Teenage Drivers and Divine Interventions

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I have a 17-year-old son, Jack, who wants to be a lawyer and dabbles in theatre, punk rock, and Mormonism. (His girlfriend’s Mormon.) He drives my step-daughter (perhaps the most wonderful 14-year-old girl in America) to school every day in the 1994 Ford Taurus he bought for himself with money earned working too many hours at Target.

On Wednesday, they said “good-bye” and headed out to the garage through the laundry room. (I reckon some folks call it a mud room; I call it a laundry room.) Several seconds later, the house shook with a reverberating, bass rumble that might have been what the people nine floors above impact heard and felt on 9/11. Ostrich that I am, I chose to keep company with my perfectly-blended coffee and half-and-half rather than investigate the noise that, no doubt, would cost me money I don’t have.

My wife Angela came downstairs and said, “Ready to go?” leading me to wonder whether or not I’d heard what I knew I’d heard. And felt. And wished I hadn’t.

We walked into the garage through the laundry room (I reckon some folks call it a mud room; I call it a laundry room.) to see the following:

Garage door open; Jack’s car in the driveway just an eyelash outside the garage; Jack standing in front of the car; a rearview mirror dangling from its guide wires in Jack’s trembling hand; a look on Jack’s face indicating someone had just asked him a life or death question in a language which he not only didn’t speak or comprehend, but was quite certain had not yet evolved in the linguistic progress of the human species.

Knowing something was terribly amiss, I just looked at the sorry kid. Angela, though, spoke.

“Did Sam get on the bus?”

Jack answered after a pause, “No, she’s in the car.” Then he turned, pointing with his eyes, toward the passenger-side windshield of the 1994 Ford Taurus (black), that he bought with his own money. His actions, I thought, were those of a very, very good actor portraying a drunk without “indicating” drunkenness.

Jack continued. “I was real far to the right in the garage, and I didn’t know how close I was to the side when I . . . " his voice trailing off into that teenage mumble indicative of that peculiar combination of guilt, confusion, and self-doubt with which every 17-year-old boy (except, of course, the quarterback of the football team) who is luck enough to have a girlfriend and a car and a job approaches the world.

My mind, feeble though it is in my advanced years, quickly deduced that the rumble I heard one minute and thirty-seven seconds earlier was Jack’s car colliding with the garage wall.

“Is she okay,” Angela asked, presumably about her daughter.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Sam said smiling–the smile of a freshmen girl who CAN-NOT-WAIT to tell her freshmen girlfriends what her senior step-brother did, if for no other reason but to emphasize the fact that she rides to school every day with a senior boy while they walk, take the bus, or ride with Mom or some other girl’s mom.

Full of caffeinated courage, I approached the point of impact. Forgive me for my selfishness, but I couldn’t have cared less about the damage to the 1994 Taurus my son bought with his own money (but insured with a rider on my policy), minor collisions being the way kids learn to drive. The potential damage to MY HOUSE, though, occupied my mind like an overdue payment to a Mafioso loan shark.

For a good three feet from the door frame, the garage wall emitted light at its foot. Jack had moved the frame studs six inches from the foundation. I saw grass where wall should be.

Jack remembers when I was more Navy senior petty officer than loving father. He braced himself for a barrage of invectives, profanities, and slurs that would justify the defense of “fighting words” in legal circles. Frankly, so did I–I have a terrible temper.

I looked at Angela. She, too, recognized the fire in my throat straining for the chimney of my mouth. I could read the “Here we go” expression on her beautiful face.

Without thinking, though, I heard myself say, “It’s an accident. It happens.”

Could that have been me? Was that my voice?

Turns out, it was.

“Jack, just get in the car and go to school,” Angela told him harshly, as if to hasten him away before I came to my senses.

I don’t know why I didn’t explode. The estimate was as high as it possibly could be while remaining under my insurance deductible. But to this moment, I haven’t been angry. More than anything, I feel sorry for the kid. He can’t even look at me, and he parks in the street now.

But it feels really good to sit back four days later and wonder at God’s willingness to stay MY arm: we read so many Psalms and Catholic prayers about doing things to stay His arm, placate His anger. Obviously, His arm is as steady as steady can be. Our arms are chaotic, wild, and vengeful. Well, they are unless He stays them.