Poetry For Our Time

Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason. -Novalis

Brake Lights

with 2 comments

At fifteen, when I was learning how to drive,
before I stomped into my house and yelled to my mom
that I would never drive with my father again
because he told me I should be able to drive
so that the cylindrical bottle on the floor
wouldn’t move
before I realized what a privilege it was
what a necessity it was to drive a car,
Before all that, my dad gave me a piece of advice. 
It was the only piece of advice he ever gave me,
and it was the best piece of advice I’ve received since.

“Always be sure to look two cars ahead of you for brake lights.
That way, you can see what’s coming.”
Even before that, though, when I was very little, my father told me 
something else that will always stick with me.  He said,
“If you don’t ever have a wedding,
I will buy you a car.
Any kind of car you want.” 
At three years old, I thought
that Daddy wanted me to be his little girl forever.
That he didn’t want me to get married and be in love
with some other man.

But before he could buy me a car, I had to learn
to drive one, and I didn’t want to learn 
from him.  He didn’t want to teach me, or if he did
he had a funny way of showing it.
Teasing incessantly, yelling while we were on the road,
not letting me rest until I was perfect.
I figured as long as I didn’t crash into someone in front of me
while he was in the car
I’d be perfect enough.  So I kept looking
two cars ahead to see the brake lights, to see
what was coming.  And I didn’t hit anyone.

It wasn’t until he left us that I really started
playing it safe, trying to predict the outcome
of everything – Where would I get a job?  Where
would I meet a man?  Where
would I be accepted to graduate school? Where
would that man decide to live?  Where
would I decide to live?  Where
would I get enough money to feed myself?  Where
would that man break up with me? Where
would it  all come to a screeching halt?

Instead of looking two cars ahead, I started looking
three, then six, then ten, then a mile or two –
so focused on what could happen up there, I didn’t notice
what was happening in front of me.
By predicting the crash, I caused it.

It looked like my dad was going to buy me that car after all,
since my relationships all crashed and burned.

But then I fell in love.  And we talked about rings and family
and weddings.  And we talked about how much weddings cost.
And we talked about saving ourselves.  And I joked about my Daddy
buying me the car of my dreams if I didn’t
have a wedding. 

I paused.  

If I didn’t have a wedding.  Not
if I didn’t get married.  Daddy realized paying for a car
would be less than paying for a wedding and made an offer.
Daddy’s little girl was his car, which explained the teasing incessantly,
yelling while we were on the road,
not letting me rest until I was perfect.
Which explained why his advice was never
about life or love, but about his car. 

I took a deep breath.
I smiled, and resumed talking and planning 
and started saving, so I could create my own memories
right in front of me.

But I always keep an eye out for that car
two cars ahead.
Just in case.


Written by Ashley

May 15, 2009 at 3:14 am

Posted in Poem

2 Responses

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  1. This makes me sad but it is very well written. I think it’s easy for many people to look a few cars ahead in life and miss what’s going on. Sometimes you have to think about the future its unavoidable and sometimes you have to let yourself live in the moment, mostly you need to to let yourself be happy don’t stop something good because you’re planning it’s demise


    May 20, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    • I totally agree with your life philosophies, Amy. Thanks for the compliments. 🙂


      May 21, 2009 at 1:46 pm

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