This wouldn’t work. We both knew it, but it was still so easy to get attached. Even though we hardly had any time at all. We used every second we had, milked it for all it was worth. For some reason we had convinced ourselves that we could make it longer, that somehow we were above everything else this world had ever seen and that we could make it because we were somehow a magical duo that could make miracles happen.
You see, we thought, “Hey. Opposites attract so we should work.”
I’m loud but I used to be quiet, and you’re quiet but you used to be loud. You liked pop songs with the occasional rap, and I liked indie with touches of electronic. You liked band-tees and jeans, while I liked tank tops and sweatpants.
Okay, I realize that we’re not perfect opposites, but if I’m headed north, you’re going west. We’re not exactly different, but we’re clearly not the same. We just know that we didn’t start heading the same direction and we’re certainly not going to the same destination. If I’m being honest, I’m not going to plead for you to come with me, or ask if I can come with you. We’re just not meant to do this together and that’s fine.
The awful part of it is, though, that we more or less got attached. We may not be headed for the same spot, but somehow, on the criss-crossing roads of this country, our cars began to move at the same speed as you passed my on-ramp and my car was thrown into the same herd as the one you were traveling with.
And at some point, either you or I ran out of gas at the same the other one decided they needed a cheap pop or a candy bar or maybe a cigarette. We took the same exit, one of us found the gas station and the other followed. You went into the store first, and I followed a few seconds later.
I remember being struck by how pedestrian you looked. I’m on the road a lot, and usually the people you see look somehow . . . bizarre. Hell, I’ve seen my car; there’s old food wrappers and costumes and papers and a work uniform scattered everywhere in my car except the driver’s seat. But you looked so normal, especially compared to me in my cosplay, headed straight from a convention on a long car ride home.
You looked at me like I was a fairy . . . or a mad witch, more like. But I brought a smile to your face and that somehow that gave me the courage to wink at you. This forced a chuckle from you, even though you looked deadass tired at approximately three in the morning when we were just outside of Abilene, Texas.
You got back in your big rig and I followed you back to the highway. We were alone with only each other, ourselves and the hosts on the everchanging radio stations. I remember that at one point we were on the same station, and I could tell because you rolled your windows down and sang along, horribly, to whatever shitty pop song the radio was trying to bring back from the previous year. I don’t remember the name of the song, but I rolled my windows down too and joined in on the fun. After the song ended, we didn’t know what to do, so we both rolled our windows up. It was cold out, after all, and my costume didn’t even let me wear a full shirt.
A few more towns and the Texas-Oklahoma state line later and we were in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. I started to get in the turn lane, planning to stop and rest for the night. It was only when I began to press on my brakes that I realized you had moved over two lanes to get behind me. Now it was you following me to the crappy hotel that cost forty-nine dollars a night per room.
I parked in the front. No one appeared to be crowding this place and the front of the lot was almost completely open. You had to park your truck in the back. By the time I had my room key, you were inside and standing behind me, waiting your turn. I was in the elevator, bag in hand, when I heard you tell the receptionist, “Just give me the room next to her.” I’m pretty sure you heard my laughter from down the hallway.
I dropped my backpack on my bed and propped my door open with one of my shoes. I heard the door next to me open and close. I thought you were just ignoring me, but a minute later I saw you, in your pajamas, push my door open and laugh. I smiled at you, my legs swinging back and forth as I sat on the bed. You just flopped down next to me as I turned on the TV to some shitty Hallmark movie that was playing.
I changed into my pajamas and took off my wig and make-up. You gasped, teasing me, when I came back looking like a completely different looking person.
“Possibly your most daring look of the night,” you had told me. I just elbowed you and told you to shut up, the movie was on and we were missing it. Though, we laughed . . . because the movie was worth missing.
Instead we played those weak party games you’re supposed to play at sleepovers when you’re a kid. You later told me you never had. I’d only played them with coworkers on slow nights. But, as it turned out, ‘Would You Rather’ and ‘Truth or Dare’ and ‘This or That’ were really fun, especially at about 11:30, when you had been driving since the same time but a day in the past and hadn’t slept at all.
You ended up falling asleep in my room. Your room was just a wasted forty-nine dollars and a cubby hole for your duffle bag. Instead, we slept together, curled up on the floor in front of the TV, kept warm by only the blanket you had brought in from the cabin of your truck and by each other’s almost fever-high body temperature.
You were warm because of some sickness you had picked up somewhere back in your hometown that was somewhere more south than Austin, and I was warm because of a sunburn I had picked up while outside in the courtyard of the convention center. Even like this our warmth was somehow a blessing even though we both woke up at some point during the night, sweating, to take off the blanket and turn on the weak fan.
