Your roared up the driveway, as usual, your car announcing it’s presence long before it was seen. I could have heard it when you passed the library, or even as it idled at the intersection nearly a quarter-mile away if I were really listening for it. And I was, as usual. You had driven your car with a hole in it’s muffler for over a month, and seemed to enjoy the attention it brought you. It perpetuated your image of an edgey,fringey, cool guy who always had money for a ball game, a concert or spur-of-the-moment road trip, but never enough to keep a car running well just before the point of breaking down.
I leapt off the back steps the moment I saw the dark green pointed hood over the dull chrome bumper. I shouted, “Bye!” into the kitchen and didn’t wait to hear if my mother shouted “Bye!” back. I had the feeling she was grimacing as she heard your car pull up. I saw her face when I told her my plans for the night. She thought I didn’t notice, but I just pretended not to notice.
Over the sound of the chugging engine came piercing wails from the portable tape player you kept in the front seat; no car stereo. This summer the same tape played over and over. It was a band from New York city, a band you discovered in your travels. You were the inside scoop on this band, they were on the verge of fame: they got a record deal on the same night at the same club as Blondie and the Talking Heads. According to you, they wanted it on their terms, so they were somewhat of an obscure fame–making them even cooler. I wouldn’t dare call you a groupie, although your behavior and devotion to that tape defined you as such. You played the tape over and over and over. I knew all their songs by heart now, and took your word for it that the music was good, although the lead singer sounded like she was screaming into a tin can after inhaling a full helium balloon.
I opened the heavy creaking door of your decrepit car and hopped in. You began backing down the driveway before I could swing the door shut, and the momentum of backing up caused the door to swing open again. I gained control with both hands and slammed it hard. A weak shut would make need for several slams before the latch held, usually bringing forth your impatience or more lately, anger at my inabilities. By now I knew the vagaries of my side of your car.
“Hi!” I was beaming at you, excited. We were headed to the Boston Commons for a concert. I was thrilled to be going with you. I dressed for the evening in the style of the day: black, pegged jeans, a neon-bright shirt with dozens of snaps on it and bright green plastic shoes. I felt cool, I wanted to look hip and older. I wanted you to be impressed with me instead of off-handed and bored, as you always acted except when we were alone. You were dressed in tight, torn dungarees and a tee-shirt. Powder blue Converse sneakers were on your feet. (What a strange color for you I always thought that when I saw them on your huge feet.)
Half-way down the driveway, with you already tapping and lost in your helium girl, my father pulled in. There was a stand off for about two seconds, then you put your car into drive. My father put his VW van in reverse, at the same moment and you were both going in opposite directions. When your realized what was going in, you muttered, “Christ”, and slammed into reverse.
“No, wait, let him pull up,” I said. You looked over at me for a second, your thoughts unreadable to me then you pulled all the way up the driveway. My father had figured it out and roared up behind us, parking his VW in it’s regular spot.
I leaned out my window and said, “See you later, Dad!” as he climbed down out of the van, his linen pants looked driven in.
“Where are you off to?” He had a pleasant face and alert blue eyes. He leaned in and said a hello to you. He smelled wonderful; warm, the heat of the afternoon drive made his clothes smell freshly ironed. There were traces of morning aftershave underneath his comfortable, clean smell.
“We’re going to a concert on the Common. The Thompson Twins!” I practically gushed.
“Well, I don’t believe I am familiar with that particular group of musicians,” (my father would always say something like that and I could feel you roll your eyes) “but have a good time. Watch out for the loonies, and wear your seat belt.”
You did not have yours one, I don’t think you ever had yours on. I dutifully clasped mine in his presence, as you began noisily backing down once again. My father waved and you tooted back. We roared away way too fast and I sensed your absolute aversion to even simple, basic pleasantries with my father. I knew my father must be aware of it as he stood at the top of his driveway, waving anyway because that is what polite people do, as he watched one of his daughters speed off.
There had been a time you liked my family. You talked to my parents as if you valued your time with them and enjoyed their company. That was before we began our…”thing”. You went from a friend of the family to an older guy who seemed to have a “thing” for their middle daughter. Because I lied about where I was going most of the time we went out, they had no clue how deep this “thing” really was. But this “thing” brought your deep, loathing resentment toward my parents, separated me from them. The closer we got, the more you voiced your dislike toward my family. It bewildered us all. It bothered my parents and they did what most well-bred people do in uncertain circumstances: kept up polite appearances.
Nothing could be pinned on you as far as impropriety. I lied about my whereabouts when I was with you, I confided in no one, not my sisters, not my best friends, as you instructed. If we were to keep our special, destined love, we could share it with no one. This being my first encounter with what I believed was love, and given my unshaken faith in your insights, I went along with everything you asked.
There was no conversation between us whenever we drove. This date into Boston was no different, although it had been over a week since we’d seen each other. You had the tape player turned up a loud as it would go and you were singing along with the strained pitch of Helium Woman. The summer evening had taken on a balmy feel and the haze made all that was around us brighter yet softer. I reached out to take your hand, you gave mine a quick squeeze and let go. You asked how I was doing and how was it going. I said I was fine, everything was fine. Conversation was strange and forced. I wanted to be engaging and interesting but my words dropped like lead from my mouth.
