essays kaddish in two-part harmony tzaddik stories

voices in the volvo

There’s something I really don’t like about finishing things.  Good at starting.  Good at ongoing.  Good at thinking about.  Finishing:  very depressing.

So.  I had just finished organizing the entire program for a SWAA conference one year, along with two colleagues.  SWAA would be the Southwestern Anthropological Association.  And we planned some real conference treats.  Had the Ohlone coming up with their lawyers on a panel to confront UC Berkeley archaeologists on the disposition of indigenous remains.  That seemed like fun.  Had Alan Dundes coming to give the keynote at the banquet ‚ serving chicken while they would slowly discover inbetween bites, that he was giving a graphic Freudian interpretation of cock fights.  I love putting together wicked conferences.

But the program was done.  And it was great.  And I was in a terrific mood.  All bad signs.

And I was pretty close to the House of Bagels.  And thought, well, why not pick up some hummies for the kids before picking them up from school.  What a good mommy am I!  The very best.  And the kids just love hamantaschen.  See?  Good mood.

Bad sign.

Such a soccer mom!  Such a mommy mom!  I had actually wanted a Peugeot, but William Jeanes, who was at that time editor-in-chief and publisher of Car and Driver Magazine, and Csere Csaba who was later editor-in-chief until 2008 — had both talked me into a Volvo when I consulted with them by phone.  I bought my Volvo kicking and screaming, but with Car and Driver hot shots backing me up, I got exactly the price Csaba told me I should get — and lots of extras too.  I did milk the connection a bit, I must admit.  I love buying cars, to tell the truth.  I find it great fun.  And I love car magazines — a secret pleasure.

So.  I had a Volvo station wagon with even the little seats facing backwards in the way back.  It was before the SUV thing really hit the soccer mom crowd.  Not that I was a very good soccer mom.  Couldn’t follow the game.  Just wanted to be sure my kids didn’t get hurt.  Didn’t give a damn who won or lost as long as the kids were having fun.  Which they weren’t ’cause all the other parents were screaming at them from the sidelines.  Except for me and this other guy.  I always brought a book or papers to grade.  But ended up chatting with him.  Head of one of the Gurdjieff Institutes in the city.

House of Bagels was only a few blocks away.  Plenty of time.  Beautiful weather — light drizzle, sweet breeze.

And then it hit me.

I thought he was stopped at his red light, way back there — but when next I looked, he was in my face.  Literally.  An 18-wheeler with most of its payload had lost its brakes and slammed into the driver’s side front door and hood of my precious soccer mom Volvo.  The driver’s side window had been rolled up against the rain, light as it was, and so when he hit — he shattered all the shatterproof glass.  All into the left side of my face.  I looked just like the Ice Queen, with shards from head to toe.  Mostly head.  Like a tiara.  Like Edward’s vampire face, all shimmery with glass. Little square chunks of glass absolutely everywhere.

It was all in slow motion.  Common for these events.

And when my Volvo stopped, I didn’t recognize where I was.  Had no idea.  The streets looked turned around. Nothing was familiar. And I was trapped inside this crumpled cage.

My Volvo gave its life for me.

And then I heard the Voice.  It was a first, for me.  I was a virgin in the auditory hallucination department.

“When you are attacked,” he said, “remember to get your breathing together.”

I recognized that voice.  It was my Aikido Sensei, Jack Wada.

I got my breathing together.  Everything slowed.  I was very calm.  I brushed the glass off the seat and tried to slide across to the passenger side.

“And don’t forget your car keys,” he added before I got too far.  “You’re going to need them.”

The keys hadn’t even occurred to me.  It was very calm.  Very quiet inside the car, even my sensei’s voice was very calm.  Outside the car, things seemed moving very very slowly.  Later, I told the judge that the truck had been moving at around 5 mph — while the trucker had said he lost the brakes at 30 mph.  My time sense was way off.

