I flew through the windshield of a car. Old Columbus Highway. Rain.
Wandering youth. I was driving, my friend Shawn beside me. It was
about eleven in the morning, early for both of us. No seat belts.
The car was a beat up Toyota Tercel, beige, stick shift, black racing
stripe down the side.
I was unfamiliar with the roads. I wasn't from Ohio. I visited
my father there during the summers and appreciated him getting me
a car for my extended stay, despite it being a veritable hazard.
For him, it alleviated my excuses for boredom. It made me less difficult
to be around.
It was July. I was mobile. And within the constraints of that mobility
I could adjust my rearview mirror without concern as to what was
behind me, immersed in my own reflection.
When I pulled along the street to pick up Shawn that morning his
garage door was open. I could see his old man, as Shawn liked to
call him, raising his hands in disgust and backing Shawn into a
corner. Another unresolved year had come and gone. It was hard to
make out the barrage of complaints. A slew of obscenities, something
about a lost crescent wrench and a worthless son scratched the surface
of my awareness. I honked my horn hoping to distract the scene.
It did. Shawn slid out from beneath a looming shadow as if it were
"Where you goin', boy?" The old man's voice was stained
from alcohol and cigarettes.
"To look for a job." Shawn grabbed his skateboard as
well as a backpack at the foot of the garage and ran down the gravel
driveway toward my car. I could see his mother intuitively stealing
a glance from the kitchen window, her hair tied up in a bun. She
looked tired. A dull, vacant smile stretched upon her lips when
she realized that I noticed her concern.
"What about the transmission?" An old pickup was disassembled
on the side of the house. Oil stains and futility.
"It's shot," Shawn yelled out, throwing his stuff upon
mine in the back seat.
"I want that piece of shit off my lawn by tomorrow evening.
Tomorrow, you hear?" Shawn slammed the door, I put the car
in first, skidded the tires for effect and drove off.
"Welcome back to the land of enlightenment." His voice
was deeper. He looked different. A loss of innocence, perhaps. Something
to do with the eyes. I headed north beneath the industrial gray
sky. Rain had been threatening since I left the house. Ohio always
felt the same to me. Desperate.
I pulled into a mini mart, put a few dollars in the tank and bought
a day's worth of caffeine. When I got back into the car Shawn seemed
to be lost in speculation.
"You know how to get there?" I asked, tossing him a green
"Ohio State. The campus." In Columbus.
going to Columbus?"
"Yeah, to skate the ditches, remember?" I'd called him
the night before, a few days after I got into town. He was going
on about these irrigation ditches that, in addition to having really
smooth transitions, sat behind a sorority building with big picture
"Sorry. Didn't get much sleep." He stared listlessly
at the cracks in the dashboard.
I looked under a soda cap to see if I won tickets to the World
Series. Try again.
"Well?" I asked, suffering a strand of disappointment.
"Well, what?" His profile was still pensive.
"Directions. I want to get there before afternoon."
"Oh. Um, straight about three lights. Take a left when you
come across that store, Guns, Ammo, Bait and Pizza. Then right on
Old Columbus. That will take you to Providence, about 10 minutes
from Columbus." He lit up a cigarette, rolled the window a
crack. A slightly overweight blonde was walking out of a Dairy Queen
across the street. His eyes followed her in.
"What do you call a good-looking chick in Springfield?"
he asked, taking a deep drag from his smoke.
"I didn't know there were any."
"Exactly. You call 'em a tourist." We both laughed for
a moment. I could tell his was a bit forced, but nonetheless a laugh.
When we reached Old Columbus Highway, the recommended speed was
45. This is a tedious pace when you are constantly eavesdropping
in on a perceived future. When you have no patience for the process
of getting somewhere, only a ballooning concern for the destination
The landscape was non-magnificent. The occasional rolling hill,
a dilapidated farmhouse, struggling rows of corn, dispersed trees
that seemed unable to awaken from their winter sleep. Two lanes,
one going this way and the other that way, either direction it felt
like you were stuck.
turned on the radio and rolled through the static. Shawn remained
inanimate. I could tell there was something weighing heavily upon
his mind. Something was spinning through his thoughts, round and
round, malignant in form. I had been there before. I recognized
the face. The worry, like a picture. I tried to pull his drowning
resolve into shallow water.
"You been skating much halfpipe?" He stared out the window,
immune to sound. My voice shattered upon his wall. His finger kept
tapping on his forehead in nervous threes. A faint, broken sound.
Just when I dismissed any conversation as improbable, he looked
over at me, gave me a partial grin and asked in a irreverent tone,
"Are you gonna pass that fucker in front of you or not?"
A blue Chrysler had been abiding the law conservatively ahead of
us since we turned at the ammo shop. I was trying to ignore its
pace. It seemed more rational to me to struggle with impatience
than to risk a head-on collision. Obviously Shawn disagreed, and
it had been fueling his uncomfortable mood. A quarter mile of straight,
seamless road giving clear view of any foreseen obstacle suddenly
"Pass him, you pussy." He put two fingers in a V formation
and began to lick in between, while making a heavy saliva swishing
sound with his tongue. It was charming evidence that Shawn had briefly
come alive. I kicked into a lower gear and stepped on the gas, crossing
the blurred yellow stitches. My car was tentative, stubborn toward
my aggressive manipulation of its engine.
