The car slides through the intersection, anti-lock brakes locking tight, the rubber-on-pavement screech tearing through the November sky. Heads spin and time stops. An over-sized SUV is now parked in the middle of the street.
Then there is silence. The leaves hush their own rustling. The traffic remains motionless. The cell phones refuse to vibrate. From the undercarriage a full-cheeked gray squirrel darts out, scampers across the blacktop and up the side of an ancient oak tree.
In the distance, a child laughs and time begins again. The traffic flows smoothly. The leaves swirl in the Autumn breeze, and your phone begins to ring. A text message: “D____ has requested to add you as a friend on Facebook. Reply ‘add’ to add, or ‘info’ to get profile.” You reply “add.” Another friend to your list; another digital memory. The plight of the gray squirrel apparently not worth the strain on your vocal chords.
“Should we get something to eat,” you ask me. I nod, looking both ways before I step off of the curb. “So anyway, I was thinking of driving to my parents this weekend. I have laundry to get done and Mom keeps asking when I’m visiting. Wanna come?”
I look at you, my hereditary shit-eating-grin presenting itself at the corners of my mouth. You already know the answer, but my expression has revealed a more sinister sarcasm looming underneath. I say nothing.
You keep talking, “Come on, so my parents are a little weird. They like you, and besides, we wouldn’t spend the whole weekend there. I could show you around my hometown.” My thoughts are still with the squirrel. Packing nuts and acorns into storage somewhere high above the ground. What if the SUV had not stopped? Would the squirrel have made it anyway? What if it was a chubby-cheeked child instead? The velocity of the vehicle would definitely have thrown a forty pound kid quite a ways. What if it had been us? Off to lunch somewhere one second, splattered across the hood of eight cylinders the next?
“So whaddaya think?” I snap back, not realizing that you had continued talking.
“I don’t…,” I start.
“Oh, come on! You always just stay here.”
I breathe. The air not quite cold enough yet to expose my breathe, but winter is coming soon enough. You can smell the ozone on certain days, and once or twice I’ve already had the cold steal my breath away. This is my favorite time of the year, perfect weather for a warm sweater and mug of chocolate. It reminds me of childhood and raking leaves with Dad.
Tension hits me: What if it already was colder? What if the roads had been ice covered? Where would that vehicle have gone? Or would the squirrel have already been curled up with his acorns and loved ones, silently sleeping the holidays away…
He screams into the phone, “What do you mean I have to go! She’s old and won’t remember whether I’m there or not!” She sat silently in the passenger seat. Buckled in, warm in her new ski jacket. As the phone conversation picks up its pace she feels the vehicle do the same. Buildings and trees zip past the lightly tinted windows. He is still screaming into the phone. The conversation is about his great grandmother’s birthday party. She is turning ninety and he doesn’t want to go. His mom is on the other line.
He takes the phone away from his mouth, “Hey, do you want to go?” Before she can even think to respond he is already back at the phone. “See Mom, nobody wants to go!“
She looks back out the window. She wishes she hadn’t just been pulled into His stupid games of autonomy and individuation. She learned about him in a class once. He never moved past the struggles of adolescents. Now in his early twenties his was still as immature as when they met two years ago. Immature, that word stands out. Here she is, riding around in a $40,000 vehicle that His parents bought for him, listening to his mouth bite the very hand that feeds him. What an ass she thinks as he continues to accelerate. His attention in the phone and a pointless argument about an important family event.
She actually would like to go. She’s only met his family a handful of times and family is far more important than drinking flat beer with his frat brothers. Her thoughts have been drifting this way for some time now; away from infatuation and toward the future. He, the boy speeding through a lovely fall day, was no longer in her daydreams about the future. Yes, he bought her things and yes, she had once loved him, but something was missing. He’s a brat she was thinking. A spoiled brat and he treats me the same way. She looked at her phone and wondered what her friends were doing. She barely saw them anymore, always too busy running around with Him.
“But Mom, she’ll be dead soon anyway. I promise I’ll go to the funeral.” She can hear his mom’s volume raise through the phone. If she wasn’t mad before, she certainly is now. What a horrible thing to say. About your own grandmother?
This is it she thinks. I can’t do this any longer. Not only is this boy not the future, he should be the present either. Images of her own grandparents flashed in her eyes. She missed them. They had passed away when she was still in elementary school. Her mother had been heartbroken.