Someone came and tried to pull me out from the other side.  The truck driver, it turned out.  I needed to get out before someone else hit the car.  I took my keys.  Jack shut up for a while.  There were cops.  The fire department.  Statements.  Witnesses.  I could see their mouths moving but couldn’t hear a thing.  And then this cop smile at me.

“You’re gonna make a fortune!” he said.   “Volvo loves shit like this.  You really should be dead!  They’ll put you in a commercial.”

“They’ll give you a brand new car,” a fireman said.  Everyone was very enthusiastic.   They kept shoving me toward the ambulance anyway.  I shook some of the glass out of my hair.  There was glass inside my pockets when I reached for a tissue.  Glass everywhere.  Ice Queen.  Ice Queen inside a very quiet place.

I saw a phone booth and headed for it.  My car phone was smashed in the accident.  There weren’t ubiquitous mobiles quite yet.  I called my shrink.  Owen, I said, I need to reschedule.  I called my husband.

“You know how you say I never call you?” I said.  “How I never need you?

“I need you now.”

Another shrink.  Somehow he got to me really fast, and I was grateful.  I didn’t want to get into that ambulance. Bad juju, for some reason.

At the ER they picked glass out of my face for hours.  Chunk by chunk.  The surgeon looked at me and smiled.

” Wow,”  she said. “All that blood goes really well with your dress and necklace.”  I had on this Egyptian necklace that looked like drops of blood, with hamsas.  “You look like a fashion statement,” she said.

They called in one of those super-duper plastic surgeon to stitch my face back up again.  I counted 28 stitches, but I have no idea how accurate that was.  Not sure I counted every one.  And every single chunk of glass had missed my eye and nerves.  Well, wow.

Last week at Pesach, a man walked in wearing my 18-wheeler blood dress.  My mom had washed the blood all out, but I’d given the dress away anyway.  So I told him the story of the dress.  Perfect for Pesach — with all that lamb’s blood on the lintel of the door…  The man didn’t say another word all night.  I don’t think it was the dress, though.  It was his first Pesach.

So.  Bad news to say that something’s finished.

“You’re not finished,” my Volvo said.  “There’s plenty more to do.”  And then it died.  And this is my belated kaddish for my Volvo.

But since that time, I think I’ve learned my lesson.  Never admit to a job completed and well done.

Back at the dojo, I told my sensei what had happened.  “I can’t train,” I said,”until all the stitches are out.”

And a doorway opened right that very second.  My sensei started talking, started teaching me — of visions and miracles, accidents and healing, comic books and TV shows, and secrets of the masters.  Lots of doors opened after that.  Voices and visions, knowing things I didn’t know before. I slowed down (I don’t mean my driving).  I listened a whole lot more.

“Too bad,” said Mrs Tzaddik, “you didn’t get hit sooner.”

“And harder,” she added.  “It took you a very long time.”

I shrugged.  What can you say to that?

Bad thought.

Good sign.

I went out and bought another Volvo.



By mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.

2 replies on “voices in the volvo”

At the risk of going way off topic here, let me say:

This is not, by the way, an endorsement for Volvo. Except for that first one, I found them cranky and idiosyncratic — especially the electrical systems. But when your vehicle gives its life for you — well, it instills a degree of loyalty and appreciation. These days, I remain thrilled by my RAV4 — great for big dogs, although the back window should go down as in the 4Runner.

And to respond to a comment elsewhere:

Mrs Tzaddik’s response is not unlike that of Holger Kalweit, (German psychotherapist who specializes in dream states), who posits that if only we could give everyone on earth a near-death experience, their lives would be filled with peace and appreciation, and they’d be changed (for the better) forever. The only problem, he says, is not the death part — that’s easy. He just hasn’t figured out yet how to bring them back.

And I’ve been wondering all this time, why did Mrs Tzaddik think you needed to get hit? Was she waiting for you to start hearing and seeing things that she’d been hearing and seeing all along?

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