The FedEx truck in front of us constantly sloshes water onto our windshield. Looking through the front window is like trying to see your reflection in a mirror after a hot shower.
I wonder who works out the logistics of FedEx employees; who decides where all of them eat and sleep? Do they live such lonely lives that they can uproot themselves at any moment?
The wipers of our car whip back and forth as if a monumental weight has been lifted each time and after years of suspension they can finally break free. They don’t quite finish the job, leaving the windshield blurry and water-logged. Switching from one lane to another is a game of luck where your prize is not being rammed by an approaching SUV. But I trust my dad. He’s experienced. And my mom is sick, so if something happened to him, I don’t know who would drive me to school in the morning. He looks so calm. My gaze wanders to his hair, and I wonder if I’ll also go silver at a young age.
I click “shuffle” after opening a playlist, planning to occupy my ears for the long ride. I get to one of those songs I don’t know but seem to recognize, like maybe it was my favorite song and then someone erased my brain, but there’s still something, a little chemical drop in my head that feels and bumps to the beat.
A car ahead of us boasts an “I Climbed Mt. Washington” sticker. I wonder if they only sell those at the top of Mt. Washington, so you really have to climb it to get one. Then you could go to the top and buy a whole bunch and sell them for a fortune to the people below. They could pretend they climbed it when they really hadn’t. People love to lie.
There is a second where I can see out the front window, and the sun seems like it’s setting. It’s that weird orange-pink that reminds me of a watercolor painting of flowers. In front of the clouds is this airplane, and it looks like it’s going almost completely vertical. Straight up to Heaven or something.
My dad has to pee, so we pull over at a gas station. He disappears through the glass doors to the back, where the bathroom must be. The men working the counter look as thrilled as I do at sporting events. Clearly bathroom breaks are their big business, but they have microwave pasta and soda for weary travelers too. It’s Mother’s Day, but I doubt anyone cares.
A bald husky man with short sleeves and tats exits the glass door and slides into my car.
“What are you doing?”
He sits in the driver seat and stares straight ahead, inching his hand toward my upper thigh. He strokes it. Without removing my headphones I push his hand away. He plays with the button of my shirt. I remove an earbud and yell no. He looks at me, surprise and defeat etched on his face, before scrambling out of the car.
My dad comes out of the bathroom and exchanges glances and smiles with tattoo man when they switch spots through the glass door. When he turns on the car, I see a dead bird in the pool of light in front of us. It has been run over so many times it looks like a piece of paper.
We are back on the road. The sky is the color of expensive wine, and the moon has covered itself up in the clouds to stay warm. We climb back onto the highway. My dad and I play the license plate game: pretty simple – whoever spots the license plate from the farthest-away state wins. He always wins. And I always have to Google a U.S. map. I can’t remember how everything is aligned.
There’s a rough section to my left. The houses all look similar but not in a nice way like in my grandparents’ neighborhood. The paint dives off the walls in some places, like it would do anything to leave the house. The doors look like the cheapest one you can buy at Lowe’s after a storm ripped off your other one. The windows are blocked with the white shades you see in public restrooms, but these have been hacked at and ripped apart. People sit outside in wobbly plastic chairs. Their clothes don’t really cover them, which is crazy to me, because it’s cold outside. I even have my seat warmer on.
High above this ground-dwelling area is a big billboard showing a naked blonde woman. It’s for some Gentleman’s club. She screams sex into every driver’s eyes until they begin to bleed or their wives begin to rant. My dad seems completely disinterested. Like he’d rather die than touch that lady.
I’ve chewed my gum for so long now that it no longer chews smoothly. It’s stale. I’m chewing rubber. The sloshing sloshing sloshing continues. Like a waterslide at a nice resort.
I open my eyes in a bed. Not my bed, though. There’s a lot of people around. I hear the cliché beep beep from the machine that traces green mountains. People seem rushed, but I can’t really tell. A bomb of flowers and cards has gone off in the room. A creepy plush bear stares at me and reads “We’re Beary Sorry.” On one side of me is a curtain with a shadowed man behind it. I’m sure it’s my dad. My dad is surrounded by a lot of doctors too. I don’t even get pudding or something fun like that. I become tired, so I turn to face the curtain and lay my head on the pillow. One blue-gowned doctor has to move from me to my dad, so she quickly opens the curtain between us.
The man on the other side of the curtain is bald, though, and my dad has silver hair.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.