Since my mother first drove my siblings and I cross country in 1990, I have loved being in the car. Christmas 2003, my mother gave my sister and I our first car. Technically, it belonged to my brother as well. Alex had been in a speciality program for several months, and wouldn’t be back soon.
Elvis, so dubbed for the endless, deep humming sound that passengers could hear in the backseat, was a 1992 Ford Tempo. He was a pretty blue, underneath the orangey-brown rust patches. My mom made pillows for Allison in obnoxious pink leopard, and they sat in the backseat like a pretend couch. I had a Jesus fish on the back bumper. It belonged to us kids as a whole, but I was the only one who could drive. The car was a piece of shit, but it was mine. It gave me control in a way I’d never known.
That same Christmas, I learned that my father had died. First they thought it was drugs, then a suicide, and then a heart attack. At least that is what I remember. We found out two days after it happened, because we were in Montana visiting Alex. My father’s sisters and his parents had called us, leaving a variety of messages, all vague and ominous.
I didn’t feel anything about his death for a few months. My best friend Stephanie sent me the only sympathy card I received.
In April, I started seeing things. Not just things. I started to see Jim. He was on campus. He was in the gazebo at church. He was in the booth next to me at Red Robin. I couldn’t turn without seeing his thin, lanky body, sucking on a cigarette.
Being the faithful student of Christ I was, I saw this as Satan testing me. I re-read the book of Job.
Weeks passed. I kept seeing him. I started to hear him, yelling my name. It was from the time he didn’t buy us return tickets home, and they had to hold the plane while we ran. I could hear his cough.
I stopped sleeping. I was terrified that he was going to come get me. When I wasn’t paralyzed with fear, I was berating myself for being all Sixth Sense about someone I didn’t really know. I had some memories of my father, but they were murky, and made my stomach cramp up.
Things with Stephanie were tense, and I don’t recall confiding in her. I wanted to say something to someone, but it seemed shameful to me. I didn’t want people to know I was seeing things, hearing things. I’d seen movies, and I didn’t want to be the twisted character who goes nuts and then kills everyone. I didn’t go to my mother, because she was dealing with her own issues. Allison was getting into trouble at school, and Alex was due to come home in June. I didn’t trust her to be any wiser than I would be. Stuart and I were dealing with being physical and not being physical, and the hormones between the two extremes. Besides, I reasoned, how do I tell someone this anyway? What do I tell them is happening?
I started driving at night. I wasn’t sleeping anyway, and now I had the means to go further than the bathtub. The King and I would take Beach Blvd all the way to the ocean. I’d park, locking the doors by hand. The sand was always cool beneath my feet, flip flops held together in my right hand. If the cops came by, they ushered me along. Usually I was alone. I never did anything but walk, or sit. I listened to the waves, and tried to hear God’s voice. It used to be sharp, clear, and direct. Now it was muddled.
Lack of sleep gave way to other issues. I started injuring more. It gave some relief from feeling pent up with helplessness. I told myself how my father was coming back for me, that I had killed him somehow. I sounded insane, even to myself. I didn’t want anyone to know that I’d gone off the deep end.
I started ditching school more, having my own vehicle to escape. I spent many days that year in movie theaters and in the kids’ section of Borders. I was distant with Stephanie, and missing church.
It was June 2004 when I decided I was going to kill myself. I knew I was crazy. I was seeing Jim daily, hearing him daily, suffering nightmares of blurred heat nightly. I was afraid, and I had no idea why. The fear was all-consuming. I couldn’t live like this. And if I died, I’d be in heaven. Wasn’t that the whole point of life anyway, to build up glory in heaven? I couldn’t serve if I was insane, and I was clearly headed that direction. Better to end on a high note, when I can still be proud of what I did in His name.
I told God about it, driving to the ocean in Elvis. I wanted Him to show me that I wasn’t crazy, that I wasn’t at fault for Jim’s death. To explain to me why I felt so afraid all of time. Why would I fear my father?
My window down, Evanescence sang about purple skies at full volume. I drove until sunrise, planning to wait until New Orleans, when Allison and Alex wouldn’t be able to find me. I didn’t want it to be anyone in my family. I was planning on living at the dorms, so I could do it there. Elvis hummed louder as I accelerated on the empty freeway. We had a plan. Well, I had a plan. God didn’t weigh in. Elvis started to overheat, which wasn’t unusual. I turned the dial on the heater and leaned across the passenger seat and cranked the window down.