(I was driving one night a few winters back, and came up on a downhill intersection quicker than I realized. Luckily the car had semi-new locking brakes. Had it not, I would’ve driven either into a tree or into the river.)
I was driving my parents’ car, a ’98 Nissan Pathfinder, colored golden and in considerable shape. After my first car got totaled my parents would intermittently let me drive the Pathfinder. Luckily the blame for the accident was mostly on the other party. I think that gave me a little leverage towards having so much freedom with the Pathfinder. For the first couple years of driving it, I would have to ask to take it out. This was expected, as it was my parents’ car after all. But after a while went by, we came to a mutual decision that as long as I took care of the car and helped pay for upkeep, then I could drive it as my own.
I spent a lot of time in that car driving around my town, always bouncing from one place to another, or just to drive. I loved driving. No one could find me on the road, I didn’t have to answer my phone on the road. I was in constant motion, alone with the stereo.
In the winter of 2011 though, the car became my recluse cave. I didn’t want to be around my friend. I couldn’t stay still in my room, sitting in stagnance, not involving myself, not embracing what the world had to give me. I had to at least be moving, so I drove.
I don’t remember leaving the house that day. I don’t remember who I talked to that day. I feel like I couldn’t remember anything from these days. I can hardly even remember what I was listening to that night. If anything, I always associate my time with music, but not this time. All I can remember is what I saw and my unnerving recollecting. I only remember feeling.
The clouds were thin and the stars were bright behind them, it was regularly clear winter night. The moon hung crescent between the trees as I drove east on Old Warren Road – a road that was part of my usual route.
I knew this road like the back of my hand. It was about two miles long, and I recognized every marker on it.
Burleigh Park came first on the right; the camp where I spent so many of my elementary summers. I remember playing the bongos behind the pavilion. I can still taste the chips on my ham and cheese sandwiches. I remember trying to hang with the older kids by the big rock. They didn’t really want to hang out with me, so I made my own friends. I had my own crew. I ran the place by the time I was the older kid.
Next, Katy Lane was up a little ways on the right. It was a new cul-de-sac development on an otherwise pretty barren stretch of street. My best friend growing up, Josh, wanted to build a house for him and his fiance on this development. I took a ride up there with him one day the previous summer. We scaled the mini mountain to where he wanted to build. We stood there in the setting August sun. I listened to him as he had it all planned out. I realized then that he was going to be alright.
He was my brother, and I was proud of him.
St. John Street was up on the left. I remember the night I spent there with Hannah. She was the leader of the older kids from the rock. I thought I loved her that night. Hannah had a boyfriend; he was an old friend of mine. I was drunk.
What the hell was I doing there?
More importantly, why was I with her?
I remember my friend trying to convince us that I should drive. We held trial to see who actually should. It came up even. I drove. I remember her car, it was a blue Liberty, and she called it Blueberry. I took the left onto Old Warren from St John, the same road I was currently driving.
All I could smell was the scent of her cinnamon gum. We pulled onto our old pull over spot on Route 67. We sat on her car next to the river. We spent hours there. I remember her smile. I remember the texture of her neck and the smell of her hair that would get in my way. She had me in her clutches. Her purple blouse was stunning, folded over on itself on the backseat.
What was I doing there? I had no place being there.
The memory held my attention hostage and hooked my eyes just enough to miss the fast-approaching stop sign at the last downhill swerve of the road.
The air pierced my skin and hooked my bones. It almost rivaled the force of my own self-loathing. In a moment of space and time, located at the bottom of the hill, there laid a slippery patch. A patch covered and iced over by atypical teenager fits of confusion and discontent towards how unfair life seemed to be.
I slammed the brakes but they gave out under the pressure. I’m missing, I’m slipping. I remember the sound of the guard rail ripping at the hand of my front bumper, the branches cracking around the windows and frame of the car.
I remember the feeling of weightlessness as I passed the initial tree and rock. I remember the crash into the water, feeling the pressure against my face. I felt the tacks against my skin, I can’t remember if it was the cold water or the pieces of windshield. I remember wishing I was somewhere else. I remember thinking about family.
Would they be able to find me?
And in that moment of inquiry, everything went warm and dark.