Saturday, April 13, 2013

Nurse the Hate: Jeff Gordon License Plate Holder

The faded Jeff Gordon license plate holder was all that was left from the trip to Daytona six years ago.  It grimly held onto the Chevy Corsica like a barnacle from the past, when everything seemed possible and each day was an exciting adventure waiting to unfold.  Things had changed since then.  He stared straight ahead at the traffic light, his face utterly blank.  He would automatically drive into work and not remember a single moment of the drive, like it never really happened.  It would be as if he had been magically transported to his cramped workstation to continue his series of never ending meaningless tasks all in the name of shareholder value.

He had dreamt about her again last night.  It was now five days in a row.  Each dream differed slightly, but even an armchair psychologist could find the thinly veiled themes of regret and shame that served as the bones of each scenario.  He woke each morning unsettled, and hoped to chase the fading memories by the time he climbed into the Corsica.  He allowed the country music station and the carefully constructed “folksy” morning show to wash over him like a blanket of distraction.  Each song was more inane than the last, but the hook of the chorus would stick in his head like a thumbtack.

He shuffled into the two-story building at the end of the office park without emotion.  He had made this walk for eleven years.  The familiarity of it made him feel safe.  He walked past the sales area where a dozen young women spoke with frantic urgency into headsets as a dry erase board at the far wall tracked their individual failures.  He walked into the out of date kitchen area, and poured himself a cup of what may have been the worst coffee East of the Mississippi into a tiny Styrofoam cup.  He walked to his cubicle in the back of the building crammed in with the other techs, grunting replies to half hearted greetings as he went.

Next week would be six years since his trip to the Daytona 500 with his fiancé.  It had been his Everest.  Top of the bucket list.  He had saved up for tickets by Turn 4, and when the hookup had come from his old roommate Randy for a free place to stay, it all came together.  They had made the drive to Randy’s place in one burst of manic energy and excitement.  They ate gas station snacks and drank energy drinks that kept them talking nonstop.  Neither of them had been to Florida before, although he once had a three-day bender in Ocean City shortly after high school graduation that had been pretty awesome. 

Randy’s one bedroom apartment by the airport was nice enough.  The couch pulled out, and the hum of the traffic from the highway helped lull them to sleep after the first night of drinking and catching up.  He should have known something was up when Randy kept making remarks about “How did an ugly motherfucker like you get such a sweet gorgeous girl like this?”  He knew that Randy was flirting like crazy, but the glow of pride he felt to be with her more than made up for his friend’s questionable behavior.  Plus, he and Randy had been close.  He was all bluster.

They started up on the Jack Daniels later the second afternoon, backed up with cans of Natural Light.  There was a hazy plan to grill in the courtyard later on the seemingly filthy grill in the common area of the apartment complex.  The music was loud and distorted from Randy’s shitty boom box he had cherished since high school.  They were all having a good time.  When the beer ran out, Randy pulled out a $20 to get more.  “I buy, you fly.”

Maybe he made good time getting to the grocery store and back.  Maybe they lost track of time in the apartment.  Maybe they just didn’t give a shit.  When he walked in to discover Randy thrusting himself into his fiancé, sweat pouring from his brow onto the small of her back, it didn’t shock him.  What really shocked him was the facial expression she had, her eyes closed tightly, and making noises that were completely foreign to him.  Her tiny hands clenched onto the arms of the couch as Randy steadied himself on her hips.  Neither of them even looked up.  Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” roared from the boom box.  He stood there for a moment, trying to register the scene in front of him. 

Even now he couldn’t remember precisely how it ended.  He dropped the groceries.  He remembered that.  Then he grabbed his duffel while yelling a stream of profanities.  It was almost an out of body experience. “Hey man!  Don’t freak out.  It’s no big deal.”  She grabbed his arm, “it’s not what you think”.  He climbed into the Corsica and just started to drive.  He kept replaying the scene over in his head.  He found his way to the highway and drove back alone.  That was pretty much it.  He talked to her on the phone a few times after that, but never saw her again.  Sent her shit to her in a box.  Randy was just gone.  As far as he knew they were together now.  Or maybe not.  Who knows?  He didn’t like to think about it.

He ground through most of the morning, trying to engage himself in his tasks.  The memory of the dream kept whispering to him to concentrate on it.  Remember it.  Think about it.  He ignored the siren song as best he could and walked out to his car at lunch.  He was in the back row of the parking lot.  It was the white Corsica with the “Jeff Gordon: Daytona 2006” license plate holder.  


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