The roar of the engine fills my ears with that familiar mechanical hum. I pull up closer and closer to the car in front of me as I draft behind them. I keep behind them as we come around Turn Three. The car in front of me, number twenty-four I believe, starts to go up towards the wall as I speed through, taking advantage of the lack of wind resistance I had for a short period. I push to the second place, right behind number eighty-eight. “Keep it where you are. We’ll at least earn second place if you stay put. There’s no one around you at the moment,” says my spotter. “But I want to win” I say as I shift the gears and push my gas pedal to the floor. Now I’m in eighy-eight’s blind spot. Out of the corner of my eye I see something white being waved. Final lap.
“Aslynn, you need to think about this. You mess up now, wreck or lose your spot, we’ll not make it to the next race. We’ll not have the points!”
“I can make it. I can win.”
“Fine, do whatever you want,” my spotter says in a familiar tone Aslynn knew all too well.
“Stop acting like my mother and watch my back,” I say as I continue to inch my way along eighty-eight. Turn two is done. Two more to go. I start to encroach on eighty-eight’s space, squeezing him towards the wall. While being closer to the wall is a great advantage in a time like this, it has it’s disadvantages as well that I am more than happy to exploit. Winning would not only get me into the next race, it’d get me a proper sponsorship and it’d be a great victory for women alike. I’m the youngest woman to race at sixteen. Sure, getting the NASCAR officials to allow me to race had been a pain in the butt, but it’s worth it now. This is my moment and I won’t let anyone take it from me. Turn three completed as I quickly take the turn.
“My God you’re in the lead! Go, go GO!”
I choose not to respond. I focus my gaze on the checkered flag. I see it in the flagman’s hands. The cheering of the crowd becomes louder as I race for the finish line. Closer…. closer…. and then all of a sudden a red and tan Subaru Outback appears at the finished line. I quickly slam on the brakes, but the momentum from the speed I was going makes my car collide with the back bumper of foreign car. My car slams into the other one and my head and body slide forward, only to be yanked back by the seatbelt.
I blink and breathe in and out slowly.
Reality comes into focus. I look around and see I’m back in the subdivision I just moved into. I’m in front of the red-bricked house that looked more felt more like a prison than a home. Unfortunately, so is the car I hit in my imagination. More specifically, it’s Mrs. McGettigan’s car, my new neighborhood spinster. “Shit,” I whisper under my breath as the short, white haired elderly woman exits her vehicle and my mother out of her house.
“Aslynn Rae! What the hell have you done?!” My mother screams, her long, brown hair flowing freely behind her as she stamped out of the house. She must of just got home from work, because her red waitress outfit complete with an apron and her black tread-safe shoes were coming for me fast.
“My car! You’ve ruined my car!” Mrs. McGettigan screams as she pulls out her old Nokia phone and starts to dial something on the ancient device, presumably 911.
Breathe, just breathe.
“You’ve destroyed the back end of Mrs. McGettigan’s car! How do you think we’re going to pay for this?!”
“I’m calling the cops right now Miss Peterson!”
“Great! Just GREAT! You hear that Aslynn? You’re going to juvi… AGAIN! Do you like embarrassing our family? Do you like wearing orange and sitting in a cell? Because that’s where you’re going to be! I’m certainly not bailing you out again!”
1….2….3….4 breathe in. 1….2….3….4 breathe out.
“Yes? Hello? 911? Some stupid brat just rear-ended me! Yes, my neck is hurting really bad!”
“If that judge asks me if I’ll take you home like the other one did back home than I’ll tell him no! Right now I’d rather you be in state custody! You’ve done nothing but brought pain and sorrow to my life since your dad left us!”
1….2….3….4…. Don’t picture dad. Don’t picture dad. 3….4…. Don’t let the tears show. Don’t let them flow. Not now at least.
But try as I might I picture him and how he would have handled this accident.
“Aslynn, are you OK?”
“Yes dad, sorry Mrs. McGettigan.”
“My car! You’ve ruined –“
“Now Mrs. McGettigan, it was an accident. I’m sure Aslynn didn’t mean to hit your car. I don’t see any real damage to it, just some paint damage that I’ll gladly have Aslynn retouch for you with my supervision, I’ll have her give your car a good wash and vacuum, and we can just forgive and forget. Isn’t that right Aslynn?”
“Yes daddy, I’m sorry Mrs. McGettigan. I’ll fix your car and clean it for you.”
“Well, my word. I’ve never seen a more polite child in my life. I’ll take you up on your offer Miss Reynolds.”
“Thank you Mrs. McGettigan. Thank you daddy.”
“Oh, you’re welcome sweetheart.”
