For over a decade, I’ve been driving over the same streets, which is almost as long as I’ve known you. I’ve had two cars, four car accidents, and three tickets since I’ve known you, too.
I’m sitting in a 1930’s Sears catalog Dutch house in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania (formally, Bessemer) thinking about you. “I think he loved me at his capacity,” Stephanie is saying to me. Emphasis on the word capacity. By he, she means, Ben. By Ben, I mean her ex-boyfriend. Ben, yes, the love of her life for a good chunk of her early mumblings on this great land. She is seated on her green couch, the same couch that we moved in the August heat from B1 to K1. I used to feel so sad leaving her. All those times I drove south to Charleston and walked around Queen Street with Adam (head in the air the whole time, just staring at everything) and zipping in and out of galleries, always left me to deal with the consequences of a long, lonely drive home. I will just think about it and sort that shit out on the drive home. I will be seated on a couch somewhere staring out of a window on the cusp of the next great thought that let’s me escape this. I’ve heard it said before that an old friend is like a mirror into your own existence. This works, except that makes it sound more cliché and almost more poetic than I want it to sound. I want it to read like this: the way an old friend is like a fun-house mirror into your own life, with scrambled egg arms and simultaneously discernible features (“Those look like legs?”). This visit to Pennsylvania was different. I didn’t feel as sad as I normally do when I was leaving.
Stephanie and I are the eavesdroppers of this world. We break all of the sounds apart and make new ones for ourselves. We are late to everything. Our lateness is velvet, of the Lisa Frank variety. Adam calls us fashionably late but “fashionably late” is a laughable understatement of the finesse we possess within the category of lateness.
In fact, on this last visit, we were running late to the airport known as the LBE (formally, Latrobe). You’ve probably heard of it. Those letters, I’m sure, must render the same sparkly imagery that “LAX” conjures up for people. Anyway, Stephanie and I were driving to this airport. My flight was leaving in roughly two hours and we were about an hour and twenty minutes away. The tolls kept stopping us and we kept right on joking about fantasies of speeding through the EZ pass lane with the rustbelt Sheriffs flying after us in their old Crown Vic’s. Instead, we dropped our quarters into the cash lanes and got sucked back into the lull of tiny little acceleration vibrations from the car. I DJ’ed Damien Jurado songs and put on make-up. I tucked my hair under my beanie a little tighter than usual.
When we finally got to the airport, I could see all two of the LBE’s gates. My plane was half the size of the airport and looked like some white monstrosity ready to engulf the whole building. It’s still parked. I have time. My heart was panicking. “We should walk a little faster to get inside,” I tell Stephanie. “I’ll wait until you take off, don’t worry,” she says to me, waving her hand. Of course, a family of four—complete with little babies with underdeveloped motor skills—managed to jump ahead of me in line. These little babies and their terrible motor skills were crawling all over the velvet ropes and making weird noises. Stephanie is standing behind me, behind the velvet ropes. Despite the babies, I managed to tip-toe enough to get a clerk’s attention. I explain that I am checking in to my flight which will be leaving in thirty or forty minutes. “I’m sorry your plane has already left,” the clerk says to me. I turn around and look back at Stephanie, all wide-eyed and horrified. “It couldn’t have left. I just saw it parked at the gate still,” I pleaded. She rolls her eyes and says “Well, our company policy clearly states to arrive at least two hours before your flight.” “Two hours?! TWO HOURS? I have gotten through Myrtle Beach’s airport, which is twice the size, in easily thirty minutes.” I catch myself being rude so I change my tone to something pleasant and nice. “Haven’t you ever been late to something before?” I ask her, earnestly. Stephanie has already started walking off. She grabs an airport security guard and some TSA agents and begins the sob story.
We are pulling out names from our mental rolodex of fame. This would work in most scenarios, only our rolodex is not that impressive. I can tell by Stephanie’s sighs and quick twitches that she is preparing to perform something she considers to be southern gentile, but actually seems more debutante in action. “I am from the Liesen family, you know, Lisen’s Pizza, and we had a funeral this week and we did not know that Latrobe was so far away…” she is kind of telling the truth. I follow her lead. She is laying on the southern accent a little thicker than I can. “I work with the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Committee and I worked with many of the resorts to coordinate with airlines, including yours, on flight patterns to Myrtle Beach.” I garbled all of that out in one fantastic sentence. Is this what happens when girls from the south are brought to strange parts of the United States, like Penguin Country?
I boarded the plane. We narrowly escaped our own desertion by selling the fantasy. Replaying the last hour or so in my head, I forgive the little babies bumbling around in front of me in line earlier. It took me a few weeks to internalize but I realize I wasn’t as sad leaving her because I know that our rythms and sounds bounce back to the same note sometimes. Clink. Clink. We make our own sounds, even if that sound is cacophony to the rest of the world, it’s music to us. I started giggling to myself in a room full of strangers thinking about Stephanie, my best friend, throwing a fit to get me on the plane (take all the pizza away, that will put them in check). See? Fun-house mirror.
I’ve had four jobs since I’ve known you. You called me once when you were in Louisana and I answered it at the exact same time as I was pulling into my parking spot. I only heard your voicemail. I was going to wait tables at a restaurant that’s since closed. I was late to work that day.
When I finally got ahold of you this past year, (I mean in the new year, after Christmas) I was pulling into a parking spot to catch up with some friends. Instead, I stayed outside in my car to talk to you. I was late to dinner that night.
The flirtation is supposed to be the crescendo–the apex, the turning point, the whatever–in classical music, right? I broke my phone and booked a flight to Pennsylvania. After the crescendo, the notes slowly dissolve into silence (if you didn’t know that already, but I think that’s what usually happens).
In my head it all plays out with a vanilla envelope. I will clip all these leaky pages together using a clip from the law firm I now work at. And then these pages will materialize into something, like a music box or a broken clock, in my hands. The invisible grinding sound of paper on paper will make a small buzz that you will decipher and it will be much like a song that only you can play. The hot, white LED burning up all my rods and cones (formally, MacBook) will finally have a justification for all it’s stupid, stupid. It’s all pretty resplendent, isn’t it?
I know that there are hard divides between reality and fantasy. I know that dichotomies exist because our brains are too tiny to comprehend anything other than the yins and yangs of this world. What I know the best, is the way you choose both. You get to keep on choosing, but I can’t be late to work or dinner anymore.
I don’t know what it means to love someone at a certain capacity because I was always taught that love was bottomless and eternal and timeless. Mostly I just don’t know. Mostly I am just here to learn.
So I’m back to driving in the same city. Yesterday, on my way home, I passed two pieces of construction safety tape, some kind of convulsing orange color, caught up like a piece of trash in the trees and leaves. The tape had both tails mangled on the same electric line. It won’t be long before time or rain or some passerby finds the proper home for these pieces. How out of place, some stranger thinks, or this belongs here, another passerby thinks. Before you know it, the fluorescent orange pair gets rehoused and the sublime is parked again. Sometimes, I think that this is the way it really is between you and me.