By Eduard Tatomir
There are two ways I use my car — when I have somewhere I need to go, and when I don’t.
I find the latter to be more fun.
It’s Friday. I’m home alone, my headphones in with nothing playing. It’s harder to think when there’s something distracting my brain, but even harder to find a song that doesn’t bring up old feelings of him. When he was happy, sad, dancing, or crying. It all reminds me of him.
My leg’s bouncing; another by-product of the restless mind. How do I make it stop? Just put your hand on it, I tell myself. Force it if you have to.
This book isn’t all that interesting. That movie’s already tired. How many seasons? Oh who cares, I’ve seen them all. Twice. There’s nothing new. Nothing to do. I feel completely stuck.
It’s back. The bouncing. Gradual at first, but now it’s both of them. Cross your legs, that oughta do it.
Scrolling, scrolling, stop. What’s that? Another photo of them smiling. Who’s them? Anyone. Everyone. They’re all happy, somehow. What’s their secret? I need to know. What do they know that I don’t? What do they—?
OW. My knee hit the underside of my desk. I can’t do this. I need to go. Where? I don’t know. Anywhere but here.
I grab my keys, take a sweater, and just drive. If I had someone to explain myself to, I would tell them that I just want to get some fresh air and clear my head. The truth is I really need to get out and feel the tires glide along the asphalt with no one around to slow me down. I need to blast some music and scream-sing to it on an empty street. I need to absorb the nightlife and admire the neon signs before dawn comes and it’s all routine again. This is unscheduled. This is abnormal. This is the kick you give the vending machine that jolts it back into place.
This is necessary.
The sun has long set and the moon is out for the graveyard shift. I’m cold, but I know the warmth will come. I’m barely breathing, but I know the air will fill my lungs. I’m exhausted, but I know happiness will ensue.
I’m sure of it.
I let my foot rest on the gas and leave everything behind. The car is lighter. I am lighter.
Music that doesn’t come to me can be brought to me. If I can’t think of a single song that will make the edges soften, it’s only because I’m the one that chooses. It needs to be picked for me, and who better than a late night FM DJ?
I scan the channels and find one that matches the night. The host has a warm-hug-from-behind voice and a caring attitude. There’s only good vibrations on this station. This is my home now. My hands melt with the steering wheel as I let the smooth bass wash over me and I forget where I am, driving down an empty street I’ve never seen before. I’ve unlocked a new part of this big city and made it even bigger. You’re welcome, world. Something new for you to explore, too.
Things get louder when I eventually reach the epicentre of madness that is a Friday night out on the town. I turn down my volume because theirs is turned up. I hear clubs and bars blasting their own heavy beats as I drive by — even through rolled-up windows I can make out the words.
They all reminded me of him.
My heart was pounding in my ears and I could feel my lungs get smaller. The glowing signs I’d come to love most about the nighttime shine so bright, I have to squint. There are too many memories here.
This isn’t what I need.
I drive until I am away from home, away from the city, away from the buildings and the bike racks and the streetlights. I see endless forests and billboards and water. The radio can’t pick up my favourite station anymore, my home left far behind. I am running out of gas; this baby can go over ten miles on empty, I just didn’t realize I’d reached the ninth mile already.
A gas station off a highway exit is the only sign of life around. I pull in and fuel up, a full tank this time. Who knows how far I intend to go tonight.
I swipe my card to pay, my heels bouncing off the ground. I get an error code. I swipe again. Error. Swipe. Error. Fine, I’ll try a different card. I swipe.
All the air leaves my body. I kick the gas pump as hard as I can, then I do it again, and again. I punch and yell and scream at the thing until I fall to my knees. I’m sweaty despite the cold and I’m angry despite the drive. The screen doesn’t change, the same error message stares back at me.
Have you ever seen a vending machine magically work after someone kicks it? Me neither. Nothing ever jolts back into place. It doesn't work like that.
I don’t know why I thought getting in my car and driving to god knows where would make me happy or fix my problems. I can run pretty fast and at night, I can drive even faster; but no matter where I go, I take it all with me. I’m not actually lighter.
It’s time to go.
I pay at the cashier and I head home, no music this time. It’s all mechanical now. But when I look out the window, I catch a glimpse of the city and see a version I didn't know existed. A version that’s so far, and so small. I never thought I would think of our big city as small... but here it is. I can fit it in the palm of my hand. All the lights, they’re not so blinding. All the sounds, they’re not so deafening. It’s just right.
I sit on the hood of my car with a sweater wrapped around me until I realize the dawn’s starting to creep in. The routine and the schedule of the world is coming back, the appeal of the night leaving with the sunrise. Even though the drive didn’t go as planned, at least I’m able to sit here — no boredom, no anxiety, no leg bouncing — and enjoy the view.
I said there’s two ways I use my car; when I have somewhere to go and when I don’t.
Turns out I lied.
Even when I think I have nowhere I need to go, I always do; I just haven’t found it yet.