“I think I’m going to go back to the gym after the kids are in bed” I say still dressed in my workout clothes from an earlier Pilates class. “That class was just too easy. I think the instructor toned it down today or something. I didn’t even break a sweat.”
“Um, ok that’s fine,” he says “I have a bunch of data entry stuff I need to do anyway. And I’ve gotta ship some stuff out tomorrow, so I need to box it up. Let’s get the kids to bed.”
I head back to the gym in the dark. The night is unseasonably warm. I drive with the windows down, music blaring. Alone in the darkness.
This is really all I wanted. I just needed to get in the car and get out of there. To run away momentarily. To drive, alone, at night. The gym is too close to my house, the drive not long enough.
The summer I was sixteen my brother shipped off to the Navy. One overcast afternoon in June a black sedan with government plates came and took him away. My father cried, the handle of his briefcase clenched in his giant fist as he headed back to work. My mother didn’t cry. I think she had done all her crying weeks prior. The moment was a big one. Too big perhaps for me to fully process at the time. All I knew was that my big brother had left for good, grownup and gone. He left me there alone, waiting for my own moment to go. As his baby sister he had also left his car in my care. A ’92 Chevy Blazer with whitewall tires and a stiff clutch. My big bro, he really loved me, still does too. Best damn brother around.
A few weeks later my mother was off on some trip. I don’t remember where. My father was a heavy sleeper. Night after night I would grab the keys and walk right out the front door into the darkness. As my brother sank into stressful sleep in a bunk 900 miles north of me, I would drive his car aimlessly. Winding back and forth over each of the quiet back roads of suburban developments still being built. Entire neighborhoods, business complexes sat waiting, like ghost towns. Construction sites dark and empty, equipment left sleeping. Dirt lots that beckoned teenagers to sneak out of bedroom windows and do bad bad things while their parents slept. There were no cell phones then. I didn’t text friends. I didn’t pick anyone up. I just drove, the radio going, a cigarette in one hand, the other on the stick shift. Sometimes I’d stop for a Slurpee to give the trip a purpose, but mostly I just drove. Just me, the moon, and the warm summer air.
I was alone and it was fantastic.
Sometimes I’d drive all the way out until the boulevard dead ended. I would park and look at the moon. I would write. I had no idea that the very spot I was sitting would one day be a major intersection. An intersection that seventeen years later would be the main road to my house, in a neighborhood that didn’t exist yet, on roads that had yet to be plowed out of those fields filled with antelope.
The end of that road would one day be the beginning of another life.
Time has a way of changing everything, doesn’t it? We just keep coming in like carpenter ants, don’t we? We move the earth one piece of sand at a time. We build new worlds.
We build lives we could have never imagined.
I shut off the minivan and sit there for a minute in the parking lot of the gym. Before kids I would have never lingered alone in a parking lot at night. But now I just sit there. I’m not really afraid of anything anymore. I look out at the highway, at the cars heading south. I say out loud to myself, “Where do you want to go?”
I hear a voice answer, “Anywhere but here. Just drive.” I imagine myself in a different car, a faster one, somewhere far out on a desert highway.
A man gets into the car next to mine, and I startle. I take a breath. I get out and walk into the club. I put my bag in the locker. I find a treadmill and I run. I run as much as my fat ass will allow, until sweat drips into my eyes and I have to lift my shirt up to wipe my forehead.
I drive home.
I go to sleep and dream about the moon, about a darkness that envelopes me in the still summer air, about an age when it was all still in front of me.