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Buckle Up

When I was a kid my father used to drive a Ford Thunderbird with automatic seat-belts. The seats were made of blue cloth and the emblem's wings stretched across the center of the steering wheel. As you sat down in the car the seat-belt would come gliding along a track towards you, it might catch your neck or scrape your ear on its way overhead.

Never have my bones felt so tired as four in the morning during the winter. Shuffling out with my father and younger sister. He'd make jokes and light a cigarette, gently rest his coffee on the dashboard. Steam would fog up the windshield as the cup's rim leaned against the glass. Finally the heater would kick in and thaw our freezing hands.

Dad would steer with his knees in the straights and comb his hair back in the mirror, hunkering back over to whip the car through each curve along the road.

The daycare my sister and I stayed at until school started had once been a pool hall. Now the large front room was divided in half, one side reserved for play and games, the other a small kitchen. We'd toss and turn on blue mats until the women would feed us biscuits with honey on them for breakfast.

One of the younger boys carried in an eyelash curling smell one morning. Upon further inspection he had stepped in a pile of dog crap outside and tracked it in. He was just going about his business without a care in the world. That was a day the biscuits didn't taste so great.

After breakfast one of the younger daycare workers would load us all in a big van and take us to school. There was one child with a wild streak in her. She had dark black hair with a pale face and was always blabbering on about something. Wound up to top gear even in the morning.

She was young enough still that they'd buckle her into a car seat. One morning for whatever reason, our caretakers must've left a strap loose that day, the black haired girl flipped straight down into the floorboard of the big van. She was still fully strapped into the car seat, rolled into the floor and toppled around for what felt like a good while before the driver realized and pulled over. The whole time she laughed and laughed like she was sitting in a carnival ride.

I was always embarrassed stepping down off the daycare bus to head into school. But that's just the way it was. Sitting and stewing inside my own head, watching through a porthole while the world flew past me.

I hated those mornings.

I hated that cold that always set deep inside of us in the winter. No matter how many blankets we crawled under and no matter how high we turned the kerosene heater.

I hated feeling so tired when I didn't have a reason to be. Mom and Dad were the ones already clocked in at work by the time my sister and I were served honey biscuits.

I was terrified that I wouldn't be as strong as my parents were every morning. I could read the writing on the wall. I didn't believe I held the same courage they brandished every single day no matter how hard life ground down on them.

The truth is that it is our life. It's the only one we've been given the chance to live. And it is worth living.

In my own ignorance I tried to run from what I perceived as a life of hardship instead of embracing who it shaped me to be. I was always grateful for my parents' sacrifice, but what was I really doing with such a graceful gift? Why look back on it in a negative light when I could find the beauty within it and fuel the future on the love that was afforded to me?

Every morning my father would curse and fight with the automatic seat-belts in that Thunderbird. They'd squeak along the door frame and he'd swear to one day take his pocket knife out and cut the strap down for good.

But with that being said he always made sure we were buckled in tight.


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