dive under the breakers, bob over the swells
A moment of reverie for the 8-track without which I would never have learned the art of disappearing in close quarters or how to switch from being to listening while the long shadow we cast skittered along the rock walls of the Salt River Canyon. The Tioga listing forward toward Yellowstone or the Mogollon Rim packed stern to bow with children. My father, my captain. My mother, his competent first mate. And man, did they mate. Until the camper could barely contain us. Until the riveted seams buckled and bulged as we clambered over one another for our shot up front between them. The enviable sweet spot, that prie dieu before the chunky altar of the 8-track emerging clunkily with one fat volume knob, one square button that could only bypass multiple tracks at a time. The space race was over and I believed we had clearly won it. Yet we couldn’t skip a dud song without missing a few good ones.
So we memorized whole albums like atlases, studied the geography of each song. We learned to anticipate crescendos and key changes and percussive crashes, any of which might provoke my father’s splayed palm to fall hard on our bare thighs with a sharp crack followed by a hot sting. Divine and warranted, he would roar. He would say, “boy, that’s gonna leave a mark!” as our tender flesh reddened and rose in what we hoped would be a perfectly hand-shaped welt we could show one another like a badge or a medal earned through impossible patience and the extreme discipline of letting our guard down though we knew full well what was coming. We’d scuttle back to the recesses of the cabin where the violence was more predictable and fair. And just like that, and for just a moment in time, that quiet notion that we might be anonymous was briefly dispelled. My family full of rough lovers and rough love being the thing we pass along. Until our own children can’t sit near us without running the risk of being spanked or wrangled, pinched, pink-bellied or having a claw raked through their tangled hair. Until our own children can no better control their own desire to torture what they love a little bit.
A moment of reverie for the 8-track, for the cumbersome case with its austere clasp and the 12 cartridges pushed neatly into their individual slots, which is how I learned to hear music in the order that it was intended. A patience my daughter may never know with her shuffling selection, the ease with which she can track past a lengthy ending or dismiss a tune that no longer pleases her. Even as I anticipate the daunting task of getting a sleeping body, grown too long to carry, out of a car and into a bed, she has a thousand songs nested in her elegant fist. She commands them into position between herself and the darkness of that languid drive’s last leg, rolling out like a slow black ribbon. And I think about my siblings, tucked into our cubbies and cots, the only things saving us from the permanent silence I imagined the Rim was composed of were my father’s heavy breathing and a slender neon bulb above a hand sink that stuttered on reluctantly and couldn’t even work without humming.