The first Renault I remember him owning was a black Dauphine 10. It was small, basic, underpowered, but brand new, and my brother and I loved it. It had a body style similar to a VW Beetle, but with a longer front hood, and like the Beetle, the back seat was barely adequate for small children. It looked like a toy car and that made it fun to us.
I really don’t know why he decided to trade it in. I don’t remember us having it long. But the next Renault he bought was a champagne colored Caravelle. This was the ultimate vehicle in our minds. Cute, sporty, with enough power to make it fun to drive but not so much that it consumed large quantities of gasoline, we all adored this little car. He didn’t have the Caravelle long either, but not because he wanted to trade it in. One day on his way to work, it caught fire. He managed to escape with his fishing poles, leaving everything else behind. It burned until nothing was left but the frame.
This didn’t put him off Renaults. Next in line was the Renault 10 in a light blue color. It was one of the most fun vehicles to drive. Still very underpowered, but getting fantastic gas mileage before that was popular, the little 10 could handle ice and snow like a pro, zipped in and out of traffic aided by rack and pinion steering, and because of the rear engine, got great traction on wet or dry pavement. I personally owned a couple of these vehicles myself after I moved away from home. Both of mine were forest green and both were delightfully fun to drive, as long as you weren’t too worried about speed. One of mine was wrecked when I was broadsided by an 8 ton dump truck. In spite of its small size, I lived to tell, having only minor injuries. The other made the trek to New Mexico with me, then back to Tulsa. It was eventually traded for a Toyota Supra.
By this time, I was nearing the age of driving myself, so my father bought his first automatic, a white Renault 16. For some reason, he didn’t think a girl could learn how to shift and he let me know he opted for the automatic transmission because of me. Holding it over my head. This is the vehicle I remember best. For the very worst reasons.
After I got my license, I was sometimes allowed to drive this car. Like all Renaults, it handled well and was very quick, since it also had rack and pinion steering. It was light and nimble and this version had a little more power under the hood, so you could reach speeds nearing 100 mph (yes, I drove 90 in it occasionally). Though he didn’t like the automatic transmission, he loved the car and drove it with unerring precision.
It is important to note he was a precise, quick, good driver. He drove aggressively. He always had his car right where he wanted it on the road. Always.
When I was 16 years old, I had a “boyfriend” of sorts. An older boyfriend. He was 22 years old, in fact, a gap that was more profound due to my youth than it would be now. Because of his age, we weren’t allowed to date, although I was occasionally permitted to go to the local park with him or to the Dairy Queen. Mostly, if we wanted to see each other, he had to come to my house. And though that was decidedly unpleasant, he still came.
Sometimes, he would meet me at school and walk me home. I remember one particular afternoon very clearly. It was beautiful out. The sun shining, birds singing, a light breeze, the air just warm enough, but not too warm. Jon, my “boyfriend,” was walking with me as we talked and laughed and he was holding my hand. We felt safe with our public display, as innocent as it was, because neither of my parents got home from work for another hour. So there was no one to fear. No one to yell and scream at us. We could simply enjoy being connected in that small way as we soaked up the sunshine while walking along. This was rare. And I was uncharacteristically relaxed and relatively happy in the moment.
I’m not sure what caused Jon to look back. Some sixth sense. Though I was normally the one who was hyper-alert, I didn’t realize anything was wrong. Not until Jon threw me into the steep ditch beside the road and jumped in on top of me.
As I was going down, I felt a whoosh of air and saw something white streak by me. Still, I didn’t comprehend. Then I heard a car reversing toward us and looked up to see my father’s Renault 16 beside us on the road above. My brain wasn’t working. It took me a few seconds to put it all together.
Normally the last to get home and not due for another hour, at best, for some reason, my father had come home early. I don’t know if he went by the school to pick me up; this would have been very unusual and we never talked about it afterward, so I’m still not certain. But he was coming from the direction of the school. Coming from behind. Seeing Jon and I holding hands evidently sent him into a rage. Jon was walking next to the ditch because it was a little muddy, lined with dead leaves that could be slippery, and the edge was a bit steep. I was next to the road.
So great was his rage over us holding hands, my father decided to run me down with his car. He would have succeeded if not for Jon sensing danger behind us and reflexively throwing me into the ditch.
After glaring at us for several minutes where we had landed, stunned, in the dirty ditch, my father raced off toward home. Jon and I sat unmoving for a time, blinking at each other.
I remember getting up slowly. I recall telling Jon that I had to go home. I remember Jon telling me we needed to run away, right then. That I couldn’t go home. Not after this. Didn’t I understand what had just happened? “He tried to kill you!” But I told him I had to go. And I got up, brushed myself off, climbed out of the ditch and continued walking toward my house. I remember reaching the driveway. But I don’t remember much after that. Just that no words were exchanged. I was enveloped in darkness and an eerie silence that perpetually permeated my childhood home.
He tried to hit me again with that little white car, but his time, I wasn’t dazed and unprepared. I had been talking to a boy, a boy who wasn’t even really a friend, but who I knew from school. We were out in front of my house where I had been mowing. I was alert. I saw him coming and planted myself behind a tree. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t circle the tree with that car as fast as I could move to the other side. The boy fled. Eventually, my father gave up and drove back to the garage. I continued mowing.
Years later, though I had already left home, I heard someone found his little white Renault 16 at one of his fishing spots. They put sugar in his gas tank. They left a note on his windshield. “I know what you did.” To this day, I do not know who did it or to what deed they were referring.
His next Renault was an orange 17 Gordini. This was his final Renault. I don’t think I ever rode in it. Nor did he ever try to run me down with this car. I was long gone by then. Safely out of reach.