The image of my father stayed with me as we drove. He never said much to me about you. The one time he did say something, it was all wrong. You had been away. Our secret put you in questionable light if you stayed. You were in a position where you would have to answer to your employers and to my parents if we kept on sneaking around. Some space and time would be best. If we lasted, we could become real. You did the noble thing and volunteered to the country for a year. Your isolation in an impoverished city working with illiterate poor deepened your committment to us. We lived for each others letters, which were voluminous in content and frequency. Toward the end of your duty, on a trip to New York City, you discovered the band and seemed to not need my letters, my committment or my love. My purpose became very minor after that, but I was devoted and unwavering to you. By that time, you were all I had. My friends had moved on, I was a loner and depended on your return.
You came back from your year away a different person than who I remembered or wanted. My expectations were centered around your fevered, lonely letters from a poor city when I must have been a holy grail to you. I think when you discovered the band, a whole new world with new people opened and you didn’t have as much need for me. I’m just not sure why you hung on, except when we were alone.
I visioned your return to me, I saw us embracing at the airport and the start of a new us, not two people sneaking around because they shouldn’t be together, living for stolen moments and telling lies about where I was. I spent the day in the agony of anticipation of the moment of your arrival. Our plan was for you to call when you landed, and I would pick you up. When you called late that afternoon from your parents house and told me you had just awoken from a nap, I was stunned. Then you said you didn’t know when you could see me because your teaching class was starting that very evening. I was shattered. I could not believe you had been less than two miles away, napping, while I thought you knew I was dying to see you. And then your off-handed uncertainty of when we would “get together” after your year away, your letters of undying love, longing and loneliness. I broke down and you relented. You would see me late, after your class.
My father saw my face after that call. He asked if you were back and raised his eyebrows when I said I’d see you later. He was there in the when you came to pick me up and greeted your return warmly, welcomed you back. You looked so different, ragged and hostile. your eyes darted around as you stood on the threshold of our house, not venturing further. We left quickly and I returned too soon to have gone anywhere but where we had gone. My father still sitting at the kitchen table, waiting, he knew. My mouth looked bruised, I felt drained and numb. When I walked in, he got up and hugged meand called me his beautiful child, such a beautiful girl and he hated to see you treat me this way.
That memory made me sad, but it surfaced everytime I saw you and my father together. Only now were were doing something real, normal and I didn’t want to feel sad. We were at the start of a real beginning and things would evolve as they should.
Traffic was heavy and you were traveling in the left lane, passing many of the cars. You had a way of driving that you believed gave you the power to speed without getting caught. You had sent out your probe, as you called it. You would find a speeding car, and keep it with in your sight. As long as the probe didn’t get pulled over, you’d keep up with it, going the same speed. “There’s the probe!” you’d announce, and the trip would be underway.
I brought my Thompson Twins tape and asked if you wanted to listen to it. You said, “Nah”. You told me to turn over helium girl (although you never ever referred to her as such) when it was done. Sometimes you would talk about going to see that band, or the lead singer in particular. You would tell how she would do something neat with her wrist at a certain phrase and that her wrists were so thin. I’d look at my own wrists and they did not look thin at all. As a matter of fact, they looked as though they had somehow swelled into wrists of a sixty year-old washer woman. Suddenly I was dying for thin, reedy, bird-like wrists. I was jealous of your munchkin-voiced singer. You talked about her a lot and I wondered what went on between you two when you wneto down to New York. I asked you once, and you laughed and said, “HER?”
The traffic on the highway had smoothed out and your probe was keeping a steady speed while you kept your distance behind it. A car pulled up beside us on the right, but instead of passing, it stayed with us. I looked over. It was a black Porsche 944, bullet sleek and clean. I guessed the driver would pass on the right because you always held the left lane when you found your probe. If someone wanted to pass you, they had to go to the right. I looked into the car expecting to see mirrored glasses in front of a fed-up, arrogant driver, flipping you the bird for not moving your hunk of junk out of the speed lane so he could pass. Instead, I saw a young handsome face with a sweet smile, gazing right at me. I quickly looked away. I glanced over at you, but you were concentrating on your probe and humming along with your singer. I looked back at the black Porsche, still at your side, with the driver still smiling at me.
So I smiled back and immediately looked ahead again. Could this be happening? You were oblivious to what was transpiring. The ebony car edged up and the driver leaned forward to catch my eye again. I smiled once more and felt my face turn beet-red. He raised his fingers on the steering wheel and gave a small wave. My eyes widened and I looked around to see who else he could be waving at. He kept his car in it’s spot and waved again with his whole hand. I almost laughed out loud. I shot a glace over to you, tapping away on the steering wheel, lost in your song. You really seemed quite preoccupied, so I turned back to the Porsche and gave a little wave. The driver’s whole face lit up. He gave me a huge smile and edged the Porsche up to nearly even with your car.
