Tuesday, December 5, 2006

"Roller skates! He was wearing roller skates!"

Perusing my favorite home for wayward scholars, poets, and wannabe political pundits this morning, I came across this post. I don’t know about the rest of you, but my adolescence had a number of similar moments.

While I was in high school, I worked for several years at a local roller rink. It was the perfect job, really – I got to skate free whenever I wanted, the work was easy, and for some peculiar reason the girls really seemed to dig the bright orange vest and whistle. I mean, REALLY dig it. During the summer, work at the attached waterslide produced an absolutely stunning tan (I’ll let you know when the melanoma shows up). My employment there put me into an entirely different league, so far as the dating scene went.

So, I’m sixteen and skating there one night, and a girl I’d been seeing steadily shows up with her friend – who also happened to be dating my friend. It seemed natural enough to give him a call, and ask him to join us – so we left to pick him up. I skated out to the parking lot, and his girlfriend started begging to drive. Figuring it gave me a good excuse to ride with my date on my lap, I tossed her the keys.

My friend lives, oh, maybe eight miles away. The trip is going fine, we’re all laughing, my girlfriend is indeed riding on my lap, in the passenger seat – a perfect moment. The driver tells a joke, starts to laugh, and I say, “There’s a stop sign up there.” She’s too busy laughing, so I say louder, “Watch out for the stop sign. There’s a stop sign!” Then, I see the truck headed for the intersection from the left.

Moments like this one are eerily reminiscent of those movies they used to scare us with in Driver’s Education. Time really does slow, and you snap into the surreal. I yell “Stop!” She looks up, sees the truck, and (get this) – throws her hand in the air and screams! We hit the truck doing about 30 – the truck was going about forty.

So, my hot little VW Rabbit (totaled – as was the truck) is reeling slowly away, and I yell at her to brake. She screams “I am, I am!” But we’re not slowing at all; I look down and she’s pumping the clutch. We roll casually through the intersection (while I yank the emergency brake with no discernable effect), across some guy’s lawn, and hit his truck (truck number two) right behind the driver’s side door – right where the frame would be most damaged.

I open my door, go sprawling out onto the grass, and the guy comes out of his house, takes one look at me, and says, disgusted, “Roller skates! He was wearing roller skates!”

His mistake in identifying me as the driver caused some trouble, later, but not as much as the discovery that the girl driving was only fifteen (who knew?). My girlfriend? She broke up with me two weeks later – while I was lying in bed with a concussion (another story).

My father, capable of being an intensely judgmental and disapproving man, came to the scene, ascertained everyone was all right, worked out all the arrangements with the police, other driver, and man whose truck we’d impolitely rammed while parked innocuously in his driveway. He never yelled at me – even when he found out about the girl’s age – and he didn’t really punish me. It was his brightest moment as my father, really – he understood that lowering the boom on me, when I was already traumatized, would only make matters worse. He took the opportunity instead to model how such matters are best handled. It’s a lesson I took to heart.

My answer to the question at hand, by the way, is that I would certainly not lie for my son. The world is a scary place, but our fear of catastrophe so often outweighs the reality of actual challenges, and undermines out ability to effectively cope with disaster. By encouraging my teenage son to retreat from responsibility, I’d be teaching him a powerful lesson about the manner in which crises should be handled – a lesson I don’t want him to learn, least of all from me. What I would do is help him navigate it – be with him while we talked to police and insurance agents, hire an attorney if need be, and help him find ways to cope with the consequences.

Because that’s how you support the ones you love in difficult times – by encouraging or facilitating an accurate assessment and effective response that neither exaggerates the scope of the crisis, nor minimizes it.

Thanks dad.


obfuscati said...

great story. thanks for posting it.

Dawn Coyote said...

Have you told your dad this? Print it out and put it in a Christmas card or something. It's a great story, and it will make him happy.

TenaciousK said...

Thanks, DC - that's a great suggestion.

He's impossible to buy for, anyway.

fluffy black puppies said...

just curious: did you take dawn's suggestion?