We drive past trailer parks, through towns with no police departments. We are searching for mountains to climb, as if we won’t have to face enough of our own soon enough. We’re living on borrowed time, your six foot frame origami folded into the driver’s seat is not something the threadbare strings of my heart can afford to get used to. But your shit eating grin is stuck like a pin through my atrium anyway. There’s nothing I can do about it.
You tell me about when you were little and the electricity would get cut. You’d have to get water from a stream, boil it on the woodstove in the dead of winter. You look at me indignant, ask if I ever thought you’d grown up that way. I don’t know what to say. I wanna say it’s in the way you talk, the way that only people who have learned young exactly what they have to lose speak. They are the only people who talk in black and white. It’s a language I know all too well.
You keep adjusting the radio stations because when I first met you I told you that I hated country music. I don’t know how to tell you now that I wouldn’t mind listening to it in your car, that being with you makes me almost believe in the simple optimism in its southern twang drawls. My parents would like you, is what this correction would sound like. “We listened to this at our dinner table growing up” does not sound so different from “would you like a place setting there?”
So I keep my mouth shut, throw my nostalgia out the window with my spent watermelon gum. I spend the rest of today, a mountain top and back again begging you stories because I always talk, because I never ask questions. But I want you to know that I want to know you. The clouds hang heavy at the summit. We can see a rainstorm coming across the sky from where we’ve been. We can’t stay up here for very long, the air is thin. We are afraid of lightning, sparks catching where they shouldn’t.
On the way back down, you tell me that I am a pessimist. I say I am a realist. We talk about our parents and whether they wanted us to begin with. I tell you about mine, twenty five years old with infant me propped on a hip, married, employed, homeowners. Ready. I say nobody could do that now if they tried and for a moment, I sound wistful. It doesn’t match with my freedom act, my activist armor. Sometimes, it peaks through though when I hear a country song or when somebody talks about settling down. It’s a boxcar child, homeless type of hungry in my eyes that I have to swallow down to get by.
“I mean, not that anyone would want that anyway,” I scoff.
“I mean, some people do,” you respond with a thin and brittle voice.
“I know,” I want to say, I know the feeling, but I grind my teeth against these praline words, chase them with lukewarm water from a water bottle that is not even my own. We’ve moved on to talking about your friends in Kentucky, anyway. I am left kicking myself and praying, that maybe someday you will see the incongruities between what I mean and what I say. I’ve always been more than brave enough to state my opinions, but I’ve never had the balls to speak the truth. Thunder rumbles down the path in front of us, like an old god resettling his bones. Lightning flashes across the trees like the camera flash of a lunatic photographer. I prayed then as I do now that we find shelter from the storm.