It is a cold winter afternoon circa 1980. I am 6. My sister is 4. We are in the back seat of the car my mother is driving on a country road, and we are not wearing seat belts - as you will soon see.
My sister and I have been fighting for many minutes, stopping only when our mother yells at us to stop and only because we are scared enough of her not to fight while she is yelling, but not scared enough (yet) to stop fighting altogether.
We have just resumed our incessant arguing and smacking each other across the seat when my mother turns around and our heads jerk as she almost veers off the road. She is furious now, as she bellows the classic: "If I have to pull this car over, you two are going to be sorry."
Our mother goes on yelling at us, but this time it is different. We are already scared when she then tells us that not only will we stop fighting, but we are not to talk at all. She does not want to hear one more word, and I quote:
". . . not one more God damn word!"
We have clearly pushed her too far and I remember being very unsure about what would happen if I said one more God damn word. I did know, however, that I COULDN'T BE BOTHERED finding out.
My sister and I move as far away from one another as we can then, each of us tight against the opposite backseat door. We don't say a word. We barely breathe.
A few moments later I hear a clicking sound and look over to see my sister fidgeting with the lock. Normally I would have called out: "Moooooom, Staci's playing with the lock," but this time I keep quiet.
My sister continues playing with the door while I watch, wanting so much to tell on her or hit her or yell at her, when suddenly - the door comes open and my sister falls out. That's right, she falls out!
Stunned, I whip my head to the front seat to see what my mom will do.
She does not do anything. She continues driving, looking straight ahead. My mouth opens to yell to her, but then I remember:
". . . you two are going to be sorry . . . not one more God damn word!"
I am paralyzed. Maybe my mom had somehow opened that door. Maybe my sister was the first to go and this was my warning. I don't speak.
After what seems like forever (but years later my mom would say was just a tenth of a mile or so) we go around a little bend and that's when she feels it. My mother quickly turns to look over her right shoulder, where my sister should have been sitting, and immediately hits the breaks.
"Jeannette . . . oh my God . . . where is your sister?"
I swallow hard, wanting to say something but remembering " . . . not one more God damn word."
My mother has pulled the car over by now and is turned toward me, frantic, looking out the back window down the snowy road where my little sister is lying in what looks like a big pile of discarded winter clothing - right in the road!
"Jesus Christ Jeannette! Why didn't you tell me your sister fell out of the car?"
Tentatively I respond, "Because you told us not to talk."