By: Kirk Bado
I was three miles from home with a quarter tank of gas and the entirety of the universe weighing on my head. I loved and hated driving at night, because that was when I felt the most. Round about 2:00 in the morning was prime driving time, because by that time it was just me, my thoughts, the neon street lights and the Dawes that she gave me as I’m going 60 on 65 heading South. I was thinking about Lauren.
As my mind drifted to Lauren, it wandered to some prime advice my father gave me about another old girlfriend.
I told him that my high school girlfriend and I had been talking; we had known each other for almost a decade, and dated off and on for four of those years. Sarah would go on vacations with my family, give my sister saxophone lessons and my mom loved her. That was the worst part. She’s in nearly every picture of mine from high school and like a ghost I can never really escape from her. I couldn’t even escape to my memory, because she had a permanent lease on some prime real estate in my head. Needless to say it ended as most things do, poorly for the both of us after we got to college and after breaking up, trying again and breaking up a second time, we were “talking” again
My dad looked me dead in the eye and without a hint of humor said, “If you’re not f—ing, you’re nothing.”
That’s how my dad was, blunt and darkly humorous, which would occasionally spill over to the absurd. The world, and everything in it, was black and white according to my dad. Good guys and bad guys. And that’s how I had to see Sarah— as a bad guy in my life that I needed to escape from.
So maybe that’s what I was driving from; all the old girlfriends and ghosts that still haunted my head.
I saw the most haunting scene one night on a drive and I’ve been turning it over in my head ever since.
Listen— early that day I stopped at a liquor store to buy wine for the Girl and me. It was a cheap red. For $8 you got a double bottle and no inhibitions. In front of me at the checkout were two homeless women. I could tell they were homeless because they wore five layers of jackets and had the Contributor tucked under their arms. They were buying a few of those $1 shots of skull vodka you would pay $6.75 for on an airplane. They paid the clerk in cash, and I didn’t think of them again until I saw one of them passed out asleep at a bus stop as I speed past at 2:35 in the morning trying to find myself.
I guess things have a funny way of coming together like that. Like Lauren and Sarah and all the other ghosts I just see them passed out on a bus stop everywhere I go.
I wish I could tell you why or for whom I’m writing this—maybe it’s some vain attention grabber or a love letter to myself. I’m too self-aware not to question my own motives. That’s why I even hate talking to other people about me, because I’m far too conscious of how I’m sounding and I think I’m not as genuine as I need to be. For example— that last sentence had far too many I’s in it so now I need to take a break from “I’s” for a bit to atone.
This writing would be best assessed as a mixture of a love letter to myself, a vain attention grabber and everything in between. I want to tell my story, and just like everyone’s story I don’t know when my life first started. Or when it ended and I became this.
Maybe you live countless lives— the lover, the leader the learner, the son, the daughter, the friend and each one runs its course in time. Sometimes they overlap and intersect, but everyone has that feeling of finality and ending of one chapter. And we can never really describe the mixture of nostalgia and fear that encircles us at a transition point. Like a pang of worry at having left the stove on as you leave the house. We don’t want to expect it, so our mind and bodies reject reality and we get down. I feel like I’ve lived and died a hundred times before I turned 22.
But I digress and need to give this some sort of narrative.
Driving around at night was a self-imposed exile from myself that I gradually became addicted to. Like an addiction, it made me feel the most alive while slowly killing me.
The Girl I wanted a thing with had turned me out of her house around 12:30, and I didn’t want to go home and wallow.
I would rather wallow on the road.
It’s amazing how much a woman’s opinion of a person matters. From your mother, sister and every love I’ve ever had, more weight has always been put on their words. How do I look?How do I sound?Do you like that?How are you feeling right now?What are you thinking right now?Why are you leaving?What book should I read?Where should we eat?Why are you so upset?What makes you smile?Dinner?Will you be my girlfriend?
I left her apartment and doubted everything about myself because I could never get a read on the Girl. She was the type of girl who would kiss you with passion and feeling but would not know how to articulate those feelings. She didn’t believe in anything that couldn’t be explained on a graph and that’s why the feelings we had for each other were so difficult.
How can you demonstrate the mysteries of attraction on a simple x and y chart? So maybe this is more of a love letter to her, or a love letter to love. She might understand this better. Or it’s a mixture mixture of both.
When I told a friend I was writing again and that it would be a love letter to myself, he scoffed and said “You must be pretty important to write a memoir at the ripe old age of 21.”
“I would call it more of a eulogy to my childhood,” I told him.
To be completely within and without myself was a skill I developed early and has been a part of my makeup for as far back as I can remember. I’ve always admired people who were able to look themselves as objectively as possible. As I was driving down West End that quiet November night I thought about each of them and what it said about me that I admire them.
Listen— I’m not some Holden Caulfield wannabe smoking a Pall Mall bemoaning how everyone but me is a big phony.
I’m aware that I’m the biggest phony I know, to the contrary of Mr. Caulfield.
