In the winter of 2009, my Dad needed to drive to Glen Bernie to pick up a drum kit for my brother. It was to be a Christmas present that he didn't even ask for. I asked if I could drive because I was trying to log my hours so I could get my driver's license. He didn't check the weather, or even look outside before handing me the keys and saying “sure.” He was distracted.
We didn't say anything on the drive there. No tips or comments on my driving. I wanted to ask why Jon was getting a drum kit he hadn't asked for three years after he had stopped taking drum lessons when I hadn't gotten the electric guitar I had asked for three months ago, but I didn't say anything.
When we got to the store, Dad went up to the front counter to speak to an employee. I walked across the main room and entered the drum area. I went over to the cymbals first and started making noise. I couldn't hear a difference between brands, but I could hear a difference between styles—ride, high-hat, crash—and I could hear a difference between weights—heavy, medium, thin. Only one or two other people were in the store. I wasn't brave enough to test the cymbals with sticks so I just slapped them with the open palm of my right hand and quickly grabbed them with my left hand. After hitting all of the cymbals within arm's length, I move over to the drum pads, this time using a drumstick to strike each one. I did what I thought was a paradiddle on each head but I didn't really know what I was doing.
Dad came over, interrupting,
"It's ready. Come help me carry it out."
That took me by surprise. I expected it to take more time. I was only planning to check out the drums quickly. I had planned on spending most of my time at the guitar wall.
I placed the drum stick back in the bin and ran after Dad. As I crossed the main room, I looked over at the guitar wall. My eye caught the blonde Fender telecaster I wanted: yellow translucent body, yellow translucent neck, solid black pickguard. Like the one Bruce Springsteen plays. I'd have to try it next time.
I grabbed the top two boxes. They were smaller—probably the high tom and the snare, or it could have been both high toms. Dad grabbed a flatter box and put it on top of a medium box before picking up the medium box from the bottom and heading out the door. An employee loaded the rest of the boxes onto a hand truck and followed us out.
As soon as everything was in the car, I stepped back and Dad shut the trunk. I still had the keys so I walked over and opened the driver's side door. I turned back to Dad who was still standing by the trunk. He looked down at the keys in my hand before wordlessly walking around to get in the passenger seat. When he closed the door, it started snowing. I smiled to myself, climbed in, and started the car. We got about a third of the way home before conditions became hazardous.
The snow was coming down in sheets. The entire road was white with a layer of snow—maybe an eighth of an inch—which had fallen within the last ten minutes. It was pitch black except for the brightness reflected back at us from our headlights on the snow.
There were no other cars on the road except for one or two every few minutes going the other direction, separated from us by a thirty foot-wide-median.
I was holding the steering wheel tighter than I ever had—maybe tighter than I had ever held anything—yet I still felt the car drifting every few minutes. Dad just stared straight forward.
I was trying to remember to check my mirrors like I had been taught, but I was more concerned with keeping the car between where I thought the lane lines were and trying to stay straight. Suddenly, a large pickup truck sped past in what would have been the right-hand lane.
The wind from his pass put me off balance. The shake sent me into a frenzy of nervousness. I attempted to straighten the car, even though I had mostly stayed straight, which caused me to over-correct. My sudden movement on the slippery, snow-coated road sent the car into a sequence of fishtailing.
Dad grabbed the handle on the door tightly and tried his best to calmly instruct me to,
"keep the wheel straight, take your foot off the gas. Don't apply the brake."
I managed to get the car to a halt in the left shoulder. There was a lot of skidding, but no real slipping or spinning, which is what I had been most afraid of. No one else was on the road at the time so we were safe.
Wide-eyed, and nervous, I stared straight ahead, rubbed the insides of my knees, and let out a deep breath. Before I could look over to see if Dad was ok, I felt a cold breeze against the right side of my face as he opened his door to walk around the car and take the wheel. He slid out and almost lost his balance on the snowy ground before slamming his door shut. He shut the door with two hands, in a partial attempt to steady himself, I think. As he rounded the front of the car, I slid my hand down and released the seatbelt, allowing it to slide in my left fist rather than swinging free back toward the door. I was calculating each movement to make sure I made the least amount of noise and to avoid sudden movements.
As Dad's shape blocked the beams from each headlight in sequence, the snow seemed to stop falling for a moment—almost like a strobe light but less urgent or electric. When he had nearly reached my door, I got ready to move. I opened my own door and placed one foot on the ground outside. It was colder than I had anticipated and the breeze was stronger than I had expected. As I slid off the seat to make room for him, he said,
"Move quicker, please" but never looked at me.
I got out and started walking around the back. As soon as I was in the car with the door shut, before I had a chance to put my seatbelt on, he hit the gas and we were off. He didn’t even check to see if there was anyone coming toward us from behind, which, of course, there was. The other car sped past us, horn blaring, as the other driver was barely able to slide into the next lane to avoid a collision.
Before we were far enough, I looked back to where the car had been stopped. There were two lines from the tires leading toward and away from the full circle that had been left by our footprints.
We didn't speak for the rest of the drive. I thought about apologizing for swerving, but it wasn't my fault, so I stayed silent.
As we turned onto the street, Dad drove slower than normal, slower than he would have liked, in order to avoid hitting the cars parked along the street and the kids who had come out play. It being so late at night, I imagine they were anticipating a snow day the next day and therefore an early start to Christmas break.
Dad backed into the garage, but only halfway, stopping just short enough for us to be able to open our doors outside. He was leaving room for the drum kit. It would stay in the garage till Christmas morning. We had to walk all the way around through the house to get to the garage from the inside to unload the car. As soon as all the pieces were out of the car, I ran back inside to get paper and some markers to make a DO NOT ENTER TILL CHRISTMAS sign. I added as smiley face that ended up looking scarier than I had planned. They always do.
When I had finished, I taped it to the garage door and went to find out what Jon was up to. He was watching a movie in the basement. It was Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, a movie I had never seen. I asked him to fill me in.
"It's complicated." He said. "You should have been here when I started it."
* * *
On Christmas morning, he put the kit together, tuning each head and adjusting the heights and angles of the toms, snare, and cymbal stands. But he didn't play anything. I don't remember him ever actually playing it.
On my first birthday after the divorce, I bought a blonde Squire telecaster, a brown leather adjustable strap, and a leather-coated hard case with the money my grandparents had given me.