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Car Ride MAG
I feel nauseated. The Merritt Parkway winds around southern Connecticut like an amusement park ride, and I am the unhappy passenger with her eyes shut tight, grasping the safety bar and waiting for the fun to be over. Hail is rapping against the car window, which frustrates me because it's early April. I wouldn't mind throwing up right now. I like that feeling of relief right after a nice heave.
A sudden wave of traffic appears, and my dad slams on the brakes, thrusting my head into his seat. Nausea is replaced by a pounding ache above my left eyebrow. My right eyebrow feels oddly excluded. How do headaches like this occur? Maybe I have a concussion.
I open my mouth to tell my dad that I am concussed and we have to pull over. My above-the-left-brow ache worsens, and my right brow decides to throb as well, probably to exert its equality. I begin to form a sentence when we encounter another backup, and he stomps the brake again, making my body lurch forward enthusiastically. I'm surely concussed now. There isn't an exit for 20 minutes, so I will just have to hope that my brain does not hemorrhage during that time.
My dad is on the phone with his secretary. He says something about “the big one” and how he thinks they should “give it a code name.” I am certain that my dad is a CIA operative. He often gets picked up in shiny black cars and goes to Europe. Whenever I ask him what he does for a living, he gives me some long-winded explanation that involves buying and selling and lending and doing. He should probably decide on a better cover story – for example, that he invented mechanical pencils and is living off the royalties. I would suggest this to him, but I don't want his superiors to realize I am aware of his real job.
His cell phone loses connection and he curses. It must be stressful working for the CIA. I wonder how many times he has jumped out of airplanes or karate-chopped terrorists. Maybe he is just the tech guy, translating snippets of foreign telephone calls and obscure computer code.
The odor of sewage and burned rubber pervades the car. It smells like teeth that haven't been brushed for two days. Yum. We are crossing over the George Washington Bridge, and I hold my breath, a habit leftover from games I played when I was young. This is a long bridge. It would be a pity to die from lack of oxygen because of a childhood game, but I can't bring myself to inhale. My friend claims that if you hold your breath over a bridge, you decrease the chances of it collapsing as you cross. It's scientifically proven, she says. Well, I believe in science, so I don't breathe until we pass through the toll. Sure enough, the bridge does not collapse.
Everyone in the car is asleep, so I turn on my iPod and play some melancholy music. I feel like I have something to be sad about, but really, I am just wishing I did. I turn the volume up and lean against the window, and I am in a movie. I am the forlorn and misunderstood teenager, peering sadly from a moving car. What's more poetic than crying quietly while watching gray scenery fly by? The music is not only in my ears but all around me. The song changes to something slow and sweet, number two on the movie soundtrack, and the audience pities my sadness. I feel profound, even though I am only thinking of my own profoundness. I like movies when teenagers gaze out the windows of moving cars.
The place we are driving through is ugly, and the gray sky only accentuates this. Along the highway, rectangular shipping crates are piled high as a mountain. There are tigers in those crates, and couches, and foreign toys. Maybe people live in them. It's a colorful city of boxes, each filled with whatever you desire. Where do those boxes go? I think North Dakota, or Siberia.
A road sign warns, “Reduce speed – congestion ahead!” I feel congested. A man is pulled over trying to fix his smoking car. They told us once in driver's ed that more people are killed standing in shoulders than driving on highways. But I misheard the instructor and thought he said that more people are killed standing on shoulders than while driving on highways. I thought to myself, I will never stand on anyone's shoulders again.
I can't keep my mind on one subject. I have nothing to think about anyway. I could think about smokestacks or highway routes or billboards. Smokestacks emit nitrogen and sulfur particles, which go on to create acid rain. Transcontinental highways were invented in the early 1900s to provide paid busywork to the unemployed. Billboards were a product of rising consumerism during the ཐs. My thoughts are occupied for 37 seconds.
School has taught me too much. I wish I could see a smokestack and merely remark on the beauty of the billowing clouds it creates. I wish I didn't know where all these highways led so that I could fantasize that some of the cars are driving to Rome or Beijing. I guess someone, somewhere, is driving to Rome or Beijing. This thought makes me feel better. These cars are only going to New Jersey.
I can feel my mom's eyes burning into the side of my head. She is saying my name. I wonder what she wants, but I have finally found a piece of comfortable glass to press my achy brow against, and I don't want to risk moving it. She leans over and taps my shoulder. She knows that I hate being tapped, so she must really want to talk to me.
“What are you thinking about right now?”
“I have no idea.”