“Aslynn…. ASLYNN!” I hear the angry voice of my mother call. I blink and as the world comes back into focus I see my mother and Mrs. McGettigan staring at me with anger in their faces.
“Why don’t you take anything seriously?! I can’t handle you when you zone out like that! You need to keep it together!”
“Miss Peterson, you are one of the most disrespectful brats I have ever met in my life! I have been a teacher, I have been a school librarian, and I have volunteered at multiple organizations, but never in my lifetime have I had the disservice to meet someone so awful and rude as you!” Mrs. McGettigan and my mother yell at the same time. I try to go back to my mantra, my breathing exercises, but nothing works. Their voices penetrate my thoughts and I feel my chest constricting. It’s getting harder to breathe.
Impulsively, I grab my backpack out of the open passenger window of the now ruined car and, while slinging the backpack across my back, I run through the small gap between the two women. As my feet carry me away from the shouting women behind me I visualize the plan I had devised for weeks now. Before the move to this small town, I had a routine down pat. Open my second-story window, jump to the huge oak tree that grew three feet from my window, shimmy down the tree, run to the broken fence that was diagonal from the trusty tree, squeeze through the broken fence and run through the Lawrence’s backyard. Hop their fence and run through the multiple alleyways and side streets until I can reach the abandoned Methodist church that sat five miles away from home.
I had a nice loft space set up there. My fleece-lined, purple sleeping bag I had stolen from a local camping store, an old camping lantern I had stolen from the same store a few weeks later, a few knick-knacks and things I collected from here and there, and my emergency stash of books. I had a few Harry Potter books, the first, second, and fifth ones, the second Hunger Games book, and the first Divergent book. While my collection was incomplete they were my treasures that I wanted kept hidden since the day my mom started taking my things away from me for disobeying her. I would sit in my loft when things got too hard, especially after my dad left. My mom and I have never seen eye to eye and a psychic once told me that our signs were enemies, therefore we’d never have the mother-daughter relationship I had secretly wanted for so long.
When the cops found me and my treasures, they dismantled my hideaway and I spent a few days in detention. The Judge made it very clear: either I obey my mom and step-father, or I spend the rest of my youth in state custody. It seemed unfair to me that I was only given two options and that he didn’t seem to want to know why I did the things I did. Rehabilitation my ass. I was judged before he met me because of the ugly orange jumpsuit I wore that day and because of my mother’s and step-father’s biased statements. He didn’t care that I had suffered too, that I had logical explanations for doing the things I did. No one ever cared.
Since the move that my mother had said was “needed” and would “give me a fresh start”, I had carefully plotted a new escape route. It wasn’t perfect at this point, but it was the best I had for now. Ideally, I would sneak out of the glass back door, hop our cheap chain-link fence, run through different neighbors yards heading north until I reached downtown. From there I would run for the dilapidated playground and take shelter in the tunnel on the playset. Never had I pictured myself running out in broad daylight or in the open. My escapes were usually reserved for the night, especially since my insomnia kept me up most nights.
After an hour and a half of running from the street to random neighbors yards, and through a wooded area that separated the suburbs and the pathetic downtown area, I arrived at the old playground. I climbed into the rusted tunnel and slipped my backpack off of my back. I didn’t have much in it as I didn’t plan on running away today. I had some homework, my phone, and my only treasure left from the sudden move and the police invasion on my loft: my iPod. It’s the only relic left from my dad as my mother sold all the other items I would have loved to keep. It wasn’t the iPod itself that I treasured, but the object held some songs I valued more than my life. My dad was a singer in this small band that never made it big. He wrote some songs about me. He recorded them and put them on this iPod. While the iPod is now ten years old and on its last leg, I still played the songs when I needed him the most. The most played song on the device was my dad’s rendition of Beautiful Dreamer, a song he said always made him think of me.
I placed the headphones in my ears as the device slowly turned on. I hit play on my favorite song and laid my head down on my backpack. I closed my eyes as my dad’s melodic voice filled my ears. While I listened, I could see my dad singing to me in his old recording studio at home.
“Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,” starts the old Bing Cosby song. I sit on the old leather desk chair my dad had in the studio while he sings as if in a trance. His voice was the most angelic thing I’d ever heard and still was to this day.
As he comes into the chorus, my dad smiles at me and squats down to my eye level. He wanted me to know this was my song, that I was the reason for his rendition of this beautiful noise. When he finishes singing and while the recording was still going, my dad hugs me close to his chest and whispers: “I love you, Aslynn. You’re the light of my life and the song of my soul.”
“I love you too daddy….” I reply in my head, not sure if I ever did in real life or not.
And with that memory in my mind’s eye, I fall fast asleep.