Slowly, it gathered speed. As we inched past an older man, Shawn
seized the opportunity to unleash some vented-up anger. He cursed
and spit, nearly falling out of the car in the process.
The gentleman stared straight ahead through a thick pair of glasses,
his windshield wipers exceedingly fast in relation to the slight
drizzle outside. He had on a lapeled flannel shirt and a Cincinnati
Bengals cap. His jowls shook with the rhythm of the road while his
hands clenched the steering wheel, fully committed to his own safety.
He didn't look over once, completely ignoring the confrontation
as if he had already forgiven us. I punched the car into fourth
and swerved ahead.
As if nothing had happened, Shawn assumed his former position,
crossed his legs and began tapping again while staring into the
void. The spinning thoughts gathered momentum, consuming the breadth
of his awareness. A commercial came on the radio about a rug liquidation
sale in Urbana. I turned the station. Shawn lit another cigarette.
I passed at songs that reminded me of my childhood, arriving at
some classical chamber music. I paused, revealing a bit too much,
and hastily turned the radio off.
We drove in silence. I wanted to ask him what was wrong, what was
eating him up inside. But before I gathered the courage, Shawn took
off his shoes, leaned the seat back and dangled his feet out of
the window. "I'm tired," he said, giving me a rusted smile.
"Wake me when we get to Providence."
Soon he was asleep and my mind began to flutter away beyond the
repetitiveness of the road. I became absorbed in thought. I thought
about Ohio, how it seemed afflicted. I always felt forced in going
there. I thought about fathers and sons. I wondered if Shawn blamed
his old man as much as I did mine. If it were a normal thing to
do. If I was a normal person, scared to death and confused.
I descended upon a small embankment, a sharp turn caught me by surprise.
I swerved into the other lane, tried to adjust, and in the process
a white light crashed upon me. It was as if I floated away, wrapped
in a colossal blanket, embraced by a force indescribable in words.
I felt no pain, there was no fear, yet I was far from numb. It happened
so fast: intense flash, complete absorption.
And there I waited for some time, perfectly calm inside this universal
womb, meditating in lucid stillness.
I often think about it today, why I was sent back. For what reason,
if any, was my life spared from what still seems an impossible retreat.
I awoke in a random field, bewildered, reaching toward the sky.
Diluted blood was streaming down my face into the corners of my
mouth, metallic in taste. Rain trembled from the sky. An older gentleman's
face soon emerged, covering my view of what may have been fleeting
angels or perhaps just a filthy cloud. It was the same man we had
"Can you hear me, son?" I felt trapped between worlds.
"Squeeze my hand if you can hear me." His hand was calloused.
I squeezed as his voice permeated through to my bones.
"Now, you stay still. Don't move. An ambulance will be here
any moment." I squeezed his hand again, this time a bit harder.
He opened an umbrella and shoved the handle into the ground, attempting
to conceal any possible view I might have of the aftereffects of
the accident. My mind was slowly gathering up the pieces of what
had just happened. I struggled to comprehend the imposing flares
of cause and effect.
Shawn. Where's Shawn? I began to mutter, trying to reconstruct
"Just stay still, son. An ambulance will be here any minute."
A volatile gust of wind lifted the umbrella, turning it inside out,
revealing its skeleton. I followed its course as it convulsed in
the sky until it eventually toppled upon the ground.
There, beside where it landed, was a very stiff body. Its hands
were mercilessly stretched out on either side. Its bare feet saluting
the ether. The face was all too familiar, reposeful beneath the
vast dome of Ohio. I closed my eyes and tried to diversify the dream,
a trick I learned as a child. I tried to go back and change the
outcome so that the next time I awoke there would be no such image,
no such memory.
When the morphine wore off I realized that I was incapable of altering
reality. I could see it on the faces beside me. I could feel it
within. I can still feel it. Sometimes it rises from deep in my
gut, up through my throat and into my head. That is when it torments
me most. Shawn died instantly on impact, they said. I never asked
for details. I had enough to sort out already.
The night before the accident Shawn drafted up, in fine penmanship,
a letter, one page offering apologies and justifications for what
he planned on doing. A suicide note. He had a plastic container
of pills in his backpack that he'd planned on taking sometime in
There was even a sentence addressed to me, saying that he was sorry
that I had to be his "escort."
will always be haunted by that word.
Fate is a strange thing; its burden upon the living, its twists
and unforeseeable turns. Perhaps I was a pawn for a much greater
source, one that couldn't bear to see Shawn take his own life. One
that gave me but a single scar as a reminder that despite how personal
our fears may seem, how we are isolated by the whirlwinds in our
individual minds, we are never actually alone.