Two years ago she was weak. She was vulnerable. She had been excited to move into her dorm but hadn’t realized how much she would miss her parents. Alone and unknown for the first time in her life, she found herself surrounded by a sea of similarities and other students grasping at the familiar. He had stood out then; strong and confident amongst a backdrop of anxiety ridden freshmen.
“Stop the car,” she said aloud. No one heard. “Stop The Car,” she said a bit louder. He looked at her. A question on his lips but a phone at his ear.
She felt the anger boiling over within her. Scalding her veins and enraging her organs. This was it. His childishness and lack of respect had trespassed too far into her life. All the flowers and gifts; apologies for previous mistakes. She suspected other girls. She knew his friends: Spoiled rotten and insincere. They would make horrible husbands and already were terrible boyfriends. Lies, deceit, and self-righteousness had finally culminated to this moment: screaming, recklessness, and self-absorption. She felt the nylon lining in her new coat on her arms; scraping against the soft, fragility of her own self. New and warm, it was a symbol of his victory. It marked his territory. It felt dirty. She peeled it off, like a warrior out of his chainmail; a snake struggling against its own skin. She no longer needed this armor, no longer had to hide behind his well groomed ego.
“STOP THE CAR!” boldly this time, a power behind her voice that had not been there before. His mom could still be heard in the background. She ripped the phone from his ear, dropping it to the floor. The fire in her eyes could not stop her hand from shaking. His jaw dropped. She could see his already enraged temper turn its viciousness toward her. He spiked the brakes. His body tense with violent aggression. She gasped, bracing herself for impact. He was already launching into a tirade as the SUV skidded across the bare pavement. His words and fury aimed to wound but glanced off of her new found strength. Adrenaline pumped through her and encased every breath. The vehicle was stopped; parked amongst other cars, the November air, and pedestrians. He grabbed at her but only found a coat. As calmly as she could, she opened the door and stepped out, the confines of a steel frame and passenger airbags releasing her from their grasp.
She could still him calling her name as she walked away. The leaves rustled gently and she heard a child laugh in the distance as she stepped onto the curb with a surety she had long ago forgotten.
“Can Mommy have her phone back now?”
The child giggles. Happily pushing the buttons, making numbers appear on the screen. He was around fifteen months when he first learned to open the flip-phone. A couple of months later he could make the phone play music. Now, a little over two years old he knew how to push buttons followed by “send.” His parents tried to set their cell phones up a little higher after he called Grandma one evening. An accident of course, but unexpected nonetheless. Now it had simply become a game for him to take a phone when he could. The electronic beeps apparently pleasing to his toddler ears. He laughs again. Numbers fill the screen as he continues pushing the buttons.
“Are you calling anyone in particular, Jackson?” He holds the phone to his ear, “ello?” Mommy holds her hand up to her own ear, “Hi Jackson! How are you?” He stops to listen; expecting her voice to come through the phone. He smiles the whole time, a toothy carefree grin showing the world his innocence and good spirits.
It is a picture perfect November day, a little on the cold side, but still warm for this time of the year. The breeze is just enough to stir the leaves scattered haphazardly across the lawn, but calm enough to enjoy the sunshine. Squirrels gather nuts and people walk down each sidewalk, headed to individual destinations, living individual lives. Jackson’s mother, filled a sense of calm and love, cannot help but hope the people she can see are having as good of a day as she is. Jackson still has her phone in his hand, but his attention is now on a nearby squirrel. The two of them are waiting for Daddy. He is meeting them soon so that they can all enjoy the rest of the day together. Having been raised in Western New York, they know that the snow could fall any day now, with no warning. If there is a chance to go out without a jacket in November, you must take full advantage; today is one of those days.
She watches Jackson, his eyes intently following the black squirrel as it searches the ground for hidden treasures. In the distance there is the screech of blacktop and rubber, tearing through the crisp November afternoon. She tenses. Expecting to hear impact, but only silence follows. Jackson and the squirrel tense as well. The squirrel out of instinct, Jackson out of suspense of what the squirrel might do next. Suddenly, the phone rings, surprising the child. He drops the phone and scares the squirrel, who scrambles up the side of the nearest tree. Jackson bends over to pick up the phone, tinny music and electronic vibrations greeting his small hands. He laughs out loud, tickled by the unexpected; giddy from the newness found around every corner. Mommy asks again, “Can Mommy have her phone now Jackson?” He just giggles into the afternoon sunshine, waiting for Daddy and anything else that life has in store.