Saturday, August 31, 2013

That Would Be Worse

When I was sixteen or seventeen - I don't remember exactly, but I was still driving the old farm-truck I had been allowed to borrow from my paternal family's farm, so I have a rough idea - I drove home from visiting my boyfriend in Minier one night.

It was late, 11 pm or maybe later since my curfew wasn't until midnight, and the drive was about fifteen to twenty minutes of country roads, as winding as roads in a totally flat land can ever be.

There was a creek you drove over, about two-thirds of the way through. That was an exciting change compared to everything else. Sometimes you might even see a deer. Granted, you'd see the deer from a mile away, but...

That's neither here nor there.

Where were we? Right. Teenager Katie driving home.

Fog had already begun to collect, that late at night, clinging to the bushes and trees.

In South Carolina, the fog seems to move in and recede thanks to the constancy of hills, where you are often going up or down. In Illinois, the fog simply settles a few inches above the dirt and sits there.

I left Minier and drove into it, leaving the occasional lit window or business sign behind. I passed my high school, barely visible, surrounded by cornfields and a few trees where cattle grazed during the day.

There was no one else on the road.

At a certain point, fog becomes kind of lonely. It isolates you from the outside, dampens all the sound. I had the truck's radio going, playing the random metal station I'd taken to listening to. The farm truck came from before the time of CD's  and the only cassette tape that existed in the truck was an old country crooner my grandpa had left in there.

I wasn't going to listen to country crooners. Well, except Johnny Cash. But he's his own genre.

The music played, and I drove, and it began to occur to me that maybe the fog would never lift. I would never make it home, just keep driving in an endless fog listening to the same six metal songs over and over, like the tortured heroine of a Stephen King novel. There would probably be some kind of evil ghost in there somewhere.

I would just drive in the fog, hardly able to see the sides of the road, let alone any houses I might pass. Just empty cornfields, gray mist, and me, for as long as it took whatever evil the novelist had come up with to find me.

Obviously I made it home, still in that strange daydream-y place, and crawled into bed in a house already dark, my parents already asleep. I had dreams about the fog, about being lost in it; not nightmares exactly, just oddly unsettled dreams.

Whenever I drive in thick fog, like this morning for example, I kind of get back into that place and remember that drive. I remember thinking maybe I would just be driving forever, half-blind to the world, listening to terrible popular rock music, the eternal teenager in a farm truck.

The fog this morning was pretty exceptional; cars seemed to appear out of it suddenly, nothing and then something in less than a blink. It didn't help that almost none of them had their lights on, which I had assumed was something most people knew to do when it's foggy. I was apparently wrong.

The car in front of me seemed to be in a somewhat different mindset; the driver would be going the speed limit and then would quite suddenly brake to less than 40 mph. I could see the driver craning his head, straining to see the houses set just off the road, to see the cows grazing in the pasture down the hill. Then he would speed up to normal, and a mile later slow back down again, this time to try and see the goats on the other side of the road.

By the time we made it into the mountain town I work in, I was about ready to just push him along with my bumper.

Trust me, sir, whatever the goats are doing is not. that. interesting.

I realized, during this drive, that I could do much worse than driving a farm truck forever in the dark. There are worse hells than me and the mist and the awful song off St. Anger that is the only Metallica song I truly hate.

Oh, no.

It could be way more intolerable than that.

 I could be stuck driving forever behind someone who needs badly to know what everyone else is doing and who cannot keep a constant speed to save his life, the kind of man who must squint at goats or who brakes because it looks like the guy who lives at this particular house hasn't quite fixed his fence yet and we clearly need to come to a complete stop to look at that... a man who needs to memorize the house numbers of every. single. house. we drive past.

I could be stuck behind that guy.

That would be worse.

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