The Omni wasn’t ready ’til my cousins amputated its roof with a torch to form the world’s worst convertible. The car was a small hatchback with a cramped backseat that just fit my pubescent body. Cars, vans, and antique tractors littered their lawn but this new convertible was one of few that started, much less moved. I’d lived next to these cousins my entire life. Over the years their broke automobiles multiplied like feral cats fucking in the woods. In time they’d be shuffled off to the side yard, a cemetery of disrepair. We often played in the cars or farm machines on a dirt road connected to their treeline. This was the country and we ran free, using the world as a springboard for fun. We’d sit in a tractor and pretend to pilot or climb an earth mover that became a spaceship. These things were rusty and riddled with mice. It’s what was there and so we made do. These clumps of junk filled the woods but there was still the Omni. It ran for real and we held its keys.
I was the oldest at thirteen but my two favorite cousins were the keepers of this car. There wasn’t a permit or license between us. I was a farm kid and their tribe was rural, bordering on redneck, so legalities didn’t come into consideration. I was already driving tractors and pickups on fields and farm roads. For them the Omni was an upgrade from the ATVs we’d spin at wild speeds through woods and country. They lived just past the end of my long driveway, in a house abutted on two sides by a thin shelter belt of trees. They were the wild family whose house I’d go to for sugary food and R movies. In time liquor and porn. But for now we were just middle school kids with a car who lost its roof to surgery with a blowtorch.
With its top sawed off the Omni had soup can jags sprouting from where its window frames met the missing roof. They rolled over these gnarled edges with the handyman’s secret weapon: duct tape. They used a roll to ball up a poorly constructed cast at the end of each window post. With that the Omni passed its safety test. I was used to their wild antics that often stretched into the unsafe or unsavory. It wasn’t a lashing out but rather a natural progression of unkempt kids in rural life. I was often nervous but always happy to tag along.
I went to their house because it felt illicit. They had older brothers who drank booze in the basement and left spent condoms that we found all shriveled and brown. In winter their dad chained sleds to his plumbing van and yanked us down country roads til we froze or flipped off in a snowy ditch. My house, a hundred yards away, was more calm and collected. I only had two siblings, both sisters. We didn’t eat candy or watch many movies over PG. My mom forced us outside and often locked the TV. There were no guns or video games, despite my begging because my cousins had both. It was looser over there. I couldn’t understand the value of limits, of the healthy lifestyle my mother attempted to engender. All I could sense was constriction.
I can only recall one trip in the Omni. There were others but I only know one. Even with that all I hold are glimpses. Maybe the Omni broke and was put out to pasture. Maybe we had it for one summer but it could’ve been two. I’m unsure but I still see that one ride. We’re driving down gravel a mile from our houses, just off the county highway. It’s summer and we’re surrounded by square plots composed of mile long sides, each pregnant with a sprouting crop. From an airplane you can see how the countryside is chunked off into neat squares. From ground view it just seems like an unending expanse only divided by gravel strips and a smattering of trees. Our part of the world was flat and so this vision carried for miles, the scenery unchanging no matter what we did or how fast we went. The ride was an escape from nothing to nowhere.
My cousin, who knows which one, is going too fast down the gravel. With a purposeful swing of the wheel he directs us into the ditch. The springs are gone and if the roof was there I’d crack my head. The ditch is rough but fairly flat, all grassy and dry, and he doesn’t slow. We’re speeding toward a crossing that connects the gravel on our left to the field on our right. A culvert runs under the crossing and it seems we’re going to crash it, flipping out or funneled through like Mario. The sun nips my face and wind blasts my hair. A mile away I can make out the woods surrounding my home. Just past that is the trees surrounding theirs. The dead car graveyard. Maybe they’d bury more than metal there. Just prior the point of fucked he angles up and out to gravel, bald tires spinning over loose rocks. I don’t know whether to whoop with joy or scream with fright. We’re still flying, still reckless, still loving the feeling of going too far. That convertible was shit but it sure was fun.