Have you ever watched the summer sun rise on Lake Michigan? I did. I watched the sky turn from ink to blue velvet to gray. I’ve seen red orange and yellow bleed out from the horizon; I’ve seen pinks purples and powder blues take over the sky. I’ve witnessed seagulls flock out of an old lighthouse circling the beaches for breakfast of their own. I’ve been part of a salty sea breeze morning only once.
I’ve got a surprise for you. Had I been sleeping the text would have gone unanswered. Guess I was predictable like that.
What? I replied as I lit another cigarette my heart surging to life combatting the fatigue of having not slept in a day or two- who could remember?
Breakfast. I’ll be there soon. Always so vague; I drew on my cigarette and put the phone down. Not having showered the night before I still smelled like work. My apartment was a mess not having had anyone visit for a week. Sighing dramatically to nobody I began looking for some decent clothes- not sure to be enthusiastic or annoyed about the early morning intrusion.
Mulling over the thought I donned a pair of jeans t-shirt and sweater, brushed my hair and teeth, washed my face then sat on the end of the bed- waiting. There was never a dull moment when he carelessly waltzed into my life which made his absences feel like a hot bath on a winter day- I could finally relax. Our late night to early morning adventures were spontaneous and exciting but left me feeling exhausted once the adrenaline wore off. He was like heroin and there was no quitting on my own. Upon the realization I pulled out another Newport- three left- and lit it.
“Didn’t I have a full pack when I got home? I should quit smoking.” But no matter how many times I spoke the same sentences it still had yet to happen.
I’m outside. My phone announced; so I slipped on the sweater jammed my feet into old sneakers grabbed my purse and left the apartment moving quickly through the living room before my roommates would notice my presence- or absence. Such quick leave was routine enough to go smoothly but tiring enough for me to reconsider and go to bed. That could wait until after work tomorrow night- right now there was an escapade to be had.
Once I stomped recklessly down the stairs I spotted his beat up, way too loud, gonna kill me one day car parked where it always was and tromped over. Arriving beside the car I threw my cigarette butt on the ground and plopped inside. My nose was immediately bombarded by the smell of motor cigarettes and the coffee I had spilled on this seat a week and a half ago.
Before I was able to request a stop at the gas station he threw a pack of camel blues into my lap. He always bought that kind for me and it never stopped pissing me off- I’m almost positive that was the point. “Thanks.” I said anyway. He leaned over grinning then put the car in gear and gunned it.
“Need coffee?” He asked sounding like he had been chain smoking all night too. Why was I the most unsurprising person in the world to him?
“Yeah. Where are we going?”
“You’ll see.” How many times have we gone back and forth like this? I was never allowed to know where we were headed and it was always far away. I huffed out a gust of air already needing another cigarette but knew coffee wasn’t far. He laughed and took a wrong turn.
“Coffee’s over there!” I exclaimed pointing behind us.
“I know.” He’s smirking out the windshield concentrating on what the headlights lit ahead.
Sighing I pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Remembering the window doesn’t work on my side I kick my feet around looking for one of the bottles I used to ash in and found one. Unscrewing the lid I ashed. He had already opened his window lit a cigarette and had been holding a sugar free Redbull out to me before I had found the bottle. “Thanks.” I accepted the beverage popped it open and drank long- Caffeine sparked my nerves.
We drove on in silence for a while until we were headed towards the coast where he lived. We drove more long minutes another cigarette and five gas stations passed before he turned to me at a red light smiling again. Always smiling at me like a child in a candy store- or a museum about to cause an uproar- I could never figure out which. “Wanna know what your surprise is?”
Having grown weary of this game I finished the Redbull threw the empty can at my feet and cradled the ash bottle. “Would it do me any good to ask?” I retorted aggravated.
“Okay, you don’t have to know.” He stated shrugging paying attention to the road again as the light turned green.
“Where are we going?” Crossing my arms over my chest I was tired of being so damn predictable with him.
“Breakfast on the beach.” The first time I had gotten an answer on the first try. Shocked I turned toward him- not thinking I heard him right over the roaring engine.
