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"Dad, I appreciate the advice, but I think I can find a job just fine.."
"I'm just saying! Times may have changed since I was in college, but the ways to impress in an interview are timeless."
David scoffs at his father's "inside scoop" of the employers psyche. The desperate attempts at conversation between the father and son had ranged from cars to movies to girls, but none stuck. The road trip from Birmingham to Charlotte was just too long, and the pair had exhausted all relevant colloquy by hour three. With an hour to go until reaching the hotel, David wished for the seventh time that he would have driven. His father had not left the slow lane once since they set out from UAB. This highly irritated David because he knew for a fact that his father sped like a maniac when he didn't have any passengers. It was as if he needed to set a good example for his twenty-one year old son, or that he only reminded himself of the rules of the road when his baby boy was riding shotgun.
David and his father were driving to Charlotte, North Carolina for a family reunion. It was the first family reunion David had ever experienced, and his mother had told him it was only happening because his grandmother was about to kick the bucket. Charlotte was where most of their family lived, so a hotel convention room had been the decided as the location for the event. David loathed his family. This was not a serious, or even genuine hatred; rather just a hyperbolic annoyance. Regardless, he cheerfully agreed to come when his aunt had called him with the invitation ("Of course I'm coming!"), and gladly confirmed when his grandmother emailed him with a separate invitation (Wouldn't miss it for anything!). All told, he'd gotten four invitations to the same reunion in one day.
David's father had picked him up four hours ago on a beautiful Saturday morning to begin the drive, and they began the five hour journey swimmingly. They talked, joked, and laughed with each other for the first hour. Things took a dip during the second hour when there was only talking and joking that elicited no chuckles. Hour three: "But really, work/school's good?" The final minutes of hour three slipped by, weighed down by painfully self-aware conversation on subjects they didn't fully know about. David mentioned a movie his dad had never heard of. His dad mentioned a piece of global news David wasn't aware of. It was about this time that we join the father and son.
"I hope this thing is fun." David says absently.
"Oh, I'm sure it will be. Your Uncle Phil got some surgery on his knee done, so I think he'll have a cane." David's father laughs at this, which irritates David for no good reason. The senseless laughter, combined with the fact that his father had told David about his Uncle Phil's surgery twice before really sets David over the edge. He slumps down in his seat and sighs just loud enough to warrant nine minutes of silence.
Four hours ago, when David was first picked up, his father had called his mother to inform her that they were getting on the road. David's mother had flown to Charlotte two days ago to see her mother and ensure everything was set up for the reunion. It was cheaper to drive, though, so David agreed to make the drive with his dad. There was a poor connection on the phone call with his mother, and David had turned up the car's audio to it's maximum level so they could hear her on the vehicle's speaker phone. After they had hung up the phone, the two did not touch the car's entertainment center until now.
Just as David is nodding off to sleep, an explosion of sound emanates from the speaker by his foot. He feels the car lurch to the right and hits his head on the passenger window as he sits up. His dad had turned on the radio, which was still set at the loudest volume. Luckily, he had regained control of the car after the shock, and David cranks the dial until the music is almost inaudible.
"Jesus." David says as he rubs his temples.
"I'm sorry. It must have been from-"
"From the call, yeah." David replaces his seat to a normal setting from its horizontal angle, and his dad fiddles with the radio stations.
"Yeah?" David clicks his seatbelt back as he settles and looks out of the window at the trees whipping past.
"I've been meaning to bring this up with you, but I haven't known how." David turns his head to his dad. "I got a call from a woman about three days ago. She told me she was the mother of a student at UAB. A girl who said she was...assaulted. Not seriously enough for any charges, but enough that she felt I should know. I've talked to your mother about it, and we thought this drive would be a good chance for us to talk about this. I mean, what happened David?"
David is looking down at his lap now. His face is pale and his hands tremble. His voice cracks as he speaks. "I didn't assault her. I tried very hard not to, but-"
"No, it...it's not like that. She was cheating on me. Since day one she'd been cheating on me. I was on her laptop for a school thing one night and saw a bunch of...videos that she'd made with them."
"Them?" David doesn't respond. "David what did you do, though?"
"She found out that I knew, and started avoiding me. So I waited for her one night outside of a class, and tried to talk to her. I was so mad, but she wouldn't talk to me. I just wanted an explanation. She started yelling, and I grabbed her arm. She screamed and these guys in her class threw me off of her. She was crying, saying I attacked her." David looks at his dad. "That's all that happened, I swear."
David's father is silent for a while. "I believe you. It's okay, son, and I'm so sorry that happened to you. Obviously the girls mother didn't take her daughter very seriously either if she didn't want to press charges. It'll be okay."
"I know. I just thought we were serious."
"I hate to say it, but you may get that feeling again in life. And again, it may turn out to be a lie."
"That what's the point of it all?"
"Dating?" His father looks over at him momentarily, then turns back to the road. "It's because of moments like this. The heartache. That's you, that's all you. You grow, evolve in moments like these."
"I didn't get the job."
"The broker internship, the one you just coached me on interviewing for?"
"The interview was last week. I didn't want to tell you. They told me on the spot. I didn't get it."
"Well, that's alright. We can keep looking."
"And what's the point of that? For moments like these?"
David's father almost scoffs at his twenty-one year old son's hopeless tone, but thinks better of it.
"David, you're a man now. Now you can call it all quits and thumb your nose at a career and suburban life, but not until you've really tried."
"But I don't want security. I want more than that."
"What does that even mean?"
"I'm never going to be one to get ahead in life, that much is clear."
David looks out the window and silently curses his juvenile attitude. His father, meanwhile, chews on his thumbnail and thinks. His initial reaction is to say what he thinks: that David needs to man up. Reflecting for a moment, though, he knows that this is not what he truly believes. David's father thinks of his own collegiate uncertainty, when he hadn't the slightest inkling of where to point his ambition. His own father had the "be a man" attitude, and he didn't want that to be his son's lesson.
"David, life is..." He taps the steering wheel and eyes the car in front of him. "Life is a lot like an interstate. There's really no point in trying to get ahead, because you'll never be in first place. Everyone's got a destination and a past, but the journey is what shapes us. All you can do is keep your car from crashing and hope to meet some worthwhile people on the road. That's it. No more, no less."
David remains looking out of the window, and then up to the sky. They drive the rest of the way to the hotel in silence, and David gives a small smile to his father before they exit the car. His dad nods.
The reunion was awful, and the drive home was uncomfortable, but David sat through both with a cognitive look on his face. As the blacktop rumbled below and the clouds hung above, he closed his eyes. The years passed and the people came and went. His body grew strong and then deteriorated. Conversations, faces, and moments blurred together like the waves of an ocean: singular parts of a whole. Meaning in life was forgotten and obtained; lost and rediscovered. Tears and kisses; smiles and nods; now, then, and soon to be.
David opened his eyes, and still the blacktop rumbled below.