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Invisible Van

For about twenty-five years, the family car was a 1969 Ford Econoline cargo van. Mom bought it used and the interior was empty except for the driver and passenger seats. Everything was made of painted steel, save the seat cushions and various knobs. Later, my stepfather upgraded the interior with blue-silvery grey shag carpeting and dark faux wood paneling. The family grew and we’d just pile in the back, sitting on the floor unless the brakes were hit too hard. Then we would fly — small bodies piling, heads colliding. We drove the shit out of that van. Safety and modern styling were luxuries our economics couldn’t ponder. We didn’t take it to “the shop” for repairs. My stepdad would fix it. Tune-ups, brake replacement, engine rebuilds. Too many times to recount.

Ford Van  copyBy the time the van was passed to me, she was a beaten thing. The seats were in the later stages of disintegration, as was the exterior paint. The steering was like playing Ping-Pong. The rear axle was making a rhythmic worgn-worgn-wrogn. Mom wanted me to go to the junk yard and find a replacement but I never did. I just kept driving it — and not gently. Trash cans were enemies. As were shopping carts, street signs, small trees and front lawns. The van was born the same year I was, and kept alive long past her utility. There would be no more repairs. I was going to end her servitude in ruinous glory.

The worgn-worgn-wrogn was her only complaint and initially it was a concern. After time passed and the sound didn’t worsen, it became one of those accepted traits that old things acquire eventually. When passengers would ask what the noise was, I’d say I wasn’t sure, probably the rear axle or something. They’d say it didn’t sound good. Then I’d shrug my shoulders with a cavalier laugh. It was darkly comedic, full of moronically catastrophic potential.

One sunny weekend morning, my body was confused as to whether it should fall asleep or wake up as I drove onto the inclined and curving onramp to the I-5 freeway. I was on my way home after stocking groceries all night on the graveyard shift. Dazed by unnatural sleep patterns and blinded by a sun far too bright for my sleep-deprived eyes, I paid little heed to the rear axle’s increased bitching as the van climbed the onramp. Until it stopped complaining altogether. Silence. Dogs and cats weren’t suddenly lovers, and the van didn’t explode like a Rebel Alliance thwarted Death Star. I kept driving, now with a strange satisfaction. Things had worked out, I thought. All on their own.

The freeway was empty. People were spooning in beds, sleeping late in defiance of the draconian workweek. Five hundred spontaneous-resolution-filled yards later, a resounding clang of metal on metal sounded as the rear axle seized. The howl of skidding tires shattered my illusions.

OH. FUCK. SHIT.

The van lurched then slid sideways.

SHIT. OH. FUCK.

The van spun around, facing oncoming traffic.

FUCK. FUCK. FUCK. The only other car on the freeway for miles and miles plowed into the front of the van.

From the inside of the other car, a man was clearly screaming every curse possible at me but I couldn’t hear him. Then he backed his car away from mine and sped away. In shock, I watched him through my rearview mirror as he drove to the top of the next exit, pulled over, got out and ran away.

I wonder why he took off. What was his story?

*      *      *

My mind makes a worgn-worgn-wrogn sound too. It has for some time.

It’s the heartbeat of depression, or as I affectionately call it, the Joy Vampire. Sometimes suffocating, sometimes lurking. Always present. It’s easy to dismiss the invisible.

I tried self-medicating and almost died. Twice. I tried following societal scripts. I tried external affirmation and validation. I tried denial. I’ve tried meds, read books, sought therapy. They all sent me spinning, bouncing, crashing. Wandering.

Was it the chicken or egg? I’m beginning to believe the Joy Vampire origins are both past and present and less due to something wrong with my brain. When external validators are absent or revealed as frauds, you’ve gotta dig deep.

I’ve spent the last five years working on aligning my actions with my values, my heart. It’s been a bumpy road — full of pain, change, growth and gratuitously sprinkled with sputter-starts and flailing. Why can’t I fly? There’s something that I have been ignoring, accepting through excuses and masochistic comfort. Long tended actions in complete opposition to my heart. My crutch made of thorns and shackles. It’s huge. It’s gotta go. Soon.

What are you ignoring? Why wait until the the axle seizes?

Plans. I’m making them. It feels good.

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