Escapism

(Essay)

It was quiet in the car. Massive layers of metal and plastic dampend the volume of the big diesel engine of my fathers idle BMW. We briefly stopped next to one of our paddocks so he could check if the horses still had enough water. The tuned down radio whispered, as if a being in distress from another world wanted to contact me, but the signal was too weak. It was always quiet. My father didn’t like loud noises. The sunlight was shining on my pale, skinny knees. It was hot in the car. The vast, rough, dark-grey interior rose like mountains underneath a greenish-tinted windscreen. In summer they became volcanos, radiating heat like the core of a sun. It was fascinating to me why the plastic didn’t melt.

The air was stifling and I was bored. There was nothing to do, nothing to think of. Outside the car was just grass surrounded by fence; wooden fence and wire fence. Some of the wire was just wire, some of it was charged with electricity. I was scared of the wire because I could never tell which kind would electrocute me. As a ten-year-old you take on a lot of barriers, but this one was just nightmarish. A rat classically conditioned by electrocution. The human body doesn’t seem to have a great variety of levers. The shock from the fence felt exactly the same as the cold realization of shame, or the sting of heart pounding fear; and as a ten-year-old you take on a lot of shame and fear.

On the weekends, when he didn’t have to work and there was enough time after the horses, he took me to the car dealers in the nearby, slightly bigger province. It was always cold and desolate in these rambling halls filled with just chrome and glass and rubber. But I liked the smell of tires. Tires fascinated me. I didn’t understand how rubber can be so rigid and strong. The tires of my bike would never be that strong, no matter how relentless I would pump it up. And they had little plugs, almost like hair, which disappeared when the car was breaking the tires in.

The salesman was not paying attention to us. He sat there at his chrome desk over a black leather worktop and minded his own business. But there was no business, we were the only ones there, and our visit was never about getting something, or getting something expensive. My dad often just looked at the same model he already had, but in other colors, with different leather and a little less traveled. Some cars were locked and some were open. The leather seats were always cold, even when they had a warm, brown hue. The cars just stood there in dead silence like gigantic, shiny steel coffins waiting to take someone away. My father seemed to like their inconspicuous presence. They were quiet, like the sun and the grass and the horses. At home it wasn’t quiet.

I didn’t feel very comfortable in the presence of older people. I had nothing to offer them, not even the energy of youth. Before we went to see the horses and the cars he always asked me where I wanted to go. I didn’t know the answer and if I had one that place would have been too far away. I went with him every day because I knew it made him happy. But I rarely spoke. I had nothing to say to him. My sister was three years older than me, but we didn’t get along well back then. She spent a lot of time with her friends and boyfriends and horses. Not even her Barbies yielded experience or enlightenment; they had no genitals. My life was just innocent nature, dull classmates and parents in the trenches; and there were movies.

My father had his own room, tucked away under the pitch of the roof. It was his refuge from blame and reproach, where he spent most of his hours when he was home. There was a time when my mom would send me up there to tell him that dinner was ready, but these affections were long gone. We didn’t eat together anymore, he just lived in our house like a tenant. I only sneaked up there when I wanted to watch something on TV she wouldn’t allow; and she didn’t allow much. She was an elementary school teacher. Everything was too violent in her eyes. My dad enjoyed watching movies and series with me and when it became too brutal he always said something funny to break the tension. He was the comic relief when there was none on screen. I really liked watching movies and I really liked watching movies with him.

The room wasn’t tidy but very cosy. It was cluttered with all sorts of things from the past. A baseball from his trip to America, dusty bottles of alcohol, endless pants and shirts and ties hanging over chairs, a super plush burgundy corduroy couch with very deep grooves and a dozen different blankets over it, posters of Woodstock, old records of Jazz and Soul music and some special vinyls presenting the sole, pure sound of car engines. He collected tiny model cars, there were stacks of the them everywhere. I thought he possessed every car ever made. They were still in their packages, untouched behind little plastic windows, to be displayed flawlessly, forever. There were also a lot of pictures on his desk, on the walls and in every free space on his shelves. Pictures of his parents, his brother, me and my sister as babies, pictures of him and my mother on holiday in his first VW-Beetle. They looked so young, so carefree and so happy. It seemed so long ago; an old-fashioned romance. They don’t make these anymore.

My mother wasn’t happy about our secret cinema. Outrageously she kept hammering on the door: “What are you watching in there !?“, “Documentaries about nature“, my father always replied through the closed door with a mocking boyish smile. She was very tall and strong and had a commanding presence. His door was locked most of the time when he was home. Sometimes she got so angry that she tried to kick the door in. My room, his room and their bedroom were all on the first floor. There was a lot of door slamming and shouting at night. Sometimes the slam was infused with so much hatred and despair that the door shattered under the brute force. Sometimes he had to slap her to snap out of her unyielding attacks. She started crying. These were the moments all that heart-pounding fear was stored inside of me. These were the moments my sister and I had to intervene. But we didn’t have to stop him, he had already stopped. He was just standing there, confused and regretful and powerless. I only remember sleepless nights.

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