Careless

It’s April first, my birthday. I’m nineteen now. Sociology be damned—I’m driving up to the mountains. It’s a beautiful morning. The back roads are blessedly empty, and Ringo, my leaf-green Honda, my beautiful graduation gift, skims over the rutted gravel.

Yes, I’m driving too fast. I can almost hear Father say, “Slow down, Aviva. The road will wait for you.” I wish he’d call me Viv. Aviva means “blossoming” but it’s an old name—like someone’s great-aunt. I’m not old Aviva. I’m Viv, it’s spring, I’m nineteen, and life is good.

My new boyfriend Larry is taking me to a fancy restaurant tonight for my birthday. There’ll be French food, no doubt lots of wine (note to self–carry fake ID), and after that, who knows? This may be my first overnight date. I think I’m ready for one of those. Larry’s cute, and such a good guy. He’s even in the Jewish fraternity. I’m sure Father would approve of him, and Mom would be pleased if Larry and I became—something. I should make the effort to look extra nice tonight.

My mind’s so busy that I’m not paying attention, and gravel roads are tricky. When I take a curve too fast, Ringo and I skid out, nearly going over the side, down a steep slope, but we adjust for the skid and just barely stay on the road. I turn Ringo off and stop to breathe and breathe again. Then, I start up more carefully, scolding myself. I can’t afford to be reckless. I’m a grown-up now. I know that what Dad calls the Dreaded Stakes of Failure gets higher every year.

So, I drive more carefully. That’s a good thing. Several times, young squirrels race onto the road, under my car, and I have to swerve to avoid hitting them. Stupid, careless squirrels. Last week one of my classmates joked about the “suicide squirrels of spring.” I’d wondered then what he meant but I get it now. Spring . . .

Suddenly, a bump. Worried that I’d hit a squirrel, I check the rearview mirror and see something lumpy and dark on the road behind me. My heart starts pounding. What if it’s still alive, poor thing? I find a wide enough place to make a u-turn and go back to check, but it’s just a chunk of bark. Thank God.

There are more crazy critters further along where the land’s been cleared—little rabbits hopping onto the road. Stupid, careless rabbits. Maybe “madder than a March hare” means something. How can these creatures be so unaware? Is this Darwinism in action?

I turn on the radio. Every single song is about love—love won, love lost, or love longed for. I change channels and let Grieg’s melodies ease me into Charlottesville.

To get to my apartment I must negotiate the notorious “Corner” at Elliewood Avenue—difficult driving at any time. On a pretty spring day, it’s just about impossible. Students are on foot everywhere on the sidewalks or even in the road, ignoring cars, blocking traffic, taking their time and all caught up in themselves or each other. They aren’t even thinking about being careful. I decide they’re mostly thinking about sex. Stupid, careless students.

Getting ready for my date, I slip a toothbrush, my pills, and spare panties into my bag. Something feels wrong. Then I get it. I start to wonder—am I just another April fool? Stupid, careless me?

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