I closed the car door on my coat Monday morning. It was warm out so I hadn’t bothered to fasten the coat. I slid into the car seat and tossed my bags on the passenger side. When I closed the door and turned to put the car in reverse, I felt the peculiar tug of cloth which let me know I had trapped the hem in the door.
Instantly I was transported to a Sunday morning in the 1970s. I’m there in the back seat, but not the way back seat, of our big brown station wagon. I’m traveling with two of my sisters and we’re on our way to Sunday mass at St. Agnes Church. Our dad is delivering us to this weekly ritual while mom sleeps off her night shift. The details are fuzzy, but I know it’s a cold day because we have a rare ride to church and I’m wearing my wool coat. It’s the dressy coat with the leather buttons that Joanne and Nancy wore before me. Dad slows the car down in front of the church to let us out. We spill out of the car and walk toward the building as dad starts to drive away. Nancy has on her plaid, wool coat, the one I covet and cannot wait for her to outgrow. It has both a hood and a belt and she looks beautiful in it, especially when she wears it with her brown boots. I’m walking up ahead, so I never see her go down. And I never hear her scream. But I see the other parishioners react in horror, so I turn around to see Nancy being dragged down the street by the brown bomber. One end of the plaid belt to her coat is dangling from the back door of the car. The other end of the belt is firmly attached to her waist. My father is completely oblivious to this and he continues to drive away from the church while Nancy surfs, face first, along the ground.
She bounces between the road and the sidewalk and this seems to go on for hours as Joanne and I scream and run as fast as our church clothes will allow to try to catch up to the car. We get close enough to bang on the back window, but it is only when an elderly man jumps in front of the car that my father stops, the tires screeching. We free Nancy from the car and help her up. Her hands, knees, and face are covered in horrific bloody patches covering most of her skin. She hasn’t yet begun to cry, but I have. It’s only when she cannot find her glasses that she begins to sob. Joanne opens up the car door to help Nancy to get inside. When I open up the back door and begin to get into the car, dad insists Joanne and I must go into the church for mass. He shouts at us harshly, refuses to let us go home, taking only Nancy with him.
I am stunned there on the sidewalk. People are trying to comfort me, but I am inconsolable. Hysterical. Joanne pulls me into the church, hissing at me to stop it, but I can’t. I cry in heaving gasps off and on during the entire service and cannot erase the image of Nancy being dragged by the car. I wonder if she is at the hospital. If she is dead even. I keep imagining her beautiful face forever disfigured. I feel responsible for this, as if I had wished it upon her or could have prevented it from happening.
I have no recollection of that church service itself beyond my misery during it. Nor can I recall the walk home. I don’t even remember how long it took for Nancy’s face to heal itself and become beautiful once again. But the sensation of a car door pulling on my coat brings me right back to that day. Every time. Each time it happens, I stop the car and release my coat, in spite of the fact that the coat has harmlessly trapped me on the inside of the car rather than on its outside. Yesterday was no exception, and I found myself smiling a bit as I pulled in the ends of my coat before sitting down into the seat again.