The first time I almost wasn’t here happened when I was about 4 years old. It was a warm but not hot day and I was riding in my daddy’s big white truck. I sat beside Deddy, as I called him, back in the days before booster seats and even seat belts were required, leaving just enough room for him to maneuver the stick shift without being in the way. He had picked me up from preschool, which meant we were on our way to the Merita Bakery store to buy day old bread and honey buns before heading home. I loved those honey buns and so did Deddy. And he would get me one to have all to myself. Deddy also loved to ride on E, Mama would say. To her, the “E” stood for an empty gas tank, but to him “E” just meant you had to ride “easy”. Oh, I can still get another six, seven miles, he would say, as the needle descended below the last fuel gauge line.
But this day he overestimated how many miles the last of the gas fumes would take us and the truck came to a sputtering halt as he eased it off the 4-lane highway.
“I gotta go get some gas. I’ll be back in a little while. You just sit right there,” he said as he climbed out of the truck.
“OK Deddy,” I said. And I had every intention of keeping my word as I watched him head up the highway, a big can for gas in his hand.
But then along came the spider. It was big and brown and hairy and had almost more legs than I could easily count, each spindly one of them moving it across the windshield closer to me. It was coming to get me. I was sure of it.
I couldn’t just sit there and wait for it to come get me, so I opened the passenger door and scooched on my belly out of that truck to the near safety of the ground below. True safety, though, would be with Deddy. I couldn’t see him anymore, so I just started walking the way I had seen him go earlier.
I hadn’t walked far when the long car pulled up beside me.
“Hey, where you going?” called out the man inside. He leaned across the empty seat beside him and pushed his passenger door open. I didn’t know him, but he looked like a nice man, smiling at me in his dark blue suit. His face was brown and smooth, not prickly like Deddy’s.
I climbed in and pulled the door to behind me and explained the situation.
“OK, I’ll take you home. Where do you live?” he said, still smiling.
“That way,” I said as I twisted around and pointed toward the back window.
He laughed. I didn’t understand what was so funny, but smiled back at him anyway.
As he pulled down the silver handle just like the one in my Mama’s car that would make the orange line move from the letter “P” to the letter “D”, another car pulled up. My Deddy got out of the car with his gas can, smiling and waving good-bye to the driver.
Deddy walked up to the driver’s side of the car I sat in. They smiled at each other. Deddy knew this man and they exchanged a few friendly phrases. I smiled too.
But then Deddy grabbed me by the arm and pulled me out of that car, my toes barely touching the ground, back to the truck.
“I thought I told you to stay in the truck,” he said. No more smiles. And definitely no honey buns.
At the time I thought he was angry because I had disobeyed him. It wasn’t until I was almost grown thinking back on that day that I realized it was fear I saw in his eyes. I could have been gone.