FROM ELENA'S UPCOMING CHAPBOOK, "STILL ALIVE, I'M AFRAID" (BULLSHIT, 2023)
THE 60 FWY EAST TOWARDS INDIO
Driving on the 60 freeway east towards Indio, the route home from college for summer, I almost got into my third car accident. The first was in a Del Taco parking lot while my older sister was learning how to drive. The second also happened on that freeway.
It becomes a two-lane near the Skechers factory in the desert Inland Empire. I drove with the windows down in the left lane. I just found my copy of Cake’s 2001 album, “Comfort Eagle.” My hand, nails recently painted a gutsy shade of plum, hung out the window feeling the hot sun cut by a cool breeze dolphining around my side mirror.
In the almost-third accident, a blue ‘08 Honda Accord drove alongside me, giving me little room in my lane. Every time I attempted to speed ahead, ‘08 Accord guy kept up with me. He honked. My head jolted back, ponytail stabbing against the headrest.
The last time I was on this freeway, the time of the accident, my ex-boyfriend Cameron was driving. Then, he was my boyfriend. The windows were up and he trusted radio DJs.
Cameron was patient when we had to slow to a stop and merge into the right lane to circumvent roadwork. I didn’t like waiting. I rolled my window down a bit and up a bit. Then down a little bit more, and up. He was going to meet my mom for the first time, spend Easter with my family.
“Will you please not do that?” Cameron turned.
“Oh my god.”
He was looking through at a beautiful girl in the white BMW next to us. It was his ex-girlfriend, Michaela.
I jerked my head to look at ‘08 Accord guy, waving at me. I didn’t think to turn down my music or slow down. I just continued driving frantically and whipped my head at him in strobe flashes to see what was wrong.
Was all of my laundry in the backseat flying out? Did I leave the trunk open? Did I hit an animal without noticing? Did someone scrawl a penis on the side of my car?
He stopped waving and started miming. ‘08 Accord guy played a game of charades, twirling spaghetti on a plate. Pointing out his window. Pointing at the exit. Tipping back a drink. Cracking open a cold one. Dancing. Hands-free driving all the while.
I looked over to the BMW and accidentally made eye contact. Michaela rolled down her window and Cameron rolled down mine.
“Hi!” he burst out.
“Fancy meeting you here,” Michaela sweetly clichéd.
“Where are you off to?” he asked.
“Palm Springs. I’ll be tanning all break.” I wanted to evaporate. “You?”
“Nowhere,” Cameron answered. I blinked repeatedly with hopes of waking up in another reality where he didn’t say that meeting my family was insignificant.
They talked around me, as if I had never existed, and she hadn’t dumped him at a bowling alley at his surprise 21st because she “just wasn’t feeling it.”
I shook my head violently at ‘08 Accord guy. “Nope,” I shouted to myself over and over. He honked again. I shook my head again. I was not going to hop off the freeway in the middle of nowhere to get a drink or spaghetti with a stranger.
I sped ahead to lose him, but he sped further, moved into my lane, and came to a screeching halt.
The cars in front of Cameron and I were snailing along enough to where Cameron didn’t need to move, but should have. “Hey,” I said. Nothing. “Hey, Cam?” I tapped his shoulder. Michaela kept talking and he stared at her, hypnotized.
I unbuckled my seatbelt and pressed my lips to his ear, “Cameron?” Radio silence. I was furious at how locked they were. I could have punched him, but I shoved my tongue in his ear, then blocked his gaze by smashing him with a violent, stressful, soggy, everything-bagel-sort-of kiss. His face tightened up and he seized, stepped on the gas, and rammed into the SUV in front of us.
I was going 90mph and about to die. Or get very injured. Or have to step out of the car and swap insurance with ‘08 Accord guy.
I swerved to the other lane, foot off the gas, barely missed his car, and drifted into the shoulder. Shit shit shit shit shit.
I didn’t crash. I didn’t die. I didn’t stop, but I regulated my speed to 50 and stayed in the right lane. I halfway vomited up my heart, so it stuck in my throat, blocking off all oxygen. I breathed in and out and in and in and in and out.
Shit shit shit shit shit. I was thrust off of Cameron and into the radio, the rearview, the dash. The windshield didn’t break, but I was a mess.
I could tell he wanted to scream at me, “What were you thinking?” but he didn’t.
My brain flashed visions of Michaela standing by my bruised and bleeding body in the middle of the road. I saw her Twistered over Cameron, left hand on blue jeans, right hand on green shirt, left foot on yellow line, right foot on red puddle. Like it’s a game.
I took the exit at Beaumont, like the town in Footloose, and parked in a Del Taco parking lot. I stepped out of my car, leaned against the door, and took a deep breath in for one-two-three-four, then out for one-two-three-four.
When I was nearly back to normal, I patted my car like a good dog. I got this used car four summers ago, and named it Chevy Chase, laughing about it for weeks. I told Cameron my car’s name when I drove him to the airport before we started dating. He said, “That’s cool, because of car chases.” I didn’t correct him. I just shrugged and let it go.
Elena Ender has loved every bit of reading for and editing literary publications Tin House and Masters Review. She spends her time writing snarky fiction, listening to the latest wave of riot grrrl music, and driving around the streets of Portland, OR. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @elena_ender, or read more of her published stuff at elenaender.weebly.com.