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The day the wheel fell off

On a recent visit with my mom, the subject turned to childhood stories. Fresh from a trip to the principal’s office, my eight-year-old daughter was keen to hear of Nana’s long-ago misdeeds.

My mom had some pretty good yarns: The time she ditched school to spend her lunch money at the candy store. The time she grabbed the school nurse’s glasses from her face and threw them to the ground.  My daughter — who had never done anything this bad — grinned broadly. She had already heard and savored the exploding golf ball story, which featured her uncle as a small boy cowering behind a shrub.

“I have a story about your mom,” my mom said ominously.

Wait, what?

“When your mom was a teenager — ”

Oh no.

I had not been a “bad” teenager, exactly. I was just a normal, depressed teenager who could not see the point of anything.

During those years, I perfected a sort of passive resistance. It was a dull life, comprised entirely of sins of omission. While others were sneaking into bars or driving across the border into Mexico, I was not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, not going to class, and not doing my homework. When we read Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, about a terrible employee who refused to do every single thing asked of him, I was the only in person in class who assumed he was the hero.

Why any of this would be of interest to an eight-year-old, I did not know. But the story continued (“. . . she had this old car”), and then I knew.

My first car was an old blue Pontiac sedan. It looked vaguely disreputable: a car to be raced across the desert – its panels stuffed with bags of cocaine – hastily dismantled, and then set on fire. Instead I drove it around town, buying sodas with my best friend.

“One day, your mom said, ‘The front right wheel seems wobbly.  It feels like it’s going to fall off.’ I answered, ‘Don’t be ridiculous. Wheels never just fall off.’”

I was driving down a main road when the right front wheel fell off.  My friend’s half of the car – the passenger side – fell to the ground with a thud. The wheel rolled away, and the axle hit the street and made a horrible scraping sound.

The moment I realized what happened, I was mad. They told me the wheel wouldn’t fall off! This was an outrage on every level!

My friend asked if we should pull over. No, we would not be pulling over. Now that I knew I could trust nobody and nothing, I was going to do the one thing in my power – I was going to act! – and keep my foot on the gas.

“I don’t know why I didn’t pull over,” I now remarked.

“You were just very determined,” said my mom.

Fueled by rage, or what the British would call sheer bloody-mindedness, I drove my three-wheeled car a half-mile or so to my friend’s house. The axle scraped along, a grinding soundtrack to my inner feelings. Once there, I called my mom and announced bitterly: “The wheel fell off.”

The car was never drivable again, but I had learned a valuable lesson: Even if the wheel falls off, keep driving. If you want to badly enough, you can still get there.

My daughter regarded us, her forebears: a determined person and a violent criminal.

Actually (she appeared to think), that sounded about right.

– Maya Sinha

Maya Sinha is a humor columnist for The Davis Enterprise. Raised in rural New Mexico, she was a staff writer at The Santa Fe Reporter before going to law school in California, where she now lives with her family. You can contact Maya at maya.s.hoffman@gmail.com.

Reflections of Erma