That’s my life in 2009: my Mazda 3, my new landscaping, my maroon curtains I thought went well against the cream color I’d chosen for the walls of the room downstairs I made into an office. The office my ex-husband (sans ex at the time) used to walk into and spread his arms and say, “Look what I gave you,” and say, “How much money can you contribute this month?” and say, “I’m posting an ad for a stranger/roommate on Craigslist to make up for your lost income.” If you looked through those curtains, you’d see me slumped over my computer, unemployed, drinking my fourth cup of coffee, submitting resumes and/or writing my novel I used to believe in, and/or posting on Facebook and/or feeling depressed about my depression.
The City of Mesa paid us $500 to replace that grass with desert friendly shrubbery. Removing grass is a horror. Annihilate it with chemicals. Wait for it to die. Rip it out by its roots. Cover the ground with black plastic so it can’t push back through. My father-in-law, taking a break from schizophrenia to help with our landscaping project, shoveled the remains of the grass into the back of his white van and drove the dead pieces out to the desert where he dumped them. The same white van he used to park down the street and watch our house in an attempt to catch the kidnappers who’d taken my husband. The same white van he called from asking my husband if he was safe to talk, if he was safe to signal from the window, if he was safe to use code words so the kidnappers didn’t catch on. When we planted the Jacaranda near the walkway, we imagined how beautiful it would look in springtime, how magnificent it might act as shield from the sun. When I left in 2012, the support beams were still in place, holding up that scrawny trunk like two men carrying their drunk friend out of a bar.
The neighbor to our right, the house with the black car, was a mechanic who let his work overflow into the street if his driveway became too full. To the left, a woman lived with her three teenage boys and four cats. The cats—the Four Assholes—lounged along the common wall, mistaking regal for misbehavior where at best, they taunted my dog, and at worst, scratched and bloodied her face as she clamored up the wall to get at them. The house across the street, the one you can’t see, was the most interesting. I once watched the mother/stepmother/woman stand in the rain and kiss a man who was not the same man who waved to me in the mornings. Somewhere around 2010/2011, a reporter knocked on my door to ask if I knew the family. The son/stepson had taken a gun and shot his ex-girlfriend’s mother in the head after breaking into their home. The reporter, who seemed to be in the know about such things, said the boy meant to shoot his ex-girlfriend but the mother startled him while he hid out in the laundry room. I told the reporter the man/father/stepfather went Clark Griswold on the front of his house every Christmas. The reporter wanted me to say that on camera, but I refused to be that person.
My old house. Such a mess. The floors needed to be replaced. The appliances had quit working. The air conditioner was about to go. My husband kept it after our divorce because he said he didn’t want to have to leave, shouldn’t have to leave, the house was close to his work, and he’s paid most of the mortgage anyway. I agreed because I didn’t have the money to continue to make payments or to handle the cost of replacing an air conditioner. And I felt like a tragedy because I made him cry when I said I was unhappy. Seven months later, I signed the Quit Claim Deed after he refinanced me off the mortgage. Soon after, according to Zillow, he sold it for an almost 30K profit and then married his new girlfriend. Raise your hand if you’ve made an emotional decision that cost you $15,000.
I do miss my little Mazda. Somehow, through Adjuncting, I managed to pay her off in 2013 and then lost her. A tire blow-out on the highway. By then, I was living a different life with a new man. We were going 80 on our way to California to spend Father’s Day with his parents. The steering wheel had had that shimmy, the one that says the tires are going bad, and when it started up again on our drive, I turned down the Avett Brothers and said, “Goddamn it, I can’t afford new tires.”
Silence and then a pop, like a gunshot you’d hear three blocks over. To our left, a ditch. In my head, I saw the roll over. To the right, a guardrail. Safety, I thought.
“What do I do?” I asked.
“Keep steering,” he said.
Instead, I braked because the car was moving, and I wanted it to stop and instinct is a fuck of a hard thing to overcome. We spun, hit the guardrail, and the force knocked us back into oncoming traffic. When I saw the semi, the grill coming at us like a wide, broken mouth, I thought about nothing other than this sentence: I am going to die. The truck clipped my car in its middle, leaving us in the front alive and intact, leaving the back end like a scene from Call of Duty. Get out of the car, he yelled at me, because the smoke billowed from the engine, so I unbuckled my seatbelt, crawled over the passenger seat, stumbled out of the car, and collapsed into him. Hysterical, I remember saying the airbags didn’t work—they didn’t even fucking work—but he pointed and I could see all the airbags hung out in the front seat like exhausted runners. We stood uncovered along the highway in the middle of the June sun, feeling each other for broken parts, and hearing the sound of the siren come up behind us.