As my foot is stuck on the accelerator pedal on Hwy 80, my brain is going just as fast, with the only difference that it doesn’t proceed clearly West to East, but wonders in all possible directions. My white Volvo, two years older than myself, feels just like an incubator of ideas, a place where my thoughts can run free while still be confined between the four doors. I open the window from time to time to let the flow of emotions rest while also avoiding suffocation from thoughts-thick air. The last hug with my mum was rather a hug to her bags. I stole the last hug from her when she already had all her carry-on bags on herself, and my arms were barely reaching her torso. Goodbye hugs and kisses are never enough for an Italian student living in the United States after a week with her mother visiting. For one week my mum was my copilot all around California and now it is only me and the bikes flapping on the trunk and I feel I left a vital part of my body at the San Francisco International Airport.
With one hand on the phone and my head flying with every plane is in the sky, I am already driving through Sacramento. My phone keeps ringing and I get a text that leaves me astonished. I read it three times and check multiple times the sender. Yes, it is coming from a person I have not talked to in months and with whom I was planning not to talk to for another handful of months. I don’t answer. I see the other cars passing, weird, I usually am the one that does it. I press on the gas, this ride can’t take forever. My car doesn’t respond. Stuck at 60 miles per hour. I move my eyes to the right and it’s red. The water lever has now exceeded the maximum red point. I am about to blow out in my car in Citrus Height, a neighbor just north of Sacramento. I ease the gas and put the car in neutral gear. I know I can’t drive with an overheated engine, “Turn it off, immediately;” I can hear my dad’s voice. But I am on a highway. There is an exit coming up, I slowly turn into the ramp and I see a tiny parking lot. I need to turn off the engine, I know the momentum can take me there. I grab the steering wheel for the last turn and it is heavy. The steering wheel turned off with the car, should have remembered that. Two hands and strong arms make the turn. I am in. My foot is on the break, ready to stop and run out of the car but the brake is harder than a rock. The steering brake! Could have remembered this too. The fence in front of me is getting closer and in this moment in which my car doesn’t listen to my commands, I can see my white Volvo stuck in the backyard of Jack’s house. Handbrake and both feet finally stop the car and I am out it if. I can smell heavy burn and the smoke is pounding off the hood. I want to open the hood and check what is going on but I am too scared of doing so. Maybe if I don’t open the hood everything stays in there and nothing has ever happened. It keeps smoking more and more and I carefully lift the lever and let it breath. I regret not going with my brother working at the mechanics that summer when we were younger. I open the water reservoir scared I am going to be on fire in a moment and it is completely empty. I see the sign that I drew with my red sharpie when I got the car, a couple of months back, to keep track on the level of fluid. This is bad, I wonder if I burned the whole engine or if I stopped in time. I should have turn off the motor sooner, dang it. I walk around the nose of the car, never to close to it. I lie on the ground checking the situation underneath but it is more a ritual than an actual search for scathes. I can’t do anything by myself.
I look at the street, trying to catch some drivers’ attention. There is no time to try eye contacts so I start waiving with open arms. A car stops short after and I feel immediately a bit better. “Hey are you okay? What is going on?” she asks opening the door of her car. “No, no…my car stopped…I went overheated. “It’s okay, don’t worry. It happened also to my brother, just relax,” she says. “No it is gone, smell this burn I blew the whole engine!” I say. What does she know about car, the hell it is okay. But maybe she does know about cars, “So what happened to your brother? Was the car fine?” the moment I ask this question I realize it wasn’t a good idea. “Ehm, I don’t remember, I believe he fixed it..but maybe..I don’t really know.” What does she know about car. I show her the empty water reservoir, the only thing I can notice about the engine. “Do you know any mechanics near here? Any gas station?” No answer. It’s starting getting cold on this November’s Saturday evening and I am sitting in the passenger seat of this girl’s car that offers me Chinese food in a doggy bag. “I just got out of work and got it. Have some” I don’t like Chinese food but I end up taking three tempura. With my phone charging in her car, I start calling mechanics but it is 6 pm on a Saturday night. “I can drive you to O’ Raily’s, I know there is one down the street.” I walk in the shop hoping to find some support or to magically meet a mechanic hanging out on a Saturday night but I walk out with merely a gallon of water fluid. I slowly pour it all in, I lower my eyes and I see a puddle getting bigger under the hood. The gallon-fluid is now forming a river from the car to the street. “Where are you from? What do you do here? My mom lives in Tahoe! She just moved there” Her questions are irritating in this moment but I end up talking about skiing in Tahoe and about her plans on going to grad school for Psychology, as a senior at Sacramento State. Now it is dark and she needs to go, her boyfriend is calling her. I am back in my car, and a dazing song is playing for at least 15 minutes before I reach a Progressive Insurance operator for the towing service. A text service alerts me that I have a two hours waiting time. Cool, it is already 7 pm. I need a plan, I need to go back to Tahoe tonight and be at Squaw Valley at 7 in the morning for my physical tests with the ski team and my coach.
“Hi, I am not sure I can make it tomorrow to Squaw. I am having some issues..” My coach doesn’t talk a lot, especially on the phone. “Hey, are you there?” the silence pushes me forward, feeling in need to say more, explain the detail, find a cause. “The thing is that it is always you, you and this stupid ideas you have all the time. If you buy a car that is a piece of shit and you are too dumb to understand you can’t drive it for more than two miles, this is what happen” he says firmly. I quickly shout down the call and I just want my mom to sit next to me. I phone rings again; it is my friend who texted me earlier without receiving any answer from me. Maybe he really needs to talk to me. I am nervous and happy and mad but I pick up. “Hey what’s up how are you? Did you get my text? I am in Tahoe, do you want to grab some food?” Two hours later he arrives to Sacramento and we are now driving up to Tahoe in his truck. Four months after the day I promised to myself I would have never seen this person again, I find myself being rescued by the same person. I am slightly mad at myself but I feel relieved. At seven o’clock the next morning we are in the parking lot in Squaw Valley for my physical assessment. My coach is confused but doesn’t open his mouth.