He’d been thinking about becoming a disappearing hippie for years.
There were plenty of reasons to get away. Among them, sex-drugs-rock-and-roll beckoned. He’d been waiting to escape, though, holding out some small bit of hope that he might still be able to find peace and support at home, even after years of evidence to the contrary.
It only took about a week to finally convince him otherwise. After that, he knew without doubt: He wouldn’t be offered the looking-out-for he saw other parents providing their kids.
He was barely 18 and had already given up on the so-called adults around him.
But he was making it: He had a car and a job as a janitor. For a guy who did just so-so in high school and had gotten expelled more than once, a maintenance man’s union job was a pretty good gig. Each morning, he’d emerge from the building, grimy and sweat-stained, then trudge across the parking lot in the dark to his first car: a 1951 Chevy Business Coupe. It was outfitted for door-to-door salesmen, with no seats in the back, providing space for vacuums or encyclopedias or whatever a man might sell.
My brother stuffed beanbag chairs back there, for passengers to sit on.
Gunmetal gray, except for the flower sticker pasted on the driver’s side door, the car barely ran – with a top speed of 45 – but it got him to-and-fro each day. It was serviceable.
One morning, though, as he slogged through the cold and fog toward his usual parking spot, the car wasn’t there.
The Chevy was missing.
He walked home, reported the theft, and waited.
Mid-week, somehow, his stepfather Jerry got word about the car. Jerry reported that it had been found, sans wheels. It was sitting in a tow yard, and it would cost $150 to get it out. He offered, in a supposed gesture of kindness, to take the car off Michael’s hands. The young man was short on cash, Jerry reasoned. He didn’t have the dough to retrieve the car, or to invest in new tires. Jerry would pay Michael $50 and get it out of his hair.
After living on the street as a runaway, Michael had been around his share of shady characters. He’d seen scams of all kinds, and he was suspicious. He thought his stepfather’s pitch sounded strange. He asked Mom for advice.
Pulling some strings, Mom reached out to a Highway Patrol officer she knew from working at the DMV. He, in turn, called in a favor, and arranged things so Michael could recover the car for only five dollars.
Michael could afford that.
He set off to reclaim the missing-tires car, without knowing how he would get it home. Quick on his feet, he’d figure it out when he got there.
Tramping across the muddy tow yard, Michael could see the Chevy off in the distance…with all four tires still attached. He peered inside. His things were there: A sweater, a bottle of Spanada wine, and a pack of Marlboros, tossed haphazardly in the backseat.
Nothing had been taken. Nothing had been damaged.
“I started wondering,” he says now, “who the fuck would steal my car and not take my stuff? Who would even see it sitting alone in a desolate parking lot all night?”
Relieved but confused, Michael began to formulate a theory as he drove the Chevy home. When he pulled into the driveway, he could see Jerry, kicking the ground, ranting and grumbling about Michael and the car.
He was pissed. He wanted that Chevy.
The scowl on Jerry’s face was enough evidence for Michael: His stepfather was the thief. He couldn’t prove it, and wouldn’t dare accuse him, but he was certain. In a half-assed attempt to get the car, Jerry snagged it while Michael worked. He took it to the tow yard, then claimed to get a call from the cops, a few days later.
It was a lame crime, but right in line with a certain style of petty thievery that had landed our stepfather in jail just a few years earlier. After getting out of prison for much worse offenses, he had downgraded his crimes, keeping them in the family when he could.
It wasn’t just Michael who would be Jerry’s target. A few years after the stolen car caper, Jerry used my sister’s credit card to buy racing tires, then disavowed any knowledge of the charge. Right around the same time, he stole baby chickens I was taking care of over spring break in Fifth Grade.
I still have no idea what he did with those chickens.
There’s no courtroom-worthy proof, but we’re certain of Jerry’s guilt. His accomplice was our mother, who chose to look the other way, unable to reckon with the reality of the man she had married.
My sisters and I stuck around, doing our best to accept the thief our mother loved. For Michael, Jerry’s antics became the final straw. He took to disappearing just a few months after his car had.
Georgianna Marie is an aspiring author, currently developing a series of essays about her upbringing. After discovering the beautiful North Oregon Coast in 2020, she and her husband Tim purchased a cabin in Manzanita. She spends half her time in Oregon and the remainder in the Phoenix desert.