Karen // Cruising
We opted for east.
My passport was with my parents, thus eliminating north. Driving through Portland wasn’t an option, the point being to run away and all. This eliminated south. There’s not a whole lot of driving West.
So we opted for east.
We’ve been driving six hours now, over the Cascades, through cities, towns, and farms. Our level of excitement and enthusiasm followed the same route, starting by busily telling and retelling stories long forgotten or blurred with time, alcohol, and experience. We calmed, munched on our snacks, Darcy sipped from a water bottle refilled with vodka and OJ.
She’s sleeping now, her platinum head leaning on the window, her knees pulled up to her chest. In the rear view window, the sun is low on the horizon, and I’m driving into the dark through a plateau of wheat fields, golden in the headlights of Darcy’s beat up Honda.
My foot pushes the gas, pumping the needle up over 100. My heart lifts again. I reach for a cigarette from the middle console. Balancing one between my lips, I look around for a lighter. The purple Bic is still held loosely in Darcy’s hand, which rests on her thigh. I gently reach for it, plucking it out so smoothly that she doesn’t even flinch.
I’m still not no good at this whole smoking thing. Steering with my knees, it takes me three tries to get the cigarette lit.
I breathe it in deeply as I roll down my window a couple of inches, the sound of the wind drowning the Flaming Lips playing from Darcy’s speakers.
Darcy shifts in her seat. Doesn’t wake.
The farthest I’ve ever driven was to Eugene, and it was for a Eric’s family reunion. I’ve been pushing him out of my mind for three days, but for just a second, I’ll let myself think about Eric.
Those five hours had been legend between the two of us. Endless games of 20 questions. 90s music sing alongs. Stopping the car on the side of the highway so that we could lay on the hood and talk about the man in the moon over a quickly rolled joint. The way I rolled into him, taking in that smell of his, the fire that sparked so easily and effortlessly that we made love right there, without hesitation, fear, or questions.
It was a good trip.
We talked for years after that, about driving cross country together, seeing everything, going everywhere, and trying every kind of pie we could get our hands on. We mapped out routes, picked out sights to see, and made a budget.
But we never made the trip. We could never get the time off, we could never save up enough money.
It’s always something, I say to myself as I flick the butt out the window.
“So what the fuck is up with you, Karen?” Darcy’s head is up off the glass, but her face is still turned toward the window.
“What do you mean?”
She laughs. “Seriously?” She turns to look at me. She’s amused. She doesn’t look angry, but Darcy doesn’t really get angry. But she looks a little more than amused.
“Karen, you show up at my place out of the blue. You crash for a week. You smoke all my cigarettes. You talk me into taking time off so we can drive through a zillion fucking wheat fields. And you, the one who always made me talk out my shit with you when we were in school, haven’t said a goddamn word to explain any of it.” She pulls a cigarette from the pack, lights it, looks at me expectantly.
“I just…” I trail off. I don’t know where to start. “A lot’s been…well, a lot’s happening.”
“I know you and Eric broke up.” She exhales a cloud of smoke my way. “Is that it? Is that why you’re so fucked up? I told you that you guys weren’t right for each other. There’s was something off about him, the guy drinks more than anyone I’ve met. I knew it was com – “
“I cheated on him, Darcy. The guy I was sleeping with is completely shut off, and yet I still keep seeing him. And Eric, for that matter, making him promises. Then there was Jeremiah. And my job, my stupid fucking shitty job. There’s a lot fucking wrong right now.”
My hands are white on the steering wheel. I’m fighting tears. I don’t want to look at her. She’s silent.
And then she laughs. Softly at first, her chuckles barely audible. They get louder. By the time I’m able to look over, she’s folded over on herself.
“What the fuck is so funny, Darcy? What?” She doesn’t answer, but tries to pull herself together.
“Pull over,” she manages to say.
“You can’t drive, you’ve been drinking.” I accelerate.
“Karen, pull over. I’m fine. And if you’re going to do this running away thing for such banal reasons, you’re going to at least be drunk while doing it. Something to dull the ridiculousness of it.”
“Banal, yes, devoid of freshness or originality. Oh don’t look at me with that indignant glare. You broke up with your college boyfriend, who, by the way, was a mean drunk with a serious motivation problem. You rebound with a guy who probably senses you were just out of a relationship and realizes he’s a rebound. You have a hard time permanently saying goodbye to college boyfriend. You miss being in love, so you sleep with both of them. I don’t know who Jeremiah is, but I’d venture to say he’s a one night stand mistake kind of thing. And, on top of that, you’re not happy with your job. Fucking banal, Karen.
“I’ve been through this. Every 20-something I know has been through this, this where am I supposed to be, am I living my life the way I was meant to, kind of deal. So pull the fuck over, drink some vodka, and we’ll get you over it.”
I’ve already slowed to a crawl. I pull the fuck over.