SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18, 1994, Nicole Nicholson

Sunday, December 18, 1994
by Nicole Nicholson

Sunday, December 18, 1994.
A gray woolen sky unfolds herself
over our heads, bleeding in all directions.
I am eighteen years old, have never
been behind the wheel of a car. The
white Mustang, only five years old,
rumbles and snorts underneath my seat,
its rippled mechanical muscle churning
just below the surface of white paint
trying its best to glisten in cloudlight.

I pull my leaden, brand new brake foot
away and rest it on the gas pedal: that
horse gallops, veering right. There are no
rubber treaded hooves rolling cleanly
over double-yellow striped asphalt. They
stomp and thunder, embossing new tracks
into the green grass softly lining the road’s
shoulder.

My memories of what happens next:
a series of flashcards, in sight and sound.
BRAKE! BRAKE!
I hear my stepbrother shouting, but
his mean steed is charging ahead through
other people’s front lawns: I hear him only
through a tunnel. I cannot move my body.
I cannot feel my fingers. I cannot see anything
except scenery rushing towards me.
Someone’s mailbox – a little metal head
stuck on a long wooden neck – falls underneath
the horse’s hooves and dies. We keep
rolling forward until the horse slams itself –
headfirst – into a long brown giant with wires
strung around the ears.

The horse dies, of a broken skull.
We are soon taken away in the bellies
of screaming red metal creatures.
The paramedics wrap our necks
in plastic and foam, fearful that they
are even just a little bit looser from
our spines. We are just a little bit looser,
too, from our tiny wrinkled hovels in space-time:
but neither of us acknowledge this. The sirens
announce our exit as we leave
a broken metal carcass behind.

Nicole’s process notes:
When I was home from college over Christmas Break in 1994, my stepbrother insisted on taking me out on the local roads to teach me how to drive. I had never been behind the wheel of a vehicle, and I didn’t even have a learner’s permit. But excited at the prospect of actually driving a car, I decided to go.

Out of this whole experience, I ended up with a citation for driving without a license and a hospital bill that haunted me in the form of bill collection calls until it was finally paid by my stepbrother’s insurance company — not to mention, a tendency of driving a little too close to the left side of my lane even to this day (the car veered off the right side of the road, so I’m still a little nervous about driving too far right).

I had talked a little about this experience before, but I had never written about it. When I wrote this poem, I had to remember this experience — without over-analysis or careful thought — and just let the memory carry me, trying to notice the details as I went along.

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