The next morning, we exchanged phone numbers and headed back to the road. But now no music blared through the radio. We had each other on a video call, phones resting against our dashboards, camera at a really unflattering angle for both of us. But still we talked, laughed and told each other about where we were headed. I still feel sad that you didn’t say the same place as me. Still, we stopped at the same gas station to get lunch: a cheap coffee and a lunchable for you, a cup of soda and a bag of gummy worms for me.
I laughed at how you ate two stacks of cracker, meat and cheese at one time. You laughed at how I had to chew really hard to separate the partially stale worms into pieces. You burnt your tongue on the coffee. I choked on a small piece of ice. We shook our heads at each other and got back in our cars.
We must’ve looked weird. An eighteen-wheeler and a Volvo with no port for an aux cord. Maybe we were both just kinda old school like that.
By the time we reached Westville, I could’ve sworn we had maybe met when we were a couple years younger, then you moved and we had just forgotten about each other and now we had somehow met again. You just felt so comfortable, like the blanket that I now knew was in your passenger seat.
Between 5:45 to 6:30 at the latest, we had reached the border of Kansas and I was so close to home and I could tell. By all three: the scenery, the drop of my heart into my gut, and the fact you were growing quieter. By the time we were in Independence, we were back to making deep small-talk, like we were convinced that maybe, maybe we could convince each other that we wanted to go in the same direction.
But I knew that West wasn’t home, and you knew that North held nothing for you.
When we reached Iola, I had resorted to telling you all about Kansas City, about how much I loved it, about how much you would love it. You started telling me about California, how much prospect it held, how good I could do there.
The next half hour we was spent in silence. But we started laughing together again by Garnett, but by then we only had an hour and fifteen minutes left.
And we filled those precious minutes with everything we could. I bitched about how much I simultaneously love and hate my job, you told me about how you were missing a concert on this trip.
Finally, we reached Kansas City, Kansas. We stopped at a QuikTrip just off the highway. We were both running low on gas, anyway, and even though we were about to be separated, likely to never see each other again, we were both practical people. And this little interaction, whatever it had been, was not enough to stop our lives in our tracks.
We both made light talk as we filled our tanks and went inside to pick up something to eat. I handed you a coffee, and you handed me a bottle of strawberry Fanta. I paid for both of our collective treats, and when you tried to protest, I just hushed you. “You’re going farther than me; you’ll need the gas money later,” I said. You shook your head and rolled your eyes, but you put your wallet away all the same.
I told the cashier I wanted the receipt.Which is weird, because I usually tell them to trash it. I guess I just wanted something to remember you by; some physical proof that all of this happened and that you weren’t just some highway wraith that I had imagined seconds before my own car crash death. But as far as the single piece of evidence hinted, this whole experience had been just as real as I could believe.
And there we stood, you in front of your truck and me in front of my Volvo. We didn’t know how we could or should end this. Hell, we didn’t even know it there was a standard protocol for such unique events like this. But here we were and we’d be damned if we weren’t going to be the first ones to show people how it’s done.
I held my hand out, offering a handshake as a farewell. You laughed and pushed my hand aside before pulling me into a hug. I didn’t even try to resist. I just wrapped my arms around you in return. We pulled apart and looked each other in the eyes.
“You’re sure?” I asked.
“Very,” you said.
“Then I wish the best of luck to you.”
“Right back at you.”
Then we both nodded and you opened the door to your giant monster of a truck, and I got in my mouse of a car. We really must’ve looked like quite the duo, driving everywhere together. But now our number of two would subtract one, and we would each be solo acts again.
We both pulled out onto the street at the same time. I was turning left and you were turning right. I was headed back to my hometown and you were going to turn onto the US Route 50 and take it all the way to California. I’d like to think that the light turned red just for us so we could have those precious thirty seconds.
We wasted the first ten by looking at the traffic. And the next five were spent looking at the light, seeing if it would turn. The next ten we just didn’t make eye contact. Then we finally looked at each other, and I saw you see me. So I did what I thought would make us both feel better. I winked and blew you a kiss. You pretended to dodge it with a disgusted face. It made me laugh. I stuck my tongue out at you in retaliation.
Then the light turned, and I was forced to turn away from you.
But I hope that’s how you remember me: a laugh on my face and my tongue sticking out like a fool. If you do choose to remember me.
I choose to remember you. Something about us changed me; it made me realize just how good the world can be and just how happy other people can make me. In those brief hours together, I think I came to love you, but there was no heartbreak when we parted. Just happiness that for the little amount of time we had together, we were not-quite-perfect together.
You changed me and everything I knew. For that, I thank you.