“Where we are going is here.”
The statement came out of his mouth so matter-of-factly that Cheryl didn’t even consider the that he’d just thrown a dart at a map of the country. Stephen followed it up with another statement, this one even more unsettling.
“Pack your shit, it’s time to go.”
She blinked at him, temporarily frozen in her surprise. “Right now? Stephen, you can’t be serious. It’s the middle of the night!” The paralysis wore off, and she gestured at the open window next to him.
He turned to regard the twinkling stars and flowing galaxies high above the rooftops of the houses across the street. With a shrug of his shoulders, he turned back to look her in the eye again. “So what?”
She didn’t have an answer for that.
The face-off lasted less than a minute before Cheryl gave in and left the room to pack the few things that she wanted to keep with her on this adventure. Excitement began to blossom deep in her stomach as she zipped the bag closed and trotted back out to the living room. He was standing in the same spot, arms crossed over his barrel chest, staring out the window again.
The dart had fallen from the map and rested on the floor beneath it.
“Stephen,” she began, timidly. “Do you remember where you hit the map?”
He grunted, still standing at the window.
She tried again to capture his attention. “Do you want to throw it again?”
His head straightened abruptly, as though he’d awoken from a deep sleep. “What was that?” he asked, turning to face her. His eyes dropped to the bag in her hand. “Where do you think you’re going?” His eyebrows drew together and that gruffness that she hadn’t heard in so long, that gruffness that she feared so much, crept into his voice.
The bag slipped from her loosened grip to land softly on the carpeted floor. “I-I…you just…nowhere, Stephen.”
His glare softened. “Well, don’t just stand there, Cher, bring it to the truck. We’ve got to get–” he turned to look at the map and noticed that the dart was missing. “Shit. These walls must be too solid. You wanna throw it this time, girl?”
She shook her head, but stepped forward to retrieve the errant dart and pass it to him. He took it from her hand with a caress, and winked at her as he did so. “Let’s go somewhere sunny,” he whispered in her ear. “You look beautiful on the beach.”
He took her in his arm, and as their lips met, he threw the dart again, and it thunked solidly through the glossy paper map and into the plaster behind.
“Southern California, here we come,” he murmured, brushing her hair out of the way with his nose and kissing her beneath her ear, in the spot that made her breathing heavy and her muscles weak. He broke away and slapped her ass. “Pack it up!”
Cheryl ran back to the bag she’d just dropped, and when she straightened, the smile was back on her face.
Tonight I learned that a friend of mine passed away.
Not recently, no; it’s been nearly thirteen years.
When I was nineteen, I met a guy on the Internet. He was driving from Wisconsin to California. I talked him into detouring to Louisiana to pick me up and bring me with him. This was the 90s and we were teenagers; nothing bad could possibly happen. We were invincible.
Which makes what I read today all the more painful. He died in 2003 of sleep apnea, after falling and hitting his head.
We were invincible.
How many times has his spirit graced this blog?
I took a road trip to California with a guy I met on the internet days before. On the way home, his car died and we walked for miles in the middle of the night before a truck driver stopped to give us a ride. With a machete in my pants. Just in case, you know?
I walked three miles along I-10 an hour from El Paso with a machete in my pants at two in the morning because our car broke down (This was the one trip I didn’t make solo.). Who knows what could have happened instead of my first and only ride in an eighteen wheeler?
And dribs and drabs here and there in between.
Like when Mel at Stirrup Queens asked us who we’d like to call that we can’t just pick up the phone and call.
I would like to call the friend I met on mIRC about twelve years ago who took me on his road trip to California. It wasn’t until we were on our way back that I found out why I had to badger him so much to pick me up. He was planning on suicide, but changed his mind when I went. I received a wedding announcement from him almost a year after our trip with a picture of him and his wife, but that’s the last I’ve heard. I hope he’s doing well, and still beating his depression.
Mel and I had an email exchange about my comment, back then in 2011. I dug through my emails for twenty minutes tonight searching for it so I could tell her what I’d learned, with the context.
The whole reason I was determined to find him was my plan to write a memoir about our road trip. And now I have to write it. I have to do it right, and I have to do it well.
I’m sitting here on my brother-in-law’s couch writing this post, and Rammstein comes on: one of the bands in our massive CD playlist from the trip to California.
It’s just–I miss him so much more now that I know I can’t talk to him or send him a Facebook message. It’s so final. I cried for an hour. There’s a hole that I didn’t know was there before.
I’m missing the co-author of the machete in my pants story.