A shark swims below the surface.



K. Hartmetz


How I Learned to Drive Stick
C. Hudak

Editor’s Note: This Recollection may be potentially triggering for some readers. As an alternative, we offer this video of a shark swimming just below the surface of the water. (by O. Skyrus. Puerto Rico, May, 2021)

Content Warning: abduction, classism, sexism, sexual assault.

I’d fled my childhood home. My mother and her boyfriend had both, in their different ways, spent years abusing me. I was exhausted, but still young enough to be energized by that end of the tether. It was summer, 1993. I moved in, across a continent, with a bunch of men much older than I was, and that worked out approximately as well as you’d expect. Some were filthy. Some appropriated the money for the electric bill, leaving us with no hot water. Some had strong opinions about my clothing choices.

So, I fled again. Moved to another state, to stay with a religious couple I’d known from back home, who encouraged me to reach out to other friends I’d known from back there, too. One young man, in particular. With apologies to the good Travises in the world, I’ll call him Travis. Travis had just started college a ways down the road, and maybe I’d like to spend some time with him? 

He was very handsome. 

Travis drove his older brother’s borrowed car an hour along the interstate to pick me up, and we went adventuring. For a week or two, we drove around, ate cheap food, and kissed in his brother’s car. One night, when his brother was out of town, Travis drove me to his brother’s apartment. 

Let me tell you what I remember about the apartment. It was on the ground level. It had white walls, and white vertical blinds that were closed against the hot August light. It had one main room, with a kitchen you could see through a pass through. I don’t remember how long we’d been there, or whether we were in the kitchen or on the couch, when Travis told me he would not drive me home until I took a shower with him.

Travis was one of those rich, white, soccer guys, comprised mostly of muscle and ego. While I occasionally enjoyed his company, I did not want to take a shower with him. I did not want to see him naked and I didn’t want him to see me naked and I didn’t want any part of anything else that might happen with Travis in a shower.

But, I did not know how to drive a stick. Travis was driving his brother’s car, and it was a stick. Travis had tried to teach me to drive stick, and he knew the ways in which I’d failed.

I weighed my options. I remember staring at the slits of light leaking through the blinds and considering violence. But Travis was an athlete, and strong. Also, I felt a wave of horror at the idea of his brother (also very handsome!) coming home with his young, beautiful wife and finding some evidence that I’d harmed their relative. (Isn’t that funny, in retrospect?) I considered flashing anger, or leaning on his sense of propriety, but Travis and I had known each other for years, and we both knew that he was from the right side of the tracks and I was from the wrong, so really, was propriety appropriately mine?

So, I shoved him and laughed. “I’m not taking a shower with you, and I want to go home, you jerk,” I said, with as much lightness as I could muster.

“I’m not taking you home until you take a shower with me.”

My next move, such as it was, was to remain still and silent. Maybe this was also his next move, because I don’t remember for how long we sat there, silently, but it sure felt long, and I began to feel the pressure of time. The family I was staying with would be very angry if I got home late. They’d make assumptions. They’d maybe kick me out. I had no money, and I couldn’t imagine where else I’d go.

Eventually, I acquiesced. 

Typing that, I feel a rush of anger, fear, and sadness, established by and related to what I felt that afternoon. A sickness, too, in the pit of my stomach. I took off my clothes and got in the shower and he got in too, and all he wanted to do was examine me and run his hands over me under the water. I wept when I realized whatever was going to happen, was over.

Then, he drove me home. I remember worrying that the family I was staying with would wonder about my wet hair.

A few days later, Travis called to ask if I wanted to go on a road trip with him and his grandparents. His car, also a stick shift, had broken down on his road trip across the country to get to college. It was in a nearby state, and finally repaired. Would I like to go with him and his grandparents to pick it up?

The family I was staying with encouraged me to go. We were all crowded in a small apartment, and the husband was sometimes an angry control freak; it seemed like a good idea to give us all a break from one another. Plus, I figured: what could Travis do, really, with his grandparents along for the ride?

Travis and I sat in the back seat of a Cadillac. His grandfather, driving, talked about the cruise control, and his grandmother talked about sharing a bed with me at a hotel that night.

The idea of a hotel terrified me. I did not want to stay at a hotel with Travis, even with his grandparents there. It felt too risky. I’d thought we were going to get the car, and turn around and drive back. Travis’s car was just over the state line. We could easily grab it, turn around, and drive back.

We didn’t have cell phones then. I did my best to silently communicate my wishes to Travis, who seemed to understand. He told his grandparents they could get a hotel, but we would just drive right back.

I thought I’d won. (Isn’t that funny, in retrospect?)

Travis’s grandparents reluctantly waved goodbye as we pulled out from the mechanic’s. I don’t remember exactly how far down the highway we were when Travis pulled over to the shoulder and said, “I am not driving you home tonight. We are getting a hotel.”

Of course he did. I mean, it’d worked the first time.

You know? I remember being rageful, this time, but I am aware that I may have, in the intervening decades, dreamed up those literal screams. I do remember telling him I would not, under any circumstances, be sleeping in a hotel with him, that night or any other night.

One time in a shower was sufficiently ruinous for me.

So, when he said, “if you want to go home tonight, then you have to drive,” I got out of the car, walked around to the driver’s side, and opened his door. 

He got out, with a sneer and an eye roll, and pushed past me to get to the passenger seat. I remember watching the highway traffic rush past behind him.

At first, I felt embarrassed and sorry about how poor my shifting was. I tried (again) to make light of things by making bad jokes about how his newly repaired car was going to need a new clutch.

But Travis’s tactic was silence. He closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep.

I’ve read that memory is personal and squishy—that every memory is actually a filmy accretion of perception, time, and repetition. I remember it was an August or early September evening, on a highway, in the middle of the United States. I drove in silence. I watched the sun set, blazingly, in silence. Or, maybe, I listened to Travis’s beloved Bob Marley? No woman, no cry. Maybe the radio? In the dark, when I could no longer avoid it, I coasted in to a truck stop gas station. I had no money, so tried to wake Travis, but he was insistently “asleep.” Did I use the few dollars I had, or did I take his wallet? I don’t remember. 

I do remember looking across the gas pumps at a guy in a big rig and attempting to assess my risk. Would it be safer to ask him for a ride? But, I was nearly home. I went with the devil I knew. 

Getting back on to the highway was the worst part, but I managed it. I didn’t realize when I took the driver’s seat­ that it would be easier than I expected. A tip for those learning to drive a stick—it’s not very hard, on the highway. All you have to do is shift all the way up, and then you just stay there. 

Here is what happened: I drove through the dark. Late that night, I didn’t even attempt to park. I just stalled that fucking car in the parking lot of the apartment complex where I was staying and got out without saying goodbye to Travis. I don’t remember if I ever saw him again. 

I moved back to Seattle. A few years later, I got my first car, a primer gray 1976 BMW 2002. It was the most beautiful car in the world, and it was a stick.


Lakeview Respite
P. Skyrus

Photos of Lake Michigan, Chicago, Illinois; March, 2020-December, 2020. Accompanied by O. Skyrus on clarinet, performing Debussy’s The Good Shepherd.


S. Miller

The heart benches all curveballs.

It’s a rocky beach

canted with rusted beer cans,

breaking the facade

with less than a right angle.

Squint hard for petals and puppies

as if your life depends on it.

Put on your fearful stilettos,

your pig shields.

Either way, they pinch your name.

Salt Flats in San Leandro, CA. Wind blowing, birdsong, and flowers. by jAs.

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