For some reason, I’ve been thinking about the car that I drove in high school. I don’t know if it has to do with turning forty a few months ago, or if it’s related to some of the bullying stuff I’ve been reading in the media. Or maybe because my mom has been battling cancer the past couple of years, and there are a couple of intense memories of her and our relationship associated with that car. How would a car be related to bullying and my mom? It was a special car.
When I turned sixteen, my dad bought me my first car, a 1967 kelly green Volkswagen
Beetle. It was love at first sight. I canclose my eyes right this minute and remember the smell, one that seems particular to old VWs – old vinyl, decaying rubber, something metallic, and gasoline. I can hear certain songs, and I’m thrown back to 1987 whizzing down the 15-mile highway that connects Odessa to Midland, cigarettes lit and enough Aqua Net in our teased, asymmetrical hairdos that the combustion would have mimicked an oilfield explosion. I’m pretty sure that one night we had twelve drunk teenagers stuffed in that car, all smoking cigarettes and making out at the same time. God, I loved that car.
Having a kelly green ’67 VW Beetle in Odessa, TX, is not that odd or unusual. Being a rather slight (5’6″, 115 lbs) girly-boy teenager with your red hair teased and sprayed into a five inch tsunami replica wearing vintage clothes and your dead great grandmother’s costume jewelery AND driving a ’67 VW Beetle in Odessa, TX, is another story all together.
For the uninitiated, Odessa is a small city in the middle of the West Texas desert, a blue collar town of oilfield and factory workers. Fifteen miles down the road is our more glamorous, big sister, Midland, “home” to Laura and George Bush. Dallas’ Ewings had offices in Midland, just to give you an idea. The population of each lingers somewhere around 100k, but there is nothing (NOTHING) close by in any direction. There is a town called No Trees just outside of Odessa. Oh, and football. Lots of football.
Anyway, green bug + Odessa + fey boy = easy target. 100K sounds like a lot of people. It’s not. My car was easily recognizable and was often the target of vandalism.
One wintery Saturday morning when I was in 11th grade, I got up early to head up to my high school where All-Region Orchestra auditions were being held. I dressed in one of my few pairs of dress pants, ironed a shirt, and put on a tie (probably a clip on) and headed out with my trombone, nervous, but excited. I see it as soon as I walk out the door. “FAGGOT”, “GET AIDS and DIE”, “QUEER” – scrawled on the windows in white shoe polish. For some reason, the vandals had taken an entire box of maxi-pads and stuck them all over the car. The handles were covered in Vaseline and when I opened the door I was smacked in the face with the smell of cheap cologne – they had apparently poured an entire bottle inside. The floor was covered in hole punches and baby powder about three inches thick.
At this point, I can wake my mom and have her take me to school (no), just drive to school (not a good idea), or clean up the mess. I head back into the house and change into a a t-shirt and pair of jeans, grab some cleaning supplies and vacuum cleaner. The house next door is empty, so I pull the car up into the driveway and get to work cleaning. My mom comes out when I’m about half way through. She wants to know if I need any help. I ask her to please go back in the house, that I’ll be fine. She stands for awhile in her pink house coat, tears welling in her eyes and watches me clean up the mess. I don’t know what was going through her mind, but I just wanted it to be done with and gone.
Later, I found out who vandalized my car that night. It turns out it was a few guys who thought that I was out to “steal” one of their girlfriends because we hung out together at school. The police got involved. Nothing came of it. Why they wrote faggot on my car when they thought I was going to steal someone’s girlfriend still seems odd to me.
I came home from school crying one day not long after. When my mom asked me what was wrong, I told her I was fine and that things would pass. I didn’t want to talk about it. She told me that whatever it was it was okay and that we would fix it. She told me everything would be okay. (She got pregnant with me at fifteen and had to drop out of high school for awhile. I don’t know if she really believed it, but I guess she had survived what she went through.)
It sucked. But I felt lucky, and I loved that car. I found out later that my car had been vandalized many times, but I was fortunate that I found a group of other misfits, weirdos, and queers who made sure that it was cleaned up before I ever saw it. This is what gave me strength and what made me love that car.
The other memory of my mom and that car is the day I left for college. I had packed up all my stuff for my dad to pick up and bring to Austin later that day. I walked out to my car, hugged my mom goodbye, and got in the car and drove off. When I got to the corner, I looked in the review mirror and saw my mom standing in the middle of street in the same pink house coat she had been wearing a few years ago. I could tell she was crying. She made me strong. I love my mom, and I loved that car.