Betsy Shebang - Column for 4/23
The dirt beside the road always looks slower and smoother than it actually is when I pull off the pavement, so when we left the road we skidded and slammed up and down several times, the tires scraping against the inside of the wheel wells. I tried to keep the car going straight. Finally we stopped a long way from the road, and a huge cloud of dust swept past us as Shauna opened her door and bailed out. She dropped - well, put - her bag on the ground away from the car and pulled on Eugeneís door, pounding on the window and gesturing for him to unlock it when it didnít open. She pulled the handle again and he rolled out as the car filled with dust. I pulled the keys out of the ignition, unbuckled my seatbelt and put my head against the car window, hoping for a loud bonk I didnít get.
I climbed out and tripped in some kind of rathole on the ground, grabbing the rain-guard thing that ran along the top of the door. By the time I was standing up I had grabbed the hatch at the back and pulled it open. I stood the bat against the edge of the trunk and dropped the door onto my finger on top of the handle. I pulled my finger out, stuck the bat in to hold up the door and pulled out my sleeping bag and my backpack.
I couldnít even tell that Shauna was shouting words at first - "TOBY! STOP IT!" - but suddenly she looked confused, as well as still angry. She dropped her arms as her eyes followed my sleeping bag. "What are you doing?" she asked.
I stuck out my hand with the car key toward her. I thought she was going to smirk again. She didnít move.
"Here. Take the car and go back to Humboldt."
Eugene took a step in front of Shauna and stuck his chest out like Iíd never seen him do before. He loudly said "Toby. You're acting crazy. Now stop it."
I dropped the key. "If you want to go back, go back." I swung my backpack farther away from the car and kicked my sleeping bag toward it.
Shauna said "Toby, your car wonít make it back to Humboldt."
"Look, you fucking told me to turn around so you could go back. So, go back." They were staring at me. "If you want to go to Humboldt, go to Humboldt. If you want to go to Los Angeles, I was going to Los Angeles. So, you need to make up your fucking minds about where you want to go, and..." By now I was doing my best to be calm and rational, mostly because I was really sick of arguing. My head was shaking and I was sortof waving my arms up and down. "Take the fucking car and just go."
Shauna took a deep breath and motioned toward the ground with her hands. "You need to calm down."
I said "I AM CALM!" I said it loud, but I was calm.
I took a step back and looked in the car to make sure Iíd taken out all my important stuff, so I wouldnít have to stop them to get something else from the car after they finally decided to leave. When I reached in to move one of the bags, my elbow pushed the bat to the side and the hatch door lock thing slammed down on my head, which really fucking hurt. My hand shot out and I caught the bat as the hatch door pushed it away from the car.
After that everything changed, which was weird to describe but even weirder to experience. Suddenly everything looked like a slide show, one image at a time. I pulled the bat toward me and in the next slide I was whipping it around over my head and smashing in the back window of the car. I pulled it back and smashed it down again, but that time I hit the edge of the car frame with a loud bonk that hurt my hands and made me let go of the handle for a second. I gripped the bat again, running over to the driverís side of the car, and I smashed in the side windows and hit the roof a bunch of times. Then I tried to swing the bat the other way to hit the windshield, but I canít really bat left-handed and I just bent the windshield wiper, which made me even madder. I really wasnít in a rational mood at that point. I grabbed the bat in the middle, on the part where the balls are supposed to hit it, and I just banged it against the hood, as if I was holding a long, thin rock. I kept hitting it that way while I ran around to the other side of the car where I could smash the windshield for real.
I wasnít even sure what I was mad at. I wasnít really mad at Eugene, except for the fact that heís fucking brilliant at so many things and heís done nothing with the last ten or fifteen years of his life. I just felt insulted on behalf of all humanity for that. I was really mad at Shauna, but that was probably because I shouldnít have let her come in the first place. I probably shouldnít have come in the first place. Fuck. I was not thinking straight.
Shauna and Eugene kept screaming at me to stop, and what the fuck was I doing, over and over. It was as if I couldnít hear them until after I smashed the windshield and when I did, the whole world sounded different, like Iíd been sleepwalking and woke up standing next to the car with all the windows broken, wondering what Iíd eaten to make that happen.
