It was 1976, the bicentennial big deal, and my father had been back for a year or so – my father, the prodigal, who returned from drunkenness and womanizing to live with us for the first time in my life – and suddenly my great, yawning yearning was answered. He slicked his golden hair into a D.A. like Elvis, who was still alive, and we played go fish, calling our twos deuces because of the song that caught the steamy sear of summer like a wave that year, summing up my excitement in elaborate gibberish.
With a boulder on my shoulder
Feelin’ kinda older
I tripped the merry-go-round
Most days I cycled around the corner to the neighborhood store for two soft packs of Pall Malls, and my father let me keep the change for penny candy, so I filled my pockets with root-beer barrels and Swedish fish and pedaled home, feeling like a rich girl.
He built a stock car from scratch, painted 01 on the side, and my sisters and I stenciled sweatshirts and t-shirts and waited by the track while he raced, but I was a kid, so I curled up in my hand-me-down coat, trying to sleep on the hard slab of bleacher while cars whizzed and buzzed like angry bees. Sometimes we did ride alongs, huddled low in the shell of the gutted car next to my father, turning ovals on gravel. We felt like stars while everyone watched and the announcer said our name. We felt like us.
Some silicone sister
With a manager mister
Told me I got what it takes
For kicks we’d go out driving in the evenings, us kids in the back of his pickup, and I perched on the ridged metal wheel well, fingers gripping the sharp edge of the truck’s bed, with my sisters propped against the window on a vinyl bench seat pulled from some junker and piled with blankets in case it was cold. It was always cold. My father would pretend we were lost, and his laughter cracked the air if I got scared, as dark branches arched over us and our high beams shocked the night. The sky was big and black, full of uncertainty, but I was revved up like a deuce, blinded by the light.