The Open Road

We were driving on the open road. My friend Hank was on the wheel and I was sitting next to him. He’d pulled out an old Beatles track and played it on the radio.

It was a hot July day. The sun was glaring down at us just as you’d expect it to around noon. We could feel it lashing out against our skin from the top of the convertible Mercedes.

I had my Ray-Ban shades on and was lost in the music. Yesterday started playing and I felt swayed by its melodic tune.

‘I love this song!’ a voice cried from behind me. Then I remembered we had another passenger with us. It was a girl we’d met last night and who’d inadvertently agreed to hop along and drive with us to the middle of nowhere the very next day.

Life works like this sometimes. It puts people we don’t understand and who don’t understand us very well in front of us and crosses their path with ours. I remembered catching glimpses of her face the night before without fully being able to memorize it.

My friend Hank kept driving and didn’t react to the girl’s excitement. He liked to project an air of calm and intrigue, although it really looked more like nervous tension. So he remained silent and observant of the dusty road ahead of us.

‘What do you like most about it?’ I asked her, still looking ahead of me.

‘I really like the words,’ she said in her tender voice, ‘they really get to me.’

That’s when I turned to the backseat where she was sitting, lowered my shades and said to her brashly, ‘Babe, I’m a writer. If you like words, then you’re gonna love me.’

Then I winked at her after saying my sentence in a slow, confident voice. It was stuff you could take right out of a movie – and for a minute, I felt like I was trapped in one.

She giggled. ‘Oh? You are now aren’t you?’ she said, astonished. ‘How long have you been a writer?’

‘I’m natural-born,’ I said in the same prideful voice. ‘I’m a natural-born writer.’

‘Well, are you any good?’

‘He’s really good,’ Hank decided to jump into the conversation to cover me, realizing my introduction could fire back in my face at any moment. In truth, had he not intervened in that critical moment, it would’ve been only a matter of seconds before the goddess occupying the space in the backseat of our car realized that I was a total and utter failure of a writer.

Sure I had dreams. I had dreams of making it big. Some would even say I had the right attitude and determination. I mean, I put in the hours just like everyone else to craft some near-perfect lines and smooth pages. I had no issues with the flow of my words and I was never short of thought or inspiration.

But it was the selling – that’s what really killed me. Selling my stuff in a highly-demanding industry – especially in a country whose native language was foreign to the language you wrote in. I felt uprooted from the place of my upbringing, the place I knew my entire life and called home. And frankly, in spite of all the efforts this place made to make sure I felt comfortable living here, my writing was suffering from it in dramatic fashion.

But this girl didn’t seem to care. She was a fluent English speaker that made her seem like a native American. She was interested in literature and writing in all its forms, and I remembered that was the first thing that caught my attention when I met her and got to talk to her.

We had bonded over chocolate. Yes, that’s right, a little piece of chocolate I offered her that night at the bar. Godiva dark it was. It was given to me that same night by another chick at the same bar (a pretentious girl who thought I was a well-established writer who had made it in his life and was hell-bent on getting in my pants and getting her hands on the fortune I didn’t possess) and I’d passed it on to her when she refused to have a drink with me as a way to break the ice.

We didn’t have much else in common other than our shared love for sweets – I was a beer addict who refused to put the bottle down even if my life were dependent on it and she wouldn’t smell the stench of alcohol off someone else much less get it anywhere near her mouth.

So we started talking about the country and the finances and the politics and the parties and the people and we got to the deeper things like art and music and passion and literature.

And the way she talked about books and their contents – her way with books – was nothing like any other I had heard. She spoke like a writer who had been practicing the craft for ages, like a sage illuminated by some kind of light that was still unknown to the rest of humanity. Her eyes lit up in the dark room and I sensed those were the thoughts translating clearly from her mind (especially that she was fully sober and drinking a glass of water).

And before I knew it, the next day she’d agreed to ride along with us. I stared at her hair being pushed back by the hot wind while she moved to the beat of the radio music. Here was a girl that was not afraid to be assertive all the while remaining true to her tender and soft self. She had a wit in her that only her charm could conceal and that could only be awakened and revealed through deep conversation. She was not exceptionally beautiful, but she was an agreeable sight to look at – especially in a time of day like this when her golden locks shone with the bright noon sun.

That day is still inked in memory – like a letter of will that sticks permanently in thought and reminds us of its owner. That day sparked a love affair that carried along with it a flurry of other days that washed away like ocean waves off a sandy shore.

Now I arrive to a waist-length tombstone surrounded by an array of flowers and guarded by pillars of orchids and red roses and gardenias. I read the name etched on it out loud. I read the name of the road girl with golden locks. After we’d left each other, I remember thinking I’d rather she die than be with another man. But now that I am staring down at the hard flowery ground where her cold body lays beneath the surface, I look at this burial place and think to myself, I never intended for her to die. I never intended for her to be removed from this life. Things shouldn’t end so dramatically and tragically. And yet, we convince ourselves otherwise. We convince ourselves of things like cutting off drinking or being able to forget someone we’ve known and cared about for some time. Today I place my bourbon drink on the tombstone and all I want to do is repeat that girl’s name out loud and think about her.

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