Her name was Vivian Grable. She was born wealthy. An heiress really, Vivian never worked a day in her life. She never had too. From an early age Vivian understood that life would never be full of challenges. If she needed something, all she need do was ask Daddy. If Daddy wasn’t handy then Mommie or Nanny or Other Nanny could get it for her. Spills were cleaned before she could figure out what happened and soiled toys were replaced immediately. Vivian Grable was spoiled. Through no fault of her own.
She realized, as children do, that having the most and the best toys does not make you popular. Sure, at first everyone wants to be your friend, even if it is just to play with your toys. But soon the rainbow of excitement turns bitter and green. They begin to call you names and point. Vivian found this out at her eighth birthday party when she opened a new Barbie Doll – one which wasn’t for sale yet. All the other little girls looked on as she unwrapped the familiar sized box, they all knew what was in there. But which one? Vivian gleefully shouted, “It’s Sunset Malibu! And it’s not even out yet!” She brought it to her chest as if it were a rescued puppy, spinning and smiling as she thanked her Uncle Cody for getting it for her. He rustled her hair and muttered something about a favor for her father. He left to smoke a cigarette and never came back.
The rest of the party was unusually tense. Vivian noticed that none of the girls were playing with her or talking to her unless their mothers made them. She took her new Barbie, her aqua blue eyes staring through to a sunset somewhere beyond the plastic walls she calls home. Maybe she’s thinking about Ken, thought Vivian. She smiled. She always wanted her toys to have happy unions, like on TV. Not like at home. Mommies and Daddies should live in the same room, like on Little House on the Prairie, not in separate rooms like her and her brother.
She approached the girls and asked if anyone would like to see her new doll. While two or three of the girls genuinely did want to see this new, tan Barbie, who had pink sunglasses and hair down to her waist, DOWN TO HER WAIST! They did not step forward. A single look through the narrowed eyes of Debbie Johnson was enough to stop any girl dead in her tracks. The flock of little girls in their pastel party dresses stood there silent, like cotton candy melting in the sun.
“Nobody wants to see your doll. BABY,” said Debbie Johnson. It was only a second before The Cotton Candy Girls understood what was expected from them and the laughter began. Giggles like machine guns, all pointed at Vivian. “It’s cute. Really,” said Debbie. “Come on girls. Let’s get some cake.”
They walked away and left Vivian there holding her doll. She ran into the house in tears and didn’t come back to her own party. Years later in High School Vivian would remember that Birthday and demand that her Father return the Ferrari he purchased for her. She had managed to make a few friends who understood that it wasn’t her fault she was rich, and they liked her anyway. Daddy was angry, but eventually he relented as he always did, when Vivian began to sob. It would be another ten years before Vivian understood that it was not just her father who would do anything to make her stop crying, but all men. Men are very uncomfortable around a crying woman, she once told me.
The Ferrari was taken back to the showroom and Vivian insisted on something a little less flashy, but still cool. They agreed on a Mazda Miata. It was cute, and a few other schoolmates had been seen in them, so they couldn’t make fun.
Vivian was excited. A new car meant freedom. Vivian was ready to leave home, but her parents were not. They wanted their baby home where they could be a part of her life. That’s what they told her. The truth was that Dad was having two, maybe three affairs, and could no longer afford to send his precious daughter to Harvard. Where she had been accepted. With honors. And mom, well mom knew about at least one of the affairs and handled it the way most rich women do. She spent his money.
But Vivian didn’t know any of this the day her father drove around to their front door, honking a horn which sounded like it belonged in a clown car. It was red and it was shiney. Vivian didn’t care that it wasn’t exactly new. She was happier not flaunting wealth. Good thing too. She ran outside and jumped up and down until her father finally got out and hugged her.
“For you my little angel. My Vivian Lee. I love you.” He kissed her forehead and dangled the keys in his fingers.
“I love you too, Daddy.” She snatched the keys from his hand and opened the car door. And for the briefest moment Vivian Grable was happy. She didn’t feel guilty about this gift and she felt her father really meant what he said. She smiled, put the key in the ignition and turned it. Mom and dad cheered. Her brother had already wandered back to his video games.
“Alright. That’s enough for now.”
“What are you talking about Mary?” He walked around the front of the car. Vivian turned off the ignition. “She literally just got the goddamned thing and now she can’t even drive it? jesus christ you are something.” His hands were plowing rows in his graying hair.
“Phil. She doesn’t even have a licence. She’s never even been behind the wheel for christsakes.Be reasonable.”