I became very aware of the awful racket coming from your car when I heard the smooth hum of the Porsche. I nearly felt embarassed, but shrugged it off, this wasn’t my car. The driver was almost even with me at this point. He grinned and raised his eyebrows a couple of times. He was much younger than you and looked so fresh and clean-shaven. I shook my head at him and stared down the highway for a few seconds.
Suddenly your treasured singer sounded like a desparate chipmunk squawking about lost love. It dawned on me that every single one of the songs on the tape was about heart ache or heart break. I wondered how old Ms. Helium managed to have so many misfortunes in love. I pondered your role, if any, in her many anguishes. You certainly had the disappointing capacity to fit her bill, as you managed to often disappoint me, however your behavior was more subversive, and you often left me feeling the way you treated me was somehow my fault.
I took a side-long glance to see if the Porsche was still there, thinking it was gone as I was lost in my self-pity about you. It was still there, the driver smililng my way when I looked over. I smiled back. Was he in your blind spot? You had no clue what was going on beside you, it was like my side of the car, me included, did not exist. I leaned my arm on the open window and rested my chin on my shoulder to see the driver better. He pointed at me then at himself and raised his eyebrows. I scowled, then smiled and shook my head. He pointed at me again, then pointed to the empty seat next to him. I must have looked surprised or possibly game for that prospect because he beamed and patted the seat. I leaned out of the window as though I was inspecting the seat, although I really couldn’t see a thing because the wind was whipping my hair into my eyes. I leaned back in, smirked and gave a shrug. His shoulders collapsed and he looked pained. He poined to himself, then to me with a hopeful look on his face. I pointed to myself then over to you. His car edged forward as he strained to look around me to see you. When he did see you, his face registerd surprise, then offense. He pointed in your direction with disdain and gave the thumbs-down. He pointed to the front of your car, then back to you and shook his head. Then he pressed his hand to his chest and nodded. His hand gestured to me and back to his chest three more times while he nodded. I stared at him, I am certain, with my mouth hanging open. Since your return, you had not given me the slightest hint that I was beatiful or worthy. My self-esteem did not allow me to believe this incredible young man.
You once told me a funny story about a pathetic friend of yours wh had terrible luck with women. Ray, this friend, could never have a successful date. He forgot the name of one woman as he was on her front steps, he crashed into a stop sign helping another date fasten her seat belt, and the worst of all was the time his date hopped into another guy’s car while he was filling his tank at a self-serve gas station. I laughed along with you telling this story about the loser Ray, watching his date roar off in another guy’s car, both of them waving out the window, leaving Ray in the dust while gasoline spilled out onto his suede shoes.
Could I see this happening to you? Would I ever put you in that position? Would you stand there, like Ray, slack-jawed, or would you leap into your heap and tear off after us? I saw violence. I didn’t see the impossibility of your car ever catching up with a brand new Porsche.
We were passing rest stops and Burger Kings every few miles. What if I just asked you to stop? Said I needed to go to the bathroom. My friend in the Porshe would follow me in, we would formally introduce ourselves, then I would leap into his sleek, black Porsche…off into the sunset.
What would you do? How long would you wait before you tried to find me? Would you call the police and report me as a missing and assumed kidnapped person? Would you be frightened for me, anguished over what happened, wring your hands and weep helplessly? Somehow I couldn’t see that. If there was to be a story about this, I saw you on the front page, looking steely and reserved while you related the disappearance of your young friend. You would get sympathy and support while I would become the object of ridicule for my antics. How did I manage to turn my adventure around to having you become the sad hero, while my actions reflected buffoonery and carelessness?
I looked over to the driver of the Porsche. He still smiled and looked hopeful. I shook my head. He pointed to you and I shrugged and nodded. I frowned, shook his head no and then pointed again at you as if to say, “THAT guy??” I nodded again yes, that guy. I just wanted him to pull away. What I was doing was wrong. No it wasn’t wrong, this young man seemed right but it was impossible.
We were coming up to a toll booth, almost in Boston. You cut the wheels to the right. You believed the tolls were faster on the slow lanes because everyone else tried to go to the fast lane on the left. You cut off the Porsche, but never even looked or put on your blinker. He had to slam on his brakes and we both stared at each other in shock. I thought he would hate me, but he just smiled at me and shook his head. I waved not thinking you would wonder what I was up to. He fell behind your car and drifted over to the left, out of my sight.
You paid the toll. The Porsche came through on the left, at the same time. So much for your theory. I was looking over at him, you were driving off to the right, entering Boston. He stepped on the accelerator and suddenly the Porsche took off. He cut you off, no blinker, like you, but blew me kiss as he flew by.
“Whoa,” you said. You waved your two hands at him, almost as if casting a spell. “Way to go, Hot Shot! What a fag!”
The Porsche, in a matter of just a few seconds, seemed miles away. The driver didn’t see any of your posturing or gesturing at him, he was disappearing. He couldn’t be your probe because you never would have been able to catch him.