“Oh.” What else more was there to say? The only thing about him foreseeable was that he was as impulsive as they come.
“Wasn’t so hard now was it?” He said giving my knee three good slaps.
He was pissing me off again. “No.” I snapped opening the pack of cigarettes he had given me before. Just as I was about to light one he pulled into a gas station.
“Want anything besides coffee?” He asked.
“Be right back.” He hurried out of the car and disappeared behind two glass doors advertising posters for beer.
Sighing again I leaned back in the seat pulling out my phone to check the time but never really seeing it. Deciding this was a rare moment I turned my camera on smiled and took a picture forever documenting my hot pink hair and neon green shirt glowing under florescent lights outside the car surrounded by night. Then he was back with a plastic bag and a coffee. He threw the bag in back handed me the coffee jammed the keys in the ignition and threw the pedal to the medal again.
“What’s the hurry?” I ask sipping the piping hot liquid- black just like I liked.
“We’re running late.” He responded as we pulled out of the gas station.
Perplexed I looked at the time again through blurred vision. “Late for what?”
“You’ll see.” Back to this game again.
“Late for what?” I restated sipping more coffee.
“You’ll see.” Was the only answer I was going to get. Of course I wouldn’t luck out with two straight answers in one night. I lit my cigarette balancing coffee in one hand, lighter in the other, ash bottle between my knees. Stupid car didn’t have cup holders! What kind of car didn’t have cup holders?
After about twenty more minutes of driving in silence he parked the car in a parking lot I had never seen before at one of the beaches on Lake Michigan. The sky was slowly brightening and the lighthouse wasn’t far. I turned and smiled at him as he leaned back in his seat studying me while he lit a cigarette. “Breakfast on the beach.” I said simply laughing lightly.
He grinned back smoking his cigarette. He proceeded to tell me about his job at the factory and how difficult it was for him to stand that long with his bad legs bad back and work so long with his bad hands. He told me about how drained he was- but the catch was if he didn’t see me this morning it was going to be another week or two before we met again- and he couldn’t be having that.
How does a young woman feel when you tell her something like that? If you know it would have been nice to have that knowledge in that moment. You see, much of my time was spent wondering how I was supposed to feel at any given moment he graced me with his presence; I never knew.
We didn’t have much to talk about and quickly fell back into our silent pattern watching the sun rise. He reached in back for the plastic bag and removed one green apple a white plastic knife and travel peanut butter.
“Really?” I asked indicating the ‘breakfast’
“Really really.” He responded as he got out of the car. I didn’t really want to get out in the cold wind but followed obediently like I always seemed to do with him.
We stood by the car eating the apple he cut in half and smeared with peanut butter as the sky turned blue and people woke to go to work. I myself was probably going to have only enough time to shower and get to work once dropped back off at home. We tossed the cores for the seagulls climbed back into the beater and drove in the morning light back towards my apartment forty-five minutes away.
Both lighting cigarettes we remained silent for the entirety of the ride. We spent much of our time together in silence; we spent much of our time sitting right where we were- in his car- but the destination always somewhere new to me. We spent much of our time smoking and much of our time at gas stations. I spent much of my time anxious about our next destination and listening to the same story on the rare occasions he talked. When I listened to that story I spent much of that time terrified he was going to leave me somewhere I didn’t know with no way to get home with just thirteen dollars- just like him. He threatened me enough with it; but never abandoned me in the woods in Wisconsin.
He parked the car in the spot he always did. “I’ll probably text you in three days.” He simply stated. His long absences were nothing new to me so I just nodded and let myself out. I never looked back when he drove away but always listened to the engine disappear back towards the lake. I had a fleeting thought this time to wonder what he did during the stretches we went so easily without any contact- but decided I didn’t care.
In the end I spent a lot of my time not caring what he did when he came or when he left. In the end I spent a lot of my time thankful that he stepped across the doorframe never to return as swiftly as he stepped into my life corrupting my balance. In the end I don’t really care to think of him; but in the end I will always have these memories of terrifyingly terrific travels.