I pushed the white scooter, covered with stickers of flame streaks on either side of its gas tank, as hard as it would go, all the while thinking about how the West had been calling to me all these years. Now, I finally knew why as Highway 5 moved underneath in slow motion, and oncoming headlights appeared like questioning eyes.
I had answers for them, dammit! A purpose, for Christ’s sake! Goddam the American Dream! A girl—this has all been about a girl? It’s not about who she is but what she means.
For more years than I can remember, my life had been a means to an end. I never really knew a “father,” and I always got the sense from Mom that I was more burden than joy.
I came home from school one day when I was 13 or so, and the back door was swinging slightly. I remembered hearing the creak of the spring and a light tapping of the door against its frame eerily echoing across our early 1900’s farmhouse. The insulation was shit, but I don’t remember so much if it was a breeze or the lonely fingers of emptiness slithering around my shoulders with its all-knowing intent. I followed the sound of the door, the silence screaming and my body forgetting to breathe. Outside, clothes and linens hung, snapping and popping on the clothesline from the breeze. Something was odd that day.
I inched down narrowly on chipped concrete steps, three in all, and as I reached the bottom, I could make out a tear of notebook paper, shaped like the edge of a cleaver, clipped under a clothespin that held my favorite shirt. It didn’t really matter what the note said, but it was at that moment that I realized how shitty this world was gonna be.
Then there was Lucy.
The drive up 5 ate away at the remainder of California. I turned my head momentarily to the sky. Stars twinkled in-between clouds like a goddesses’ teardrops as I remembered graduation night. It was a Carolina blue sky; streaks of orange and slivers of pink decorated by puffs of cloud and stars much like these. I was 25th out of 400 and pissin’ in the wind of disappointment my parents had left behind. But there in the stands, more beautiful than any hue of a Carolina summer’s evening, was Lucy. She was my self-esteem.
I shit on her just like I’ve shit on everyone else since.
I tried to drive her away from the disappointment that is me, save her from whatever others see, as to leave me to my own self-pity. It worked.
Still, ever since, I’ve been stuck, much like a grieving widow whose spouse was taken well before it was time. I’ve become a man of patterns, of routines, in hopes that, by not changing myself, I could keep everything else the same.
That’s manic, right?
It took seeing Mongo, and even Fessie, to realize what a shithole I’d dug for myself. If there were regrets, it wasn’t trapped in things like giving students the finger or telling parents that they need to do a better job raising their children—or fingering my roommate’s girlfriend on the AC unit at our apartment while, he wrestled a toilet bowl inside, puking his guts out.
No, definitely no regrets in that.
But the hubris of manhood (always our downfall) thwarted closure at the thought of letting Lucy get away. I throttled the scooter in a high whine, trying to sober myself for the second time in 36 hours. I swore that if the opportunity presented itself, I’d do what it took for closure, no matter the results. In the end, I would be free. And freedom, well, that’s the real American Dream.
Interstate 5 was becoming a bit drizzly and dreary; a cool night with a Pacific chill setting in and a rush of wind that curved over the steering column. It blasted me in the eyes; yet, it was also the only thing keeping them open. Natural adrenaline was long gone, and fatigue cradled my biorhythms, blanked by darkness. The headlights of this machine added very little comfort as edges of the road were blurry and unfamiliar. In my sleepy periphery, I kept imagining dashes and darts, furry little woodland creatures that would test my reflexes and perhaps my ability to fly.
Paranoia became my passenger and the motor whirred as I tweaked the gearshift, trying to get every last drop of energy out of the stolen scooter.
Am I on the run from the law, too? Hell, I don’t know.
I tried to take my mind off it by imagining what Lucy looks like now. I only remember a doe-y, green-eyed girl from 15 years prior. Her skin was pale and creamy like a vampire or the kind one would imagine of an 19th century English dame who lacked sufficient sunlight and nourishment. Her hair was a stark copper that was soft and smelled like safety. I imagined the belly-button ring she’d surprised me with near the end—I had a rush of sensuality in my lower regions, a nervous extension of excitement.
I never like chicks with tattoos. I guess if there were ever a tasteful one, it was the daisy staining Lucy’s left big toe. Dainty and colorful—an expression of her personality.
All of these thoughts, much like the increasing rain, weighed me down, and if it wasn’t for the growing glare of dim lights on a steel road sign I would hardly have noticed that I was leaving California behind and entering Oregon.