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Cool Mint

I haven’t eaten a cool mint ice breaker since the summer of 2012 in the backseat of my grandma’s blue Jaguar. We’d just left my grandparent’s Goshen home in a huff—had to get to church on time and Grandma’s curling iron was still hot by the time we’d all filed out the door. My cousin, Abby, took her place next to me in the backseat on my left. On my right was my aunt Alaina, whose dark hair I often asked to braid and skin tone I’d always known to be darker than my own. My grandparents had adopted her from China near the time that my parents were really getting serious about each other. When I arrived at the age of curiosity, the way my parents explained adoption looked something like: in China at the time, the government only wanted couples to have one child, and Aunt Laina was born second so she had to be given to a different family. Thinking of my three siblings and myself, I wondered how a place could just tell parents they had to give their kid away. I remember asking: “Couldn’t her parents have just hidden her from the government?” and, in answer, was met with a laugh indicating that I wouldn’t understand some things for a while. I was still at this innocent age, nine years old, traveling in my grandparent’s Jaguar to church; Abby was two years younger than me. Her older brother, my age, was sick and dying with cancer. Neither of us really understood, though, the effect it was having on the older members of the family.  

I took a chunk of Aunt Laina's hair and brushed the ends on the palm of my hand so she would hear me giggling; I liked the tickling sensation. She looked at me and just smiled. Seven years older than me, my aunt was one of my best friends growing up, and so was Abby. Abby, sitting on my right, between her tiny thumb and index finger held one of those cool mint ice breakers out to my mouth. I held it between my top and bottom teeth for a bit before I was forced to swallow it early. My seatbelt caught my neck, it stung a little, as my body was lurched forward in an unforeseen slam on the brakes from my grandpa.  

Years later, my grandpa and I would make a trebuchet together, a wooden catapult, for a school project, and his eyes would light up when I asked for his help. He would cut the pieces himself with his power tools, only asking me to hold them into place so he could screw them together for an immortal finish. He was gentle with me, a young girl who needed his help. He was also an expert craftsman, a carpenter. He’d tell me about inertia: put the ping pong in the catapult and let’s test this thing. I’d bend the wood arm backwards, unafraid of breaking it, and then release. He told me inertia was how the ping pong ball would’ve kept flying through the air had it not been stopped by the brick wall lining the garage my grandpa had built my masterpiece in.  

I would’ve kept flying through the air, a ping pong ball, straight through the windshield, had my seatbelt not been my brick wall. It stopped my inertia, my head snapped back into the leather seat and I choked a little on my ice breaker then swallowed it. Nothing was hurt with the exception of  my ears; my grandpa laid on his horn. The guy in the lane adjacent had been drifting, almost hitting our car. The man sped off down the road, my grandpa followed suit, chasing him for ten minutes with my grandma yelling in his ear that we were missing church. Aunt Laina and Abby held on to me in the middle while we suppressed fifty miles per hour going through town. I thought the man was probably scared; he pulled over eventually in a parking lot  and my grandpa got out of the car. He started hitting him, choking him against the car. I saw the man’s face against the window, now I knew he was scared. He looked like he knew my grandpa could kill him.  

YOU KNOW I HAVE MY GRANDKIDS IN THE CAR,Grandpa slammed him once more against the window.  

“Don’t look Jo, keep your head down and cover your ears,” my Aunt Laina’s older voice commanded. She was mature. Her voice still shook, just like my hands, when she told me not to look.  

My grandpa had released the man by now to let him throw up. I saw the vomit exit him, and I thought I might get out and join him. Abby asked why he was throwing up and Grandma told her to stop talking and that we’d be to church soon. Police lights popped up in the window, I just looked at red and blue strobes and heard more yelling. The drive was silent, Abby and I cried on the way to sing worship songs.  

I’d understand later that my grandpa loved the concept of righteous anger. I went to the movie theater with him once. He made it pretty obvious to everyone that he carried, always fiddling with his belt. The movie involved a young woman getting trafficked. The way home was a conversation about his gun. How when he was eighteen he carried a gun until God told him not to. He stopped for a while, then I guess God changed his mind and Grandpa was allowed to carry again to protect his family. I wanted so badly to ask what God’s voice sounded like when he told Grandpa to carry a gun. Was it forceful and booming, or a soft spoken gust of wind?  

I wonder what Jesus would say to my grandpa. My grandpa who loves his family enough to kill, enough to get back at mankind the minute he feels threatened. I wonder about the man who was whipped and tortured, hung on a cross, and said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  

What would the man who was wronged by all say to the man who made my seatbelt a little tight?  


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