Another true story, and excerpt from my book, The Art Of Table Dancing. Stealing my parents car at the age of 13. I was the "hit" of the neighborhood. Sort Of.
It was the first summer of my recovery from the brain-spanking of Catholic grade school. Greased up with iodine and baby oil, my sister Lori and I sunned our “Twiggy’ bodies on the garage roof. I was contemplating the sins I’d already committed and those I might commit. Number one, it was Sunday and I hadn’t gone to church, still a venial sin according to Catholics in those days. Looking outside church doctrine, as I often did for greater spiritual truth or less guilt, I concluded that according to the Ten Commandments, I was sinning only if I didn’t keep the day holy. Vowing to keep my thoughts pure, and pleased with finding this loophole, I flipped from my back to my stomach. The big goal of the day was to keep the tanning session even.
I mentally reviewed the rest of the commandments and got stuck on Honoring Thy Mother and Father, which I decided was way too vague for me to worry about, without further clarification.
“Hey you’re looking a little crispy around the edges,”
I peered down at the driveway and saw two neighbor girls, Linda and Julie—who, like me, would be going to public high school that year. They talked me off of the garage roof. Linda said they were bored and “looking for something to do.” That’s when I discovered the keys.
“You better not be thinking about taking the car,” Lori scolded.
“What are you going to do about it?” I shot back.
“C’mon Linda, Julie, let’s go for a little drive.”
I practically strutted out of the door in defiance.
“Get back here! You’re in big trouble!”
If Linda hesitated at all it was only momentarily as she sat by my side in the Stanfa family— no make that my dad’s— new Chevy Malibu.
“DC, do you know how to drive?”
“Sure, my dad lets me drive when we’re on vacation,”
I didn’t mention that I was only allowed to steer on a ¼-mile-stone driveway to a remote cabin.
Luckily, or unluckily, the car was parked in the street. I doubt I’d have been able to back it out of the driveway. It was an automatic transmission, that much I understood. Other than that, not being a boy or a car buff, my knowledge was limited to simple facts. The car was big and it was blue. Julie, a quiet type by nature, remained silent throughout the front-seat adjustment and the starting of the ignition.
Once we were in Drive mode she asked,
“Where are we going?”
Since I had not yet exceeded 5 mph, we had plenty of time to decide.
“Let’s go to McDonalds,” Linda suggested.
“Cool,” I answered, trying to send calming signals to my heart, which was beating faster than Cassius Clay threw punches.
I was having difficulty with the foot pedals, first confusing the accelerator with the brake and vice-versa. Finally, I kept one foot on each for a jerk-and-stop rhythm. Apparently the steering was the easy part, or so I thought for the moment.
“How ‘bout I just take ‘er around the block first, to get a feel for it?”
Hands shaking a bit, I tightened my grip on the wheel. As I came to a rolling stop at the end of Indianola, and veered left onto Stengle, I spied Mr. Grabowski mowing his postage stamp of a front lawn.
As often accompanies the exhilaration of virgin experiences, time and space became distorted. The street narrowed, eerily. The lawn jockey came to life and swung his lantern in warning. The bowling trophies in the Grabowski’s front window loomed like skyscrapers. I shrunk low in my seat.
“Oh my God, what if he saw me?”
Somewhere in the momentary silence I thought I heard a unanimous, telepathic expletive.
We never thought about neighbors being out on a sunny, holiday-weekend afternoon!
I navigated the next turn, left onto Roxberry, at what felt like full-throttle—about 15 mph. The Jamiesons were cleaning out their garage and Jimmy, age 5, was riding a Big Wheel in the driveway. Mrs. Jamieson paused from hosing down the garage floor to look our direction.
“She sees us!” screamed Julie.
“Duck!” yelled Linda.
“Oh my God, she knows I’m not old enough to drive. She’ll tell my parents!” “Step on it!” Linda shouted.
Unsure of my next move, I stayed steady, but low. So low I couldn’t see out of the front windshield, which would explain how I missed seeing and consequently hit, the parked car on my right. It was more of a sideswipe than a direct hit, but I knew the battleship was sunk when Mrs. Dubinski ran through her front bushes in response to the metal-on-metal noise.
A feeling of unreality came over me, I detached myself from my body and wished I could distort time and space further, like go back in time and leave the car keys on the end-table. In my mental departure I easily relinquished control of the wheel to Linda, who swerved us around the last corner from Copeland and back onto Indianola. The getaway car sped away at 13 mph and I felt another small jolt and heard another sickening crunch. I slammed on the brakes after seeing that we’d French-kissed an Impala parked in front of the Butlers’ house. I had regained control of the wheel but Linda put her foot next to mine, which was on the brake, and forced it onto the accelerator.
“Let’s get outta here!”
She echoed my thoughts exactly.
We were in the home stretch. I could see the little Stanfa bungalow about 250 feet away. Distracted by the angry shouts from outside the car, I turned my head, to see half a dozen eyewitnesses chasing us on foot.
“Get back here! Ya hit my car!” boomed Jack Butler.
In that instant, brief distracting moment, the Malibu clipped the rear end of the Foltz’s Ford pick-up.