I couldnít hold the bat anymore. My hands were shaking. I glanced over at Eugene and Shauna, who looked like their feet were frozen in place. They kept leaning toward me, screaming, making fists with their hands. I turned and walked away from them. I dropped the bat. One of my feet bumped into the other and I fell down. I figured Iíd land on my knees, but I kept falling and my arms werenít as strong as they usually are, so I couldnít stop myself with them. I got some dirt in my mouth when I fell and when I used my hand to try to get it out I just put more in. After spitting I rolled over, stood up and walked back to Eugene and Shauna. It was hard to know what to say.
"Sorry for getting all worked up."
By now they had stopped screaming at me and they were just staring again, which was sortof worse.
Shauna said "Toby, have you calmed down yet?"
"I think so."
Eugene said "Hey, Toby, it's okay now."
Shauna said "What do you mean it's okay? How the fuck are we gonna get home? Have we got any water?"
Eugene looked around at the horizon, saying "Come on...I donít think weíve left Southern California. We're probably three miles from an outlet mall."
I said "We're not in California."
"When did we cross the state line?" Eugene asked, casually, like heíd missed part of a movie.
"A while back."
"How long ago?"
I took a deep breath. "A long time."
Eugene said "Huh. So, Toby, I'm thinking you need to learn how to control your anger."
"I held out this long, didnít I?" I chuckled after I said that. Couldnít help it.
Shauna said "Toby..." but didnít say anything else. She started to cry, but not like they do in movies, where the woman puts her head on the shoulder of whomever is handy. Shauna was entering a homocidal trance.
"I'm really sorry I smashed the car," I said.
Shauna was breathing really heavy now, and her eyes were red. "No, I'm glad you smashed the car. Did you have to do it in the middle of FUCKING NEVADA? IN THE DESERT?" She rolled her head around to scan the empty horizon.
Eugene said "Toby, can I have the key?"
I felt in my pockets but didnít find it. "Who has the key?"
"You had it," Shauna said.
"I gave it to you."
Eugeneís eyes searched the ground. "You dropped it."
I picked it up - it was behind the car - and pulled the driverís door open. I brushed a bunch of glass off the seat and sat down, put it in neutral and turned the key in the ignition. The starter cranked - it was brand new - but nothing else happened.
Shauna took a step toward me. "Whatíd you do?"
"I donít know. It was already having problems." I got out and pulled open the hood, as if Iíd be able to recognize why the car stopped working. The engine was coated with oil, which was its usual state, and the oil had collected a layer of dirt. I poked at the few things I knew that would make the car stop. "Uh...I think the distributor got cracked."
Shauna crossed her arms and asked "Do you have a new one of those floating around in the back of your car?"
"Uh huh. I donít suppose either of you has a cel phone?"
"Never needed one," Eugene said with a shrug.
Shauna glanced up into the sky for a second. "How about sunscreen? Anybody bring any sunscreen?"
Eugene and I each shook our heads.
"How much food have we got?" Shauna continued.
"Weíve got snacks," Eugene said, taking a few steps toward the car and stopping awkwardly before he got there.
"Thereís a little bit of food," I said. "For another day, or...two."
"So, do we walk, or wave down a car?" By now Shauna seemed to be in charge. Maybe that was a good thing.
"Have we seen any cars since we've been on this road?" Eugene asked.
"Well, since it's such a lonely road, that will increase the chances that a passing car will stop for us." Shauna sounded pretty calm now.
"I think you're being optimistic," I said.
"So are we gonna walk, or are we gonna wait for a ride?" she asked.
"How far are we from a city?" Eugene asked nobody in particular.
"Pretty far," I said. "I mean, I donít know...maybe sixty or seventy miles. I think we oughta wait Ďtil somebody drives by."
Now Shauna looked more distressed than in charge. "And what if nobody comes?"
"I think we should wait."
We all stood there for a pretty long time, just looking back and forth at each other, at the car, at the horizon, at the road, at the sky, and back at each other. It started to feel really stupid after a few minutes, but we didnít know what else to do. Finally Shauna turned and wandered away from Eugene and the car. She didnít even walk toward the road - just into the desert. After maybe thirty feet she stopped and stood there, facing away from us. I tried to call out to her without shouting. "Shauna, what are you doing?"
She didnít bother to turn around. "Iím praying. Leave me the fuck alone."
Copyright 2002 Betsy Shebang
Columns by Betsy Shebang