September 2012

A crash course in honesty

By Suzanne Strazza

Driving in Durango the other day, I saw a baby blue Vølkswagen Rabbit. Instantly my brain (and then my mouth) said, somewhat wistfully, “Tricia Kirkland.”

I haven’t thought about Tricia Kirkland in at least 100 years and don’t even know what state she lives in, let alone if she still drives that baby blue Rabbit; although I am guessing the answer on that one is no.

But it got me thinking about some of the more significant cars in my life, most of them not mine, and how years in one vehicle bring few and insignificant memories and a couple of rides in another define an era in my life.

I tried to decide, out of the many memorable autos, which one wins the prize for being the most impactful in my personal history.

(Is “impactful” a real word? Read on – I choose my words carefully.)

Was it the blue Rabbit that four teenage girls drove all over Kingdom Come, off to the Lake Club to go skinny-dipping or scheming to run into John John Kennedy? Was it Jim M’s Honda, the “Da,” one of those tiny, jelly-bean-shaped things into which we could cram at least 12 friends and a couple of cases of beer? Or was it my father’s Mercedes that picked up my friends at 3 a.m. after they broke into someone’s estate and stole, amongst other items, a handmade fisherman’s sweater, reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway?

Important and unforgettable, but not “The One.”

That honor goes to Ricky S’s…?

I have no idea what kind of car it was. It was some non-descript, barf-brown, fourdoor, middle-aged-man type of auto.

My parents traveled a lot, which was why I was able to take out the Mercedes at 3 a.m. One time while they were abroad, my brother’s friends, who I, of course, worshipped, were at our house tossing around the football. My brother was nowhere to be found and was most likely doing something responsible.

I, at the tender age of 14, turned on my feminine charm and convinced Ricky and Steve to teach me to drive.

My driveway alone was treacherous – I don’t remember navigating it, but I obviously did because I eventually ended up about a mile from my house on a winding (New Jersey) mountain road.

Realizing that I was actually hazardous and it was time to get out from behind the wheel, I turned the corner from Mountaintop Road onto Post Road towards home and unfortunately, didn’t turn quite enough.

The telephone pole that I hit split in two, but fortunately the top half landed next to Ricky’s car, not on it. Also fortunately, I was moving so slowly that I really just bent the bumper of Ricky’s car.

Biggest issue: the blood pouring out of my freshly broken nose. How was I going to pretend that wasn’t there? And yes, my parents were due to arrive home the very next day.

In a panic we made it back to my house and of course frantically proceeded to come up with a plausible story to tell our families; we dragged my reluctant brother right into our web of deceit. It being the Brady Bunch era, we looked to the classic Marsha, “Oh, my nose!” got hit with her brothers’ football right before prom, tale. I mean, Ricky and Steve were throwing around the ball right before it happened – it wasn’t a total lie.

My parents came home, they fussed and fawned, I felt properly sorry for myself and was extremely forgiving of Steve and Ricky and we all went on with our lives.

A few years later, after living the lie for so long that I actually began to believe it, I ended up in the surgeon’s office discussing my deviated septum. He posed the simple question, “How did you break your nose?”

@#%$!!!

I glanced at my mother’s compassionate smile and, reassured of her belief in my innocence, told him the story of the football, all the while expecting him to look up my nostrils and declare, “There is no WAY that damage was done with a mere toss of a ball.”

But he didn’t. And I didn’t get my nose fixed. And I snore horribly, but I see that as my penance for the Great Lie.

So one night, at Strazza Family Dinner, about 10 years later, my father declares Amnesty Night. He had broken something of my mother’s and wanted to tell her but was terrified to do it so thought that if we all admitted to a lie, his might not seem so big.

We went around the table. I have absolutely no idea what the others confessed to – I couldn’t hear anything over the blood pounding in my ears.

As they spoke I questioned if I was really going to do this? How long is the statute of limitations on a crime this huge? And then thought, “Would y’all just hurry it up before I have a heart attack over here!”

When it came around to me, my hands shook and I began to hiccup. But once I started, 10 years of pent-up truth spewed out of my mouth, completely unchecked, every single tiny detail of that horrible day.

When I finished, I waited in silence for judge and jury to hand down the sentence. My mother spoke…

“Oh. We knew that. Steve’s mother told us – the day after it happened, as soon as we got home.”

@#%$!!!!!

YEARS. OF. AGONY.

Guilt, remorse, shame, deceit. All for nothing? If I hadn’t lived that lie for as long as I did, hadn’t lived under the tremendous strain of deceit, who knows how my life may have turned out?

So, long story short, I have no idea what kind of car Ricky (and I) drove, but it certainly goes down in Strazza Family lore as the most influential automobile.

Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos, Colo. She is experiencing a karmic rebate as her 15-year-old learns how to drive. Read her blog, Single in the Southwest, at suzannestrazza.wordpress.com.