I almost killed us once. I was driving the old truck, a Ford maybe, that her family kept around for farm use. I was only 15 or so. The truck was a nice powder blue with a bench seat and had a 4-speed manual transmission. It was old enough that the gear shifter was on the steering column instead of in the floor board. It was the perfect truck for a few non-licensed 15-year-olds to bomb around in. Liz could drive the shit out of that old thing. Me? Not so much. But she was determined to teach me. I’d never really driven a car before, except for on my Daddy’s lap in the drive way, and I certainly could not drive a stick shift. We’d been out in the Coleman pasture before, me behind the wheel, Liz telling me when to press in the clutch and when to change gears, but I never really got the hang of it. Still, she was determined to teach me.
One Saturday afternoon, after we’d been up way too late the night before (probably drinking Boone’s Farm), Liz took me out in the pasture just below her house. The pasture was small, only about 2 acres or so. The entire field was surrounded by trees except for the eastern end which was bordered by the Tranquil Road bridge. The northern side dropped off into a fairly steep ravine, a creek below. That afternoon, we hopped in the old blue truck, me behind the wheel, and we went about my lesson. There was no radio that I remember, so the only sound was the grinding transmission from my poor attempts at learning to change gears, and the occasional stall of the engine – and our laughs, of course.
As our driving lesson continued that afternoon, I finally began getting the hang of it. As I became more comfortable with changing gears and working the clutch, I also became more comfortable increasing my speed. With each successful transition between gears, the more confident and brazen I became. Before I knew it I was reaching speeds close to 45 miles per hour. Liz thought it was funny and the more she laughed the faster I drove. And then it happened. On turn 3, I nearly flipped the old blue truck on its side. As heavy as that old blue bucket of steel was and at only 45 miles per hour, I had us on two wheels and mere feet from flipping over on our side and down into the ravine on the north side of the pasture. We could have died.
Liz got her driver’s license before most of us. She was a full year older. When she became licensed to drive her parents gifted her with a 1980’s model white Volkswagen Rabbit convertible. I loved that car because I loved the movie “Can’t Buy Me Love” and that’s what Cindy Mancini drove. Our sophomore year, Liz picked me up most mornings before school. We’d stop by Corley’s for a chicken biscuit and a Mountain Dew and then smoke a few cigarettes before heading to class. But one morning I convinced Liz to skip class, except it really didn’t take much convincing. We worked up a plan, though. We’d wait for my Mama to leave for work and then we’d go back to my house to grab a few frozen pizzas and some board games. We’d then drive over to a vacant condo the real estate company her Mama worked for had listed and camp out there until school was out. We never thought her Mama would actually show up to show the condo to a prospective buyer that day. But she did and we were caught red handed, eating our Totino’s combination pizzas and playing Guess Who at 10am. Liz’s Mama agreed not to tell my Mama, but there would be a price to pay. She sent us back to her house, the one with the pasture, and put us to work. We worked much harder that day than we ever would have in old man Gilbert’s geometry class.
But those stories aren’t the reason I love my friend Liz so dearly. This one is:
We went to Emerald, the newer, smaller, high school. If you lived on the south or west sides of town you went to high school there. We had a great group of friends. Some were younger, some older, a lot our own age. We were all fairly close, a big group of us. We had great parties most weekends, but occasionally we would venture across town to a Greenwood High party. Greenwood High was the older, bigger school. On one particular weekend, we attended a party given by a friend who went to Greenwood High. (In an effort to protect the moderately innocent, I won’t name this friend. I will, however, say that her name rhymes with mine and I’m pretty sure she completed her Ph.D. before most of us finished our undergrad degrees). The party was in Wellington Green, a neighborhood on the north side of town and there were more people there than I think I’ve ever seen in my life, even still today. Our drink of choice in those days was the Screwdriver. For a hefty $15 we could buy a handle of Popov and a gallon of orange juice and four of us could get completely shit faced, with (something like) vodka left over for the following weekend. I’m sure that’s what I had to drink that night. Except I had a lot of it.
As the party began to wind down, Liz and I and three others, A, B, and L, began looking for a ride home. We were certainly in no shape to drive ourselves. Luckily, we found someone – a nice, sober, guy who was a senior at our school. The six of us piled into his silver Beretta (I think that’s what it was) and headed for Liz’s house where we would crash for the night. I don’t remember where everyone was sitting expect for me. I was sandwiched between two people in the backseat. Three were up front. Leaving the party I felt just fine. It was on the ride home when that changed. Just as we were entering Liz’s neighborhood, I began feeling sick. I immediately asked our nice, sober, driver friend to pull the car over. I’d had way too much to drink and I knew exactly what was about to happen.
We were too close to home to stop now, everyone said. “We’re almost there.” “You’ll be fine.” I insisted, but still, no one listened. So I kept my mouth shut, as tight as possible, closed my eyes, and put every single ounce of energy I had into stopping it from happening. As we came closer to Liz’s driveway, I remembered the small bump in the pavement that you hit each time you enter the drive. I knew it was a minor, small bump, but as we got closer it grew bigger and bigger. In my mind, the small bump had grown into a bump from hell. It might as well have been Mt. fucking Kilimanjaro because I knew exactly what was going to happen as soon as the car hit it.
Again, I mustered up the courage to open my mouth once more, asking our nice, sober friend to pull over. But it was too late. As soon as I opened my mouth we hit the bump and I projectile vomited on every single person inside of that silver Beretta. As soon as we hit the bump, I exploded. The vomit shot out of my mouth, fanned to the left and to the right, and saturated every single person in the car. Everyone in the front seat had my vomit in their hair and everyone in the back seat had my vomit in their laps. My vomit covered every single surface inside of our nice, sober friend’s car and covered every person in it.
As soon as it happened, I hung my head in shame. Absolutely horrified and humiliated, yet the harassment began anyway. A cussed me out like I had never been cussed out before. L refused to allow me to get into the shower. In fact, there was no way in hell anyone was getting a shower before her. B just looked at me like I was the most disgusting thing on the planet. Our nice, sober friend just sat, looking at his bile filled car.
Liz, though; Liz went inside the house, grabbed rags, paper towels, and a shit ton of chemicals and began cleaning our friend’s car. She only took a break after L and A finished washing my vomit from their hair. Her break was to guide me into the shower, clothes and all. After that she went back to work, still covered in my barf (from head to toe), cleaning the contents of my stomach from every surface inside our nice, sober friend’s car – never once saying a cross word to me. And I don’t know if I’ve ever told her how much that meant to me.
My friend Liz is a free spirit. She is funny and perfectly tactless at the most inappropriate times, just like me. My friend Liz is a special soul with a heart as good as gold. She got that from her Daddy. My friend Liz has grown into a woman whom I admire for many, many reasons. She has faced challenges many of us will never know. She’s the kind of mother I only wish I had been, one who worries less about the dishes being done and the laundry being folded and more about the pureness of her children’s laughter. My friend Liz is strong; she is a force to be reckoned with, and regardless of what life throws at her she never gives up. My friend Liz is one of the most selfless people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. And while I know she isn’t always proud of herself, for what it’s worth, I hope she knows that I am. I am proud to know her, I am proud to love her, I am proud to call her my friend. But most of all, I am proud that it was her, my friend Liz, who shared with me one of the worst moments of my life – and she did it covered in my vomit.
To A, B, and L, (you know who you are) I know you are reading and I love you all dearly. I promise it will never happen again. To our nice, sober friend, (I’m not sure if you know who you are) I don’t think I ever apologized. I’m really sorry.