was remove a toenail….”
The fainthearted of the jury will retch. The judge will swoon and the court reporter will pass out. Court will recess and when it reconvenes the prosecutor will continue his attack.
“Back to the road rage incident Mrs. Caldwell, in this video, are you throwing up gang signs?”
“No. That’s a flying asshole.”