*The powerful, purring engine of her gleaming black ’69 GTO shifted into park, idled for a second and then revved one last time before shutting down. At the ungodly hour of three AM, she’d awakened everyone in my neighborhood.
It was the late 1980s. We’d met six months earlier at an L.A. bakery/cafe where, during an impromptu conversation, we agreed that the very idea of the place not using sugar or flour was pure sacrilege.
You could only casually care for the 28 year-old Hawaiian-born Canadian Devin. Introspective and witty yet wary, she wouldn’t allow anything heavier.
For example, I didn’t dare discuss with Devin the possibility of her visiting more often or/and at hours that wouldn’t make me feel like the stray, desperate prey of coyote or a random neck for Dracula; that conversation would only drive her away.
Routinely, come daylight, I’d lie in bed and watch her dress while griping about the rambunctious SOUND of her midnight-hour arrivals.
Devin’s retort always involved pointing out that I only talked about the engine when she was leaving, never when she arrived.
We’d chuckle at our impasse on the subject–again–and then Devin would be gone, scarce until the next time she wanted to roll up from Long Beach.
Privately, I worried about Devin. Worried that she lived alone with no family in the States; worried that her stubbornness and naivete kept her just arm’s length from trouble.
And, I worried that Devin drove entirely too fast.
First time I rode with her, I pretended that my heart wasn’t in my throat as we flew like a bat(mobile) outta hell through evening Ventura Blvd. traffic.
But when she mentioned getting two speeding tickets in one month, I decided I didn’t care if I offended her, and gave her a piece of my mind. “Where,” I asked, rhetorically, “are you going that you have to drive so fast to get there?”
Her response wasn’t as hard as I expected. Still, I figured my reprimand had sealed my fate. However, a month later Saturday night she showed up with Hawaiian take-out. We were watching David Mamet’s “House of Games,” when Devin began to do something she hadn’t done with me before. She talked about herself.
She’d been into fast cars, she said, never looking away from the TV screen, ever since she was nine, when her uncle gave her a ride in his souped-up Camaro on an empty Toronto race track as her father looked on.
It wasn’t merely the horsepower and speed she found exciting; as the Camaro zoomed away, through the mirror on the passenger door, Devin viewed her father’s image getting smaller and smaller. The visual sensation of escaping his clutches, if only as long as it took that Camaro to get around the race track, was liberating.
“The first penis I ever had in my mouth was my father’s,” Devin said, the weight of the statement hanging in the air like cigarette smoke. “He took me into the bathroom, closed the door, undid his pants. I was four years old.”
The abuse continued until Devin was 20 and “escaped” to college. She would have left sooner but for her two younger sisters whom she protected from her father. It wasn’t until their mother finally divorced him, that Devin felt her siblings were safe.
Speed, if only metaphorically, she said, had the power to spirit her away from her pain and deliver her to a place of peace. “Every time I get behind that wheel, I’m racing to my joy,” she mused. Sometimes, she acknowledged, it seemed like the faster she drove toward her calm, the more it moved away.
That visit, Devin held on so tight I literally had to pry her arms from around me. She was knocked out until noon.
Standing on the curb out in the sun, the parting kiss was perfunctory. The hug, however, was as mighty as the tears bitter.
When Devin’s funky chariot finally revved up, I waved good-bye, thinking it would be the last time the neighborhood would have to endure that engine, but surprised when it actually was. A year later I received a post card from Baton Rogue saying she was all right. And than poof.
That was almost 30 years ago. The other day, I saw a shiny new Camaro slowly cruising down Crescent Heights and Devin came to mind. Wherever she is, I hope her journey doesn’t still require that kind of horsepower.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].