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Home: The Toast

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Dear Diary,
I think Zachary is a stupid idit below dimwitt.
Yours tuley,
Jessie

Zachary is my younger brother. At the time I wrote that diary entry, I was both very angry with him and determined to establishing a hierarchy of insults. When I was 10 I would use the digital thesaurus in our class to look up synonyms for “stupid” to fling at my tormentors like so much sad, wounded confetti. I suffered from poor social skills and a complete lack of awareness of playground etiquette. Let’s talk about the first time I was in a car accident.

I was a senior in high school when Zachary was a freshman, and that year we both attended a regional high school about 40 minutes away. I drove us there every day in my very first car, a 1985 Ford Tempo. It was one year older than me, with a white matte exterior, blood-red velour interior, metal Masonic emblem permanently affixed to the rear bumper, wildly uncomfortable to sit in for anyone taller than 5’2”…basically just take all the wildest dreams of a 17-year-old girl, run ‘em through a meat grinder, cover that in glitter, and install a CD player.

About two days after that CD player was installed, the car started occasionally stalling out at red lights.

This particular day I had laryngitis and was running a fever, but told my mom I would still drop my brother off at school. We were about halfway there, my brother alternating between eating an entire pumpkin pie—with whipped cream—for breakfast and complaining about being forced to listen to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot again, when the CD player’s display flickered and dimmed. The power steering locked up, briefly.

It was happening.

The car was stalling out.

It was going to stall out the next time I stopped moving.

And it wasn’t going to start again.

Imagine a really sad, 25-mph version of Speed where a 17-year-old whose baseline anxiety level is comparable to a small frequently-handled rabbit is playing the Sandra Bullock, Keanu Reeves, and Dennis Hopper roles, very literally silently screaming at her brother to QUIT TALKING I NEED TO FOCUS I DON’T CARE THAT YOU DROPPED YOUR FORK I NEED TO TURN OFF THE CD PLAYER THE CAR IS STALLING OUT THIS IS SERIOUS I KNOW THE CAR IS UNCOMFORTABLE WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT SHUT UP I NEED TO CONCENTRATE GET OUT OF MY WAY WHAT—

CRUNCH.

I didn’t have to stop the car because when I hit the car in front of me, it stalled out.

“I just got pie all over everything. My knees hit the glove compartment. What the hell, Jessie?”

“Fuck. I don’t have my phone. Fuck.”

“Hey, look at that cute dog in that car. You almost killed that cute dog.”

“Should I get out of the car? Move your legs, I need to get the registration out of the glove compartment.”

“There’s pie all over the glove compartment. Jessie, there’s a baby in that car. JESSIE YOU ALMOST KILLED A BABY.”

“There’s a shirt in the backseat, use that to clean up–wait a minute, what is that noise? WHY IS THE BACK OF MY CAR COVERED IN BEER CANS?”

The back of my car was covered in beer cans.

That’s about the time the police drove up and I really lost it. As much as I wanted to scream, I couldn’t actually raise my voice above a whisper, but in the tirade I launched at my brother (who was clearly the one who littered my backseat with covertly consumed cans of Coors Light), I certainly gave it my best shot.

My clearest memory of that first car accident is making high-pitched whisper-screams of “BULLSHIT” over and over and over as my brother collapsed into hysterical laughter. I only stopped when I noticed a tapping on my window. It was a policewoman, asking me to roll down my window so she could order me to move my car out of the road.

Some combination of hand gestures and sobs allowed me to successfully communicate that my car had died its final, sad death and wasn’t going anywhere. We grabbed our belongings to go stand with my victim in a parking lot as the policewoman radioed for a tow truck and tried to decipher my admittance of guilt. She really tried to give me the benefit of the doubt, too.

“Did the other driver use her turn signal?”

“I don’t—maybe—I—“

“Oh, she definitely did.” Thanks, Zach.

As the tow truck arrived, I–still hysterically crying–asked the woman if her dog and baby were okay, in that order (they were) and could I use her phone to call my mom (I could).

Our car was totaled, but my mom’s anger was softened by the fact that the other driver didn’t file a claim, as she only had minor paint damage. My brother still insists he has no idea where those beer cans came from and neither do I.

Jessie Guy-Ryan is an aspiring comedian and expert sleepwalker. She lives in New York with her husband, two cats, and day job. You can follow her on twitter at @ex_liontamer.

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