Marty is tearing along Elida Road in his Buccaneer Red Trans Am. We take a side road and pick up always-late Terry, wrinkled white uniform open at the chest, purple belt trailing behind him as he runs barefoot down the driveway. Terry throws his athletic bag in the trunk and rides shotgun in the revving car. Marty checks his watch and heads out again,tires screeching, “Sweet Home Alabama” blaring.
Marty is our instructor and he has a penchant for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Our taekwondo car pool has 20 minutes to get to the Lima YMCA before class. We have a quasi-carpool because my Mom never drives. In between psychiatric hospitalizations, she has so much anxiety about getting behind the wheel she has outsourced driving to any takers. There is one of my Dad’s elderly print-shop employees, Cloid Carpenter, and his McDonald’s hamburger-loving cocker spaniel. Cloid drives me to the temple in Lima for my Bat Mitzvah prep classes, chain smoking and cackling with delight when his pup barks at the first sign of golden arches in the distance. Then, there’s Betty Gressel, mother of the other Jewish family in Delphos, who drives us to Sunday school. We love it when Mrs. Gressel drives us because she always stops for ice cream. Then, there is Marty the martial arts instructor.
I am prompted to take taekwondo classes when fights with my sister escalate into real physical damage to the house.
My older sister, enraged that I locked myself in the bathroom to escape her wrath, violently kicks my bathroom door. I sit on the toilet lid and listen to her taking flying leaps and crashing. I do this a lot. This time, however, I see a crack, then daylight, a plank of wood goes flying, and finally her foot is hanging over a hole in the center of the door. I remark calmly, “Boy, are you in trouble.” She pays for the damage with her allowance and I guess my parents decide that, given their limited skills at behavior modification, the best strategy is to get me out of the house a few nights a week, and make sure I know how to physically protect myself.
Ultimately, I find the whole thing to be wildly entertaining. During our car pool, Marty loves to tell Terry and me funny stories about his wife and kids and he regales us with harrowing stories of working as a lineman during explosive electrical storms and dangerous tornadic events. In the dojo, I get to spar with truckers and cops, waitresses and secretaries. At 14, I am the youngest and smallest, by far, and they accept me as a sort of fearless taekwondo club mascot.
By the time I get my green belt, my parents’ marriage is deteriorating. My sister is leaving for college and my teenage rebellion is fraying what is left of my mother’s fragile nerves. I apply to two boarding schools and prepare to live out my Junior and Senior years of high school in an Illinois dormitory. My parents pack up my bedroom in trunks I used those summers I went to Blue Star Camp. Before we leave, the phone rings. It’s always-late shotgun riding Terry. He tells me that Marty has been electrocuted to death while repairing a power line.
After I hang up, we put the last of my belongings in our Buick LeSabre, and my mother sits in the back. I take shotgun and my father drives west toward Chicago. I slide a Lynyrd Skynyrd tape into the cassette player and close my eyes against the strong August sun.
Jennifer Shneiderman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a writer living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Indolent Book’s HIV Here and Now, The Rubbertop Review, Writers Resist, the Poetry in the Time of COVID-19, Vol 2, anthology, Variant Literature, Bright Flash Literary Review, Wingless Dreamer, Trouvaille Review, Montana Mouthful. the Daily Drunk, Sybil Journal, Anti-Heroin Chic and Terror House. She was the recipient of an Honorable Mention in the 2020 Laura Riding Jackson poetry competition.