One of my favorite childhood memories comes from a morning my dad drove me to school.
A sad morning routine
I begrudgingly turned off Star Blazers and went up to the kitchen. Looking down at my soggy bowl of cereal, I knew school would just suck as usual.
What would be the highlight today? Playing by myself? Sitting in the back of the classroom? Being called on by the teacher and having so much anxiety because of the attention on me, I can’t even put words together so the entire class laughs at me? Getting picked last for kickball? Being called names by the popular kids? Hiding in the bathroom for as long as I could get away with it before the teacher had to come look for me again?
I heard movement upstairs and knew my dad was slowly getting ready.
We greeted each other at the bottom of the stairs with sighs, resigned to the fact that we both had to face a day we didn’t want to encounter.
The car of champions
I went to school an hour away from our house at a private Catholic school in a wealthy neighborhood. Moms drove Mercedes station wagons that glistened in the sun and dads drove expensive Italian convertibles that purred when they revved the engines.
Getting into my dad’s blue Chevy Monza station wagon, I slid down as low as I possible could. His car creaked, made weird sounds and had strips of rust all around the edges. For an entire year, it smelled like a rat had died somewhere in the back seat.
Maybe if I just sat on the floor of the car no one would see me in my dad’s car.
As we got closer to the school, my dad kept complaining about the fit of his clothes. I rolled my eyes. I couldn’t be bothered with his problems right now. I had more important things to worry about, like trying to figure out my escape plan from this rust heap without anyone seeing me.
Not far from the tree
One stop light away form the school, my dad looked down at his shirt and realized he buttoned it all wrong. As he was trying fix it, he also realized another glaring flaw with his outfit: he had put his clothes on on top of his pajamas.
I laughed so hard that I forgot all about my escape route and that day, it seemed like everyone at school saw me tumble out of that blue Chevy Monza.
But I didn’t care.
My dad, who always needed everything to be perfect and structured, everything I was not, was in fact fallible.
We were alike.
Childhood memories are comforting
I reminded my dad of this incident during a recent phone call and laughed as I retold each detail as if it had just happened a minute ago.
But he had no memory of it at all. It was as if it never happened. For him.
Is it age or time or a combination of both that has pushed that memory to the far regions of my dad’s brain?
Or is it something else?
Maybe that day decades ago, was just another day of driving me to school for my dad, a day like a hundred other days that was just part of his routine.
But for me, that day was most definitely different.
From that day on, I started seeing everyone else in a different light.
In the case of the popular kids I went to school with, they all had flaws and imperfections they were hiding from the rest of us. They just knew how to hide it better, pretend they were perfect.
I, on the other hand, was awkward and my social anxiety thwarted my abilities to blend into the crowd.
We weren’t so different from one another.
Unfortunately, my dad still remembers that goddamn blue Chevy Monza with the fondest of memories. No amount of eternal sunshining of the spotless mind will get rid of my memory of that god-awful dead rat smell.