Once upon a bygone era, in a remote Egyptian village buried deep in the Nile Delta, my father rode a motorcycle.
On August 4, 1994, an hour after the birth of his first child--my oldest sister--he made a 90-degree turn on a bumpy road straight into an equally jolted car. The motorcycle stopped but my father did not, catapulting off the Suzuki and over the other car and into a muddy ditch. He emerged from the collision scratch-free, but like his beloved Suzuki, his appetite for motorcycling was wrecked. His right leg still hurts.
My appetite for motorcycles burnt out early. The memory of my last and first ride is more feeling than sight: the thundering wind, the whining motor, the warmth of my laughing cousin’s shirt pressed against my whimpering face, my clanging heart. When I opened my eyes, the dirt road was rushing away, receding like sand before a wave crashes onto shore. I sat still waiting for when the motorcycle would stop and I would keep going. It never came, and I never cared to try again. The motorcycle was also a Suzuki.
My father believes in fate, which might explain why he’s so eager to tempt it. Ten years after he escaped death by Suzuki, I answered the phone. “Is your mother there?” my father asked, his voice tired. We were on a summer vacation in Egypt, but my father had stayed behind in the United States. She’s at my aunt’s, I answered. “Have her call me back,” he said, and hung up. I found out later that, although our white Montana Pontiac had flipped three times when the collision happened, the doctors didn’t find a single broken bone in my father’s body.
Twelve years after, I was stuck in traffic at the exit to Ryder’s Lane. My oldest sister called. He’d gotten into another accident. At the exit to Ryder’s Lane. Wooden pole.
My father, when he came home from the hospital a few hours later, adamantly insisted that he had abided by the 15mph speed limit.
In the words of Croatian photographer Antun Maracic: “crashing without break, pause, rest, cessation.” My family’s insistence at driving along the edges of the abyss—always teetering, never falling—has left me equal parts fascinated and terrified by auto accidents. In the years before New Jersey licensed me to play with life-size vehicles on life-size highways, I played with toy models in my apartment’s hallways. A Porsche, police van, Lucky Charms racecar, city bus, STG Motormax, orange Cadillac, school bus, silver BMW, and a Japanese racecar: I wreaked vehicular apocalypse upon them all—flipping, skidding, flinging, spinning—while reveling in the spectacle like a captive beating his captors. The plastic cars were considerably more durable than their metallic counterparts, never losing so much as a chip of paint even as they drove off the cliffside of my bunk bed.
The harmless nature of my plastic destruction allowed me to confront the auto accident, which represented everything I feared: failure, tragedy, un-control. In a life of uninterrupted privilege—the privilege of perfect health, of academic success, of surviving family—the crash seems inevitable. It’s fate’s announcement, in screaming metal and shattered frames, that you've used up your chances.
But not yet. Not long ago, the son of my former Cadillac-owning uncle arrived in the States, the memory of his own father’s near-death still fresh. He backed my mother's 2007 Toyota Sienna into my father’s new 2017 Ford Edge. We stood in shame beside my father as he examined the garbled fender and passenger door. After a long silence, he stood and laughed.
“Better the car than the person,” he said with a chuckle. “Better the car.”