28 October, 2009

Ohhhh... McCarthy!

In 9th grade English I was introduced to Arthur Miller's seminal drama, "The Crucible." After reading the play, our teacher had us watch clips of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the senator that spearheaded the Red Scare in America, to have us draw conclusions between the action in the piece of fiction and the reality of what was happening in the early Cold War between America and the Commies. In class we really did refer to them as the Commies.

I had never felt more filled with absolute rage and loathing. Watching Senator Joe McCarthy accuse innocent people blindly was more than my bleeding liberal heart could handle, even if the whole incident had happened 4 decades before I was born. I was Outraged, capital O. This had taken place in the United States?! It was Unfair. It was Unjust. I hated him! I Felt for every Man. I HATED Senator Joseph McCarthy!!! 

I was so adamant about this hatred of "the Senator" (sometimes I couldn't even bear to speak his name aloud) that my family took on some of this animosity too. When they met with something bad or unjust in life they took to shaking their fists in the air in what I like to refer to as "The Fist of Justice," and proclaim "Ohhhh- McCarthy!" My sister Kate still uses the phrase to this day. I'm sure this perplexes some people.

But this story is not about a Senator named Joseph Raymond McCarthy. This story is about a boy named Jimmy.

After reading the Crucible, the second time in my life when I again felt such animosity towards another human being came three years later on one particularly innocuous fall day. The animosity had nothing to do with communism.

I was a care-free senior in high school now. My twin sister and I did too many after-school community service activities, leadership councils, and sports teams. We were never questioned about having a hall pass. Life was good. We felt so cool** because we drove to school everyday in the car we shared, a gift passed down to us by our older sister Keely. This is a story about the that car we loved. About the car that we shared. The car that was named Etta.

She was a black Toyota Camry. Made in 1987, an excellent year for both Camrys and twin girls being born. She was the color black and spunky, so Keely had christened her Etta (after James. The highest compliment in her book.) Etta had plush seats, seat belts that worked most of the time, and a pair of pink dice that hung off the rear view. She had a working radio, and rust on the bumper that couldn't be helped. Etta was our ticket to the good life.

Chel and I loved Etta L-o-v-e-d. She was freedom and a spare closet wrapped up in one. We had clothes, shoes, sports equipment, notebooks, and cds littering her dash and seats. She was cozy, and she felt like another home. For the drives to school we often chose upbeat, driving songs to carry us to school at the bright (ungodly) hour of six thirty, for Chel had to arrive at school early for before-school Honors Chorus. I had to go because we shared the car. The car that we loved.

The boy named Jimmy was a member of Chel's swim team. I knew him well enough. He seemed "nice."***

After classes let out there was a unspoken system in the school parking lot. Cars and buses filtered out using the zipper method, wherein one car goes, and then the opposing traffic has a car go, etc etc until everyone is happily chugging on their merry way. Chel and I were exiting our school's long driveway, zippering correctly. As we always did. I was driving.

It was Chel who noted that Jimmy was behind us in his entirely too large truck. (Compensating?) His girlfriend, "Dana" (name changed to protect the innocent) was in the front seat. This was of interest to us because in Massachusetts there was (and remains) a law that states that a driver with a newly issued license cannot drive underage passengers for six months. Chel had just celebrated Jimmy's birthday with the swim team; his license was new. Dana was an underclassmen, no where near the 18. But to do anything about it would require efforts on our part, and we didn't care enough. We just wanted to go home and sleep. (High school was tough.) It was a but a brief blip on our radar as we switched to another upbeat song and properly zippered out of the school's long driveway.

About a half mile away, Chel again noticed Jimmy. She noted aloud that there seemed to be no Dana. But where could she have gone?  It was a puzzle. Quickly it was discovered, by my friend Andrea who was also in the car, that something illicit was probably afoot. That was foul, and frankly way more information than we wanted. So we drove faster (while remaining within the confines of the law, naturally.)

About a half mile away from my school lies a large, four-way intersection. The light was red. We, as good law abiding citizens, slowed the car down to stop. We were sitting pretty for a good 8-10 seconds at this red light. A red light with cars lined up, waiting to drive, is rather difficult to miss. There was a line of four cars. We were fourth. Chel looked behind us. Jimmy's truck was driving towards us. It was not slowing down. Time stopped.

Jimmy's car hit Etta square in the back, and pushed us forward into the other cars and the intersection. There was a lot of noise, the sound of metal crunching against metal. Then it was over.

Jimmy jumped out of his truck. There was a lot of chaos. To his credit, the first thing he did was help us push Etta to "safety" on the side of the road. We were all shaken. Chel's neck hurt. But, we noted, we were alive! We looked at Etta. Poor, dear ol' Etta. She was totaled. Our baby, our ticket to freedom. Mutilated. Jimmy's over-sized bohemoth had suffered a scratch on his bumper.

To be fair, I probably wouldn't have punched him as hard had he not gotten Dana out of the car and told her to run away before the police arrived. A report was never filed, though, so this could all be heresay. He said Dana was never in the car with him. I said I never punched him in the face. We agreed to disagree.

The light at the end of the tunnel was that Jimmy's insurance did help to buy Chel and me a new car. While we could never replace our one true love, Etta, we did get a gold car, lovingly referred to as Asti because it was golden in color and vindicated in spirit. But there are some days still, even now more than six years later, when I think of Jimmy.  A feeling of unsettled rage comes over me, and it is all I can do just to say his name, pure deep-seeded loathing dripping from my voice. I hope, wherever he is in the world now, that he feels it. And I hope that McCarthy can feel it, too.



**In high school, cool is a relative term.
***Years of animosity have tainted any previous feelings of humanity toward the boy named Jimmy.