[Original Novella] The Lonely Road, Part 2
My brain felt fried, and my head felt tightly compressed. I could sense every individual hair poking out of my scalp as the gently recirculated interior air moved through it. I briefly smelled a skunk, traces of the odor carried into the car through the ventilation system.
I heard and felt a low vibration. My right tire, straying just slightly onto the rough strip lining the edge of the road to startle sleepy drivers to wakefulness...before they make an “unplanned off-road detour”.
I shook my head as if to clear it, and sharpen my vision. That’s never worked before. I’m not sure why I thought it would this time. Slow learner I guess. The solid pair of parallel yellow lines dividing the east and west going lanes seemed to fade into nothingness only fifty feet or so ahead of me.
Fog. Thick, nasty, soupy fog which assaulted my windshield as my car plowed through one bank of it after another. I could tell how wet it was by the intermittent increases in interior humidity which followed.
The sort of weather which makes you glad to be inside something warm, dry and relatively watertight. A short rain earlier gave my car a free and thorough washing, but since then the sky seemed to be clearing up. Visibility would be fine if not for this damned fog.
The closest thing to an accident I’ve ever been in happened in fog like this. A heron flew unexpectedly out of the fog, right into my windshield. I didn’t bother to swerve as I figured that would accomplish nothing except to kill me too.
I did pull over to see if the heron survived, however. It lay contorted in a growing pool of blood, some thirty or so feet behind my stopped car. The surprising thing was the neck. Bird necks look so short while they’re alive because most of it’s retracted, hidden amongst their feathers.
Once they’re dead it’s a different story. Their neck goes limp and stretches out so you can see all of it, like a wet noodle. So impossibly long! I’d have preferred to learn about that some other way. There was nothing to be done, death was instantaneous. Some lucky bear or wolf scored a free breakfast that day.
The memory made me suddenly paranoid. I peered at the rear view mirror, expecting another speeder to be bearing down on me from the rear. Of course, nothing. That white sedan was the only other soul I’d seen on this tediously long, wet stretch of highway in the past hour.
I hope he had a better reason than mine to be out here, stuck behind the wheel in the early morning hours. On my way from Michigan back to Colorado following the failure of that damned startup I put everything I had into.
Running back home to Mommy and Daddy with my tail tucked between my legs. An unbearable humiliation after the years of optimistic excitement and back breaking labor that were ultimately wasted. Only when you try to escape the rat race by starting your own business do you discover why more people don’t attempt it.
It’s an excellent way to destroy your finances and waste multiple years of your life. I read somewhere that I ought to shoot for the Moon, because even if I missed I’d at least be among the stars. It never made much sense to me.
If I missed the Moon, I’d just drift helplessly through the endless black void of space until I ran out of oxygen. Not entirely unlike the seemingly endless drive home. Google Maps said nineteen hours, but that assumes no stops.
I could sleep in my car if I had to. I did it before in a Wal-Mart parking lot, on the way from Colorado to Michigan. Before I met Diane. Before everything blew up up my face. Not my proudest moment, but at least I wasn’t hassled by cops. There were dozens of camper vans and trailers parked in the far reaches of the lot as well. Their semi-permanent place of residence, most likely.
I remember waking up to the sound of a couple fighting. The kind of knock down, drag out, ugly fight you only see on either Jerry Springer or C.O.P.S., depending how violent it becomes. A woman in a pink tank top and flip flops, so obese I could only barely discern she was pregnant, stumbled backwards out of a well worn RV.
“That’s what I fuckin’ told you, but you said not to do it!” she bellowed, pointing to an unseen man obscured by the darkness just inside the RV’s door. Incomprehensible male shouting followed. Then there was this elderly woman, stumbling back to her RV with a coffee, a donut and a plastic bag of toiletries. Stuff I’ll bet she bought from the same Wal Mart, every morning.
I soberly reflected on the grim realities of such an existence. Mostly how, if not for unusually patient and supportive parents, I would probably wind up living in a place like that. The back seats of my car fold down nearly flat. I only didn’t sleep back there because I didn’t have any bedding at the time.
I’ve seen plenty of shit on television and social media about how trendy and eco conscious it is to live in a modified van, or tiny home. Basically just a nicer looking trailer. The cynical side of me suspects it’s a propaganda effort, intended by the Rupert Murdochs of the world to make poverty seem more appealing.
As if living in a fancy trailer, or in a vehicle, is a step up in life rather than a step down. Or like the articles you see every so often about how we ought to start eating insects as a more sustainable source of protein. I’ll start eating ‘em when I see rich people doing it, not before.
Misery loves company, right? Yet I found little solace in the notion of a future America paved over with one gigantic parking lot, filled from one horizon to the other by RVs, camper vans and trailers. The working and renting class, suckling desperately like so many skinny piglets at the withered teat of the ownership class, visiting whichever Wal Mart is nearest for their daily gruel.
I banished the thought. Just a fever dream, born of sleep deprivation. I’m not yet beaten, and will never allow myself to fall that far! Diane was right. Planning for failure often precipitates it. The comfier you make your safety net, the more likely you are to make use of it, if only because you get in the habit of viewing it as an acceptable option.
That’s more or less how I wound up out here. Cruising down a barren highway shrouded in thick, wet fog, on my way to move back in with my parents. Perhaps devising a better plan B might’ve been wise. Hindsight is 20/20, except at three thirty in the morning, when your eyes are bloodshot and starting to swell.
I checked the rear view mirror again. This car has massive pillars to either side of the windshield which just exactly block your view of whatever’s coming at you from the opposite direction in a turn. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when the engineers brought that to the attention of their managers.
They must’ve weighed the cost of recall or redesign against the probable cost of lawsuits over the lifespan of that particular model, deciding the latter was more affordable. The kind of ruthless calculation which does not hesitate to assign a specific dollar figure to human lives.
Listen to me. Is it the caffeine? Even weed doesn’t make me this paranoid. All sorts of dark, alien ideas swarm about inside of my skull as I struggle to smoothly follow the curvature of the highway. The white lines are the hardest to see in these conditions, mostly because of how reflective the asphalt becomes when wet.
Though I’d been trying not to wallow in self pity since closing up shop, that proved more easily said than done. There’s this little voice in my head that ridicules me whenever I feel sorry for myself. It sounds suspiciously similar to my Dad. Helpful, most of the time. Tonight it can’t stop me from agonizing over what’s happened though. Mostly because of consequences so plentiful that they didn’t occur to me all at once, but in a staggered fashion.
Every time I realized another way in which my failure to launch would make the coming years brutally miserable, it was like a wound in the process of healing was torn open again. Over and over, the pain of each new realization never diminishing.
Dating. There’s no way I’ll be able to get dates now! A man in his thirties, living with his parents? Forget about it. Never mind the high cost of housing, or stagnating wages. Never mind that more men in my age range are living with their parents than ever before in this country’s history.
When you’re searching for the best you can get, excuses won’t sway you. Even as you curse the unreachably high standards of employers, who want five years of experience and a college diploma for a job stacking boxes in a warehouse, you’re nevertheless exactly as ruthless when screening members of the opposite sex.
Stay Tuned for Part 3!