Car crashes, quarry jumps, and the friends we love despite everything
I put my feet on your dashboard, sand and beach tar between my toes; we are old friends.
You pull out a Marlboro and fumble in your pocket for your lighter, holding the steering wheel with your knees. “Don’t,” I say, reaching out for the wheel, nodding toward my child in the backseat. You nod and drop the cigarette out of your lips to your lap and grin at me. “Fine, but only for you.”
“Not for me,” I say.
“For him, because he is yours,” you say.
“Yes, but also for you.”
I’ve been trying to save you for 20 years since we were teenagers, since you’d drive recklessly on country roads, turning your truck into ditches, throwing beer cans into the bed, rolling it in a tobacco field. We all thought you were dead. I remember running through the fireflies, your overturned headlights lighting up the thick green tobacco rows, the red dust settling in their beams. I ran fast and silently, but by the time I was there, you were standing under stars lighting up a cigarette, staring at the wreckage, shaking your head. “Well, fuck,” you said.
“Well, fuck,” I agreed.
You taught me to jump off bridges. We would drive in your truck north of town, Merle Haggard turned up loud, into the thick Southern summer cicada nights onto roads that were being devoured by kudzu. You’d pull over on the shoulder, cut the engine, and throw the keys on the dash in one motion and look over and grin at me like you’re grinning tonight. “Ready?” you’d ask, and I never was, but you’d be gone, sometimes not even closing the door. Your lanky body retreating back down the road, your shoes kicked off, one landing in the gravel, the other on the yellow line. In the darkness, I’d hear you holler — you called it the rebel yell — and then your body would hit the water, a splash in the blackness below. I’d hold my breath waiting for you to resurface, to hear you gulp in their air, to hear you howl out again. Every time, I held my breath with a hollow feeling wondering if this time was the time I had feared.