Doesn’t anybody park in their driveway anymore?
It was the first logical thought I’d had all day.
Once safely parked in almost the same spot from which we’d departed, Linda and Julie vanished faster than Endora when Darren got home. I was alone. The little witch of the neighborhood, only I couldn’t twitch my nose out of trouble. The villagers were gathering in the front yard, intent on a flogging— at least a verbal one. Lori met us on the front porch.
“Where are your parents?” demanded Mrs. Butler of Lori-in-charge.
I ran inside ahead of the pack, and locked myself in my room: The typical adolescent thing.
The only part of my body that wasn’t shaking was my eyeballs. They were tiny rafts, lost in churning, hydraulic, class-six white-water rapid tears. Collapsing into a fetal position on my bed, I cried and prayed.
Please God, let me go to sleep and wake up to a different reality, where this doesn’t happen and I’m cute and popular and David Cassidy is my boyfriend and where my parents don’t bludgeon me with my lava lamp.
“DC, you’d better get out here! The cops are here and I’m not talking to them! Come out or I‘ll get a bobby pin to pick the lock!”
I recognized the cop. Sergeant Haas had gone to school with my mom, and I knew his niece. I tried to hide behind a wad of Kleenex I’d cupped around my dripping eyes and nose. I cowered, slowly shuffling my feet on the pea-green, shag carpet toward our black, vinyl couch.
“I called my mom and dad. They’re on their way,” Lori told the cop.
The interrogation began.
I wasn’t listening. I was visualizing what life at reform school might be like. There was a kid in our neighborhood a couple of years earlier who’d tried to burn down his grandma’s house and he was sent to a reform school over in Indiana. I wondered if reform schools had jail cells or dorm rooms with bars on the windows. Looking out the Stanfas’ front window, my view was unobstructed by bars. Jack Butler and Caroline Foltz were clearly telling Cop #2 the whole crash-bang story.
“Are you all right?” asked Sgt. Haas, “Are you hurt?”
“Not yet. But she will be when our parents get home,” Lori answered for me.
“Was anyone in the car with you?”
“Yeah. Two girls,” I heard myself saying.
“Where are they? Are they okay?”
“Judging from how fast they ran, I’d say they’re all right,”
“Are you under the influence?”
Putting a wad of Kleenex on the end table, I looked up to meet his eyes, for the first time.
“Have you been drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana?”
“No, she’s just very stupid and obviously a terrible driver.”
Was Lori defending me or taking a shot at me? Probably both. Then my parents hit the fan, I mean, the front door.
“Gloria, Denny,” Sgt. Haas addressed them in a serious tone of voice.
“Denise apparently took your vehicle for a drive and hit a few of your neighbors parked vehicles.”
“Yes, Ken, when Lori called she told us.”
My dad’s voice was calm, but he was looking at me in a way I didn’t recognize.
“My God, what were you thinking? You couldn’t have been thinking. You could have killed someone!”
My mom wasn’t quite as calm as my dad. I had a flash of little Jimmy Jamieson on his Big Wheel and faced the horrible realization that my joyless ride could have been very tragic indeed. I began shaking and crying again. Whatever punishments I might suffer, I consoled myself, I deserved. At least it was only property damage. That, I could live with.
The growing mound of Kleenex wasn’t large enough to cover up my vinyl-couch-island refuge. As Sgt. Haas and Cop #2 reviewed the “accident” report with my parents, I avoided eye contact with everyone except the family dog. Sam, who must have felt my anguish, lay loyally at my feet.
When they mentioned court proceedings, I listened intently.
“You’ll have to accompany Denise for her appearance in Juvenile court, not traffic court, since she’s an under-aged, unlicensed driver. In addition to a fine and court costs, Denise will probably remain on probation until she is sixteen. It will then be up to a judge to decide if she can obtain a license at that time.
Wow, He didn’t mention Juvenile Hall or Reform School, and I have no desire to get behind the wheel of a car anytime soon.
The cops and parents shook hands and my mom, being polite, thanked the officers.
“See you at the reunion-planning committee meeting, Ken,” she said as she walked them to the door.
I was planning on not having a reunion with the cops. Ever.
. “You stupid, little girl.” My dad’s devastating disappointment was revealed in this one, true statement. He looked at me as he spoke, like he didn’t recognize me.
My body sank deeper into the corner of the couch and my heart fell into the basement. The fact that what I had done would affect my parents was just beginning to dawn on me. The real epiphany was how terrible I felt about disappointing them. I no longer needed clarification on the “honor thy father and mother” thing.
“Don’t worry about being grounded. You won’t have time to do anything other than chores and baby-sitting. You won’t be going anywhere until you pay for everything, all the damages to all the cars and fines and court costs, everything!”
Lori was on the phone with her friend Janet, filling her in on the story. I still hadn’t moved off the couch. Now, it felt like a bowling ball had dropped on my stomach. I realized that the story would be all over Bowsher High by the first day of school. And what would everyone think? They’d think, like my dad, that I was a stupid, little girl trying to be a grown-up, which of course, I was.