Drivers' Corner - Knight of the Highway
Chapter III: Wanting The Same Thing
Alice. I repeated her name over in my head. I laughed each time I thought about how her dad referred to her as "Alice in Wonderland." He said she was brunette outside, but definitely a true blonde inside. Alice turned a light shade of red as she punched a Charlie horse into her dad's arm. I didn't know her well enough yet and, though I'm sure she had her blonde moments, I was certain she was pretty sharp. She seemed it in the way she talked. Always ready for return fire when fired upon. That's what I liked--a feisty woman!
I smiled all day long thinking of her. I couldn't believe one person could change someone's outlook so fast. The entire day went by so fast. I got to thinking of Alice so much I didn't want the day to end. I couldn't believe that. The day before I met her I was hoping somebody would put me out of my misery. Now I wanted a longer day?
I noticed the people in the vehicles, not as objects, but as real people. I saw a couple holding hands contentedly as they talked about the future. I saw a van with college kids cutting up and enjoying life. I saw people! Normal people just traveling on life's highway wanting the same thing I want...happiness.
I had trained myself to view all four-wheelers as enemies--hostiles in a war between good and evil, they being the evil. At that moment I wanted them to be happy and enjoy life. I wanted them to see the world. Usually I wanted them to get off the road and stay off. At this moment I was happy to share the crowded road with them, just so I could see their smiles, their laughs, their kisses. People. Real people.
I thought to myself, "How can one isolate himself from others and live normally?" Yet that is exactly what I had done over the years. I distanced myself from everyone. Oh, I visited with drivers sometimes, but usually would be lucky if I saw the same person again in a year's time. I had no social life. What is a social life? Sitting behind a steering wheel staring out a windshield hardly qualifies as quality time. When I'm laid over or shutdown I'm too tired to do anything real. I might go into the TV room at a truck stop and watch a movie through the hazy smoke. Listen to some who want to talk, while some are telling them to shut up. Slip out to play a heated game of pinball. Afterwards return to my coffin on wheels to sleep off the loneliness.
I finally stopped for the night at a huge truck stop. Usually I walked straight to the doors without looking around keeping my eyes mostly down or shaded. This time I started looking around as I walked. I saw people again. Real people. I saw those with lonely faces roughened from the road. I saw some huddled together sharing war stories as they laughed. I saw some arguing about who's the real driver and who's not. I saw a couple on the grass walking together while their dog frantically tired to choke itself in its collar. Did I really forget? I was a person, not a machine. I had meaning and purpose. I actually meant something to someone somewhere? I started getting depressed thinking about it.
No wonder most of the waitresses walked by not realizing I was there. I would get so frustrated at times that I would just get up and leave. How can a waitress see me if I'm not there? I was in my own little world of burnt-out depression.
Tonight I go straight for a booth and, before the wind has had a chance to catch up, I'm on the phone. I dial the calling card number, Alice's phone number and then the pin number. It felt like fifteen minutes dialing all the numbers. I hear it ringing several times and when no one picks up I let out a sigh of relief. I begin to pull the phone away from my ear as I hear her voice. Alice's voice. I picture her face from last night. I sit there stunned for a moment. "Hello," she repeats. "Is there anyone there?"
I'm frozen. I have a million words I want to say to her, but I'm frozen. It feels like one of my dreams where I'm being attacked but I can't move, I can't scream. I hear a dial tone. She hung up.
I can't call her back. She would think I was a freak or something. I order my usual coffee. From the Marine Corps to trucking, I've consumed so much coffee my body's immune to its effects it seems. I can drink it at night and yet fall asleep. I can drink it in the morning and feel awake. Maybe it's a placebo passed on to unsuspecting people just for profit. Whatever the case, my blood is a mixture of ninety percent coffee. If I stopped drinking it I'd probably die on the spot.
I finish enjoying my solace from the road. I made sure I had a meal with a potato just for Alice's sake. I think of the potato with "HA, HA" carved in it displayed on the dashboard. I would keep it forever, but it won't last. Then I wonder to myself, "Will these feelings last? Will I be back to 'normal' tomorrow?"
After my shower I return to my truck defeated. I walked as I normally do with my head hanging down, not looking around. I scream at myself to fall asleep as I lay there staring into the darkness at my ceiling. I remember Laurie, who abandoned me and my love for her. I think to myself, maybe it's better this way. Safer. I'm not ready to trust again. I fade into a fitful and restless sleep.