“How about in the driveway. Even Rain Man was allowed to drive the the driveway.” Both parents turned and looked at their daughter. She hesitated. “I mean, it’s like… just the driveway mom.”
Phil smiled and came back to his daughter. He was laughing now, and seemed to be back in a good humor. Daddy was like that. He told her to go ahead, and just stay in the driveway before walking to the porch. Vivian wasn’t sure if he was getting out of the way or going to apologise, but she kinda figured on the former.
Key. Turn. Ignition. She fiddled with the radio and cranked it up when she landed on I Saw the Sign. The pedal was a bit harder to press down than she thought. And why are there two? Oh well, here we go! The car began to lurch forward and she saw her father leaping down off the porch, waving his hands wildly. She couldn’t make out what he was saying but she took it as encouragement.
She didn’t think cars were supposed to grind so much, but she figured it out. Well, after her father caught up with her and explained what a clutch was. But that was months later. Vivian crashed that red Miata at the end of the Driveway that day. She didn’t suffer any injuries, but she didn’t want to drive again after that. She was a bad driver. Daddy told her that not everything was easy the first time, especially not driving stick. And especially for a woman. Her mother hit him and threw him out of the house for that.
But he was right. Not every thing would be easy the first time. Driving was the first thing in life which she hadn’t been prepared for. Or rather, which hadn’t been prepared for her. This is my first challenge, she thought.
And Vivian set to work on becoming a good driver. When she wasn’t studying for school she was often found in a garage covered in grease under a car. Knowing the why takes away the fear. Cars stopped being scary after she understood them. By the time she left Harvard, at the top of her class of course, Vivian could take apart any engine, foreign or domestic. But she still wouldn’t drive a car.
Vivian lived a pretty successful and exciting life, from anyone’s standpoint. She stayed in Cambridge after graduation and worked both as an auto mechanic in town, and also as a journalist known as Max Wheeler – Automobile Expert. She wrote columns for Men’s magazines about cars and women. Publishers never asked to meet in person, and her articles soon brought in a lot of money and attention. She feared being found out and decided that Max Wheeler – Automobile Expert should have some sort of poetic demise, run his car off a cliff maybe. But in the end she decided to just stop writing pieces. Editors and publishers called, wrote letters, but eventually they found another person who could write about cars and women.
For years nobody knew where she would go during those long trips. Some say she traveled the world, a lover in every country. Others said she holed up in a hotel because she was afraid of people. She might have done those things. I wouldn’t put it passed her. But I know for certain.
The truth is, every so often Vivian Grable would go back to her home town and drive a car in her old driveway. No one knew that she paid the owners to allow her this indulgence, and furthermore no one knew she drove not just cars but motorcycles.
That is until I saw her. I had never gone anywhere my whole life. I mean I took some vacations with Jerry and the kids, but that’s not the same thing. Vivian lived a life full of adventure and secrets and strangeness that I never had. My life was plain and simple and dull. Kids and cars and Mommie things. And there she was after all these years. I couldn’t believe it. I literally ran across the street and hid behind the bushes.
That was the first time. I watched her do this two more times before my curiosity got the better of me and I knocked on the door of the house. He told me the former owner of the house paid him $200 cash every time. No questions asked. I asked him to phone me the next time, anytime she came by. He was nervous, but I promised not to cause problems. She wouldn’t notice I was there. And, we were old friends anyway.
I waited for her at the end of the Driveway. She wouldn’t see me until she drove back around. I waited for just the right moment and I darted out in front of the car. She screeched to a halt. I was flooded in light, my arms out, palms up. She left the car going and opened the door.
“Debbie Johnson,” she said. “I haven’t seen you since you made me cry at my eighth Birthday party.”
“You remember that?” I said. I knew she did. I had made sure it would stick. I wasn’t a nice kid.
“Yeah. I remember. What are you doing here?”
“I followed you here. I saw you a month ago and got curious. I’m still curious.” I looked at her. She didn’t move and I couldn’t see her face with the lights in my eyes. “Mind turning those off?” I said, raising an arm.
“Yeah. I mind. What are you curious about? You hate me.”
“No… I don’t. Vivian. Listen whatever you’re doing here. I don’t care. The truth is, I want to be your friend. You come to the house you grew up in once or twice a month and pay the owner to let you drive in the driveway. Is that about the size of it?”
She took a deep breath and motioned towards me. “Get in,” she said.
I lowered my arms and came to her. She looked older but not old, her long blond hair still held back in a single long ponytail.
“I’ve got a better idea,” I said. “Let’s take a long walk.”
She blinked, reached in and turned off the engine.