"On Driving Time" by Shannon Bohnen
It’s been a long day. I feel like I spend most of my time staring at the clock on the dash, willing the digits to flicker in and out of existence. Two hours go by as I slowly whittle down four tacos to their least crunchy bits. They’re always all soggy on the bottom, where the juices have likely had too much time to sit. But I like these best, don’t ask me why. The kind they serve at room temperature, the display models they take down once every hour or so, then stick in the microwave for 10 seconds, and serve them to the only sad sack desperate enough to take them, the only guy they’ve seen in days from their corner of the world in a Taco John’s on the side of the highway.
I am the master of time slain. That’s how you stay sane enough to stave off ego death when you’re traveling alone for months at a time. It’s been so long, I can hardly remember the day I started. All I know now is the road and the friendly and not-so-friendly faces I’ve met along the way. That and the stench of decay, the sticky bathroom stalls of truck stops where you have to pay a quarter to try and rinse the last five days’ stench off your body in the space of five minutes. One minute for each day. That’s what I'm thinking about when I drag the scratchy old loofa across my legs, two balls, two arms, my torso, and my face. Sometimes I forget my back, and that’s a shame. It’s the most important part, seeing as how I’m sitting in the truck all day, sometimes sweating through my shirt and down into the nylon on those dog days of summer.
But we all have our vices, and I’ve got hell to pay for what I did to my wife and boy back in Portland, Maine. Just up and left them. And I can hardly remember their faces. Jack was a scrappy little thing. Wanted to play baseball when he grew up or something. And all that time I was trying to tell him sports aren’t a man’s game. Books. Books’ll take you far. Oh, but he wouldn’t listen. His mom was always filling his head with all these fantasies of her own. About how he was gonna become a star someday. And all I wanted to tell him was that we’re all just regular people. Not to get your hopes up, because we’re nothing spectacular, us Wayans. We just do what we can with what little time we’ve got on this earth, and there’s no shame in that, is there?
But I couldn’t talk to him. I was really too chickenshit of a father to mean anything to anyone in the long run. And she knew it and I knew it and he must’ve felt it, because he’d rarely even take the risk of looking at my face, even when he was unfortunate enough to have to sit in grandpa’s old chair while his favorite one was being repaired. And he broke that thing twice a week, I swear. Man, I hope he’s doing ok.
But here’s me and the road. My quiet old flame. We used to get along so well back in the day, when I’s just gettin’ my chops behind the wheel of my first big rig. She’d stare me down and I’d flut my eyelids back at her, coyly. And we’d go to battle, then at the end of the day we’d lay side by side, completely naked to one another, and she’d hum and I’d coo and it was some other kind of bliss…now she ain’t so friendly. Boiling over with mirages and bones and other meandering and tricksterlike things. I feel tricked. Like I’d been had. Days grew to months without seeing my family and I didn’t much mind back then, but now…now, it’s all hazy. Sometimes I stare so long at the lines that a film comes over my eyes and I don’t know which way is up, until I hear a crow cackling off somewhere in the distance, way up high, and I come to, thinkin’, "Hey, there’s still some life left to live out there there. Someone’s gotta caw and piss and shit and sing and that may as well be me too, friend." I’m free.