While we are talking about literary heroes, I love Jay Gatz. Not Gatsby, but the man who he was before the colossal vitality of Gatsby came to be. I sat there at the red light on the corner of 21st and West End with no cars coming or going. Just me, sitting there with the engine humming along staring at the red light all around me. Waiting.
Then, just like everything else, the light changed, and the dark street was bathed in emerald hues.
I thought to Gatsby sitting on the dock with the colossal vitality of his imagination spread before him. Alone to his obsession and thoughts while Nick stared at him in awe.
I sat there at the green light in my own thoughts and obsessions, waiting to let go.
Driving closer to my bed I thought about the first time I became self-aware. When I was a kid in the grocery store with my mom, I would stop and stare at myself in the glass reflection of the produce aisle. I would look at this boy in the glass and see him as a totally different person than myself.
“That can’t be me,” I thought, “that’s someone else. That’s what I might look like to other people, but that’s not me.”
I thought it was all some dream. That one night when I go to sleep, I’ll wake up I’ll be in high school. Then another night I will go to sleep and it will be graduation day. Asleep then I’ll wake up in college. Start dreaming and the next thing I know it’s my wedding day. But life is not like the Titanic. The audience sees Rose at two watershed moments in her life – meeting Jack on the ship and when she finally gets to tell her story almost 70 years later.
For those of us outside of movies and TV and books, we have to live everyday. Every single day we have to get up, do menial tasks. We have to get up early and go to workout, then get annoyed because we are running late, again.
Then get to our menial jobs and work for eight hours with the most exciting part being the new coffee machine. Then we clock out at 4:30 and need to go to the grocery store to get food for the next few days and we take hold of the squeaky little cart with the front left wheel that seems to be having a controlled seizure every 3 seconds. Then the fluorescent lights start giving you headaches, because everything seems to look like a copy of a copy of a copy. Then you debate what to get, what’s on sale, what will taste good after it’s in the freezer. Then you go to check out and the line is long, even at the self-checkout because some woman ahead of you is arguing with the pimple ridden junior associate about the price for a pound of grapes if it’s December than the sun has already set and you missed a whole day of sunlight. Then you think to yourself that’s no way a human should live and why can’t something exciting happen to me as you are forced to take two trips from your car to the kitchen because you don’t want to risk dropping the eggs that you paid $4 for and you silently get frustrated at yourself for having to come back out into the cold dark night again then your wife is mad at you and you think what happened to love and the person who you fell in love with and you make everything a green light of expectations.
We do this for 40 years then call it a day. No alien attacks to stop. No hostage situations you need to shoot yourself out of. And you certainly won’t find the love of you life in the backseat of a Model T in the bowels of a doomed ocean liner. Life is made up of a string of inconsequential moments that eventually add up to a miracle. The miracle is that you are alive and that you matter and for what some would argue is an inconsequential moment, you matter.
You exist and you’re throwing bottles of your emotions and you’re trying to find meaning in enchanted objects.
It was 4:00 in the morning, and I had a 7:00 wakeup call waiting for me in my pocket when I finally pulled into my driveway. I sat in the car for 10 minutes and let my night marinate in me.
I thought back to the bleak homeless woman sleeping on the bench. I could still feel the Girl’s skin beneath my fingers and her hair washing over my face again. But it wasn’t her physical touch that brought me back to her apartment; it was the last thing she said.
She told me that she was simultaneously enchanted and exhausted by the variety of life.
I thought of all the streets lights that were out as I drove under them. All the green lights and red lights I passed through. I couldn’t tell you if I reached any conclusions, much less any more epiphanies, but I think she said it best. Life, and all the ways we experience it, through others, and ourselves, is a particular brand of magic that is found in the day-to-day trudge. My dad gave me some other advice besides the his prudent thoughts on exes
One of our rituals, he would always ask me what tomorrow was. And trying to be clever, I would say something like Tuesday. But then he would go “Tomorrow is the biggest day of your life, because you are never going to get it back. If you think you are having a bad day, trying missing one.”
The significance of that was lost on me until I thought back to the cycles of my day. The homeless people on the bench, thinking about Lauren and Sarah, going to the grocery store and yes, She and my dad were right. Life is simultaneously enchanting and exhausting. You do it everyday and it will eventually kill you. But what a way to live.
To try and find meaning and fail time and time again, to draw someone in emotionally, to experience the full range of the human experience within and without you is a far far better life than I could have imagined when I started this drive. Or when I was the kid looking at myself in the grocery store glass thinking about my next watershed moment.
Maybe when we throw those bottles, instead of looking for salvation from the island, we should be looking for someone to share our isolation with. While no ship will come for any of us, throwing bottles back and forth with someone and declaring how you feel might be the closest thing we get to escape from the island. By sharing in the pain and the triumphs of others, that’s where we get through.
I finally stepped out of my car into the predawn with the whisper of moisture and the first rays of sun peeking behind the clouds. Then took a deep breath of the cool, damp air and felt the entirety of the universe lift off my shoulders as I went inside, and rested my head, resolving to toss another bottle at that Girl again in the morning...