Betsy Shebang - Column for 6/4
Finally Eugene looked up and asked "Are we going to camp here tonight?"
I looked up at the smashed windows. "We’ve got the sleeping bags. And we can brush the glass off the seats. The car’s not going to be any warmer than outside, but I don’t think it’ll be too bad."
"I dunno. It may get pretty cold."
"We’ve got stuff we can cover up with. I think we’ll be okay. Besides, you can cuddle up with Shauna."
"Okay," Eugene said, looking back at the ground. I tried to think of something to say next.
A few seconds later Eugene interrupted whatever I was thinking. "So, are we gonna wait around all day tomorrow too?"
"We should probably worry about that tomorrow."
"Yeah." I probably lied. I don’t even know.
That’s what I was thinking about when I jerked my head to the left to see what was moving. I’d heard a footstep beside the car. It was Shauna.
"Guys - come look at the sunset," she said. Eugene and I pushed ourselves forward to stand up and the three of us walked around the car. The sun was sinking into an ocean of clouds and dust and deep orange light over the horizon. We each walked several steps toward it and stood together to watch it slowly happen. I guess Shauna had managed to pee already.
A while after sunset, the day that had passed so slowly came to a complete stop. The sky was a rich, deep blue. There was no moon, or at least not yet. It was too dark to read without the flashlight and it seemed like a waste to use it. I kept thinking about how there was nothing to do. I don’t mean there was nothing to do to pass the time. I mean there was nothing to do that was the right thing to do. The car was already pointed toward the road, so we could flash the lights if we saw anything. We’d get some sleep while one of us kept some kind of watch. Doing nothing might have been the best thing to do, or the worst. It was too late to worry about it now. I don’t know. Having another nervous breakdown sure as fuck wasn’t going to help anybody. I swept the glass off the seats of the car, moved some stuff into the back or out onto the dirt, and climbed into my sleeping bag in the driver’s seat. I left my shoes outside the door.
Eugene wasn’t tired, having slept in the back seat most of the day. He said he’d keep an eye out for cars. Shauna said she’d stay out with him, but pretty soon she opened her sleeping bag and climbed into the back seat with it.
For a long time I was awake, opening my eyes to look at Eugene’s shape leaning against the hood. I could barely see his outline in the dark. The stars were beautifully clear, but the rest of the world was completely black, as if nothing else really existed below the sky. Shauna sounded like she was awake too.
When I woke up, the daylight was just starting to return and everything was very dim purple. I heard steady breathing from behind me. I looked back and saw Shauna sleeping, curled up in the back seat. Good thing she’s pretty short.
Eugene was no longer in front of the car. I unbuckled my seatbelt, awkwardly sat up and stuck my head through the place where my window had been. The car was circled by footprints and crumbs of car window glass. It was still hard to see. I unzipped my sleeping bag, carefully opened the door and stepped on top of my shoes on the dirt. The car bounced a bit as I stood and Shauna woke up. I looked at my watch. It was almost five.
I couldn’t see Eugene anywhere. I pulled my shoes on and walked around the car. Shauna sat up in the back seat.
"Where’s Eugene?" Shauna asked.
"I don’t know. I think he left."
"Where the fuck was there to...go?"
"I don’t know."
For a few minutes I kept walking around the car, looking into the distance and around each corner, as if Eugene was hiding on the opposite side from wherever I was. I crouched and checked underneath the car. He wasn’t there.
Shauna reached through the window to open the back door from the outside. "Do you think he went to get help?" she asked, climbing out. Her voice sounded angrily confused.
"Well, it’s not like he’s gonna find a ride home and leave without us."
I kept walking around in a circle, looking for him. I tried to think of other things to do, but every other activity began with finding Eugene.
My brain was spinning its wheels like a car up on blocks. This was really bad. I’d fucked up in a long list of ways in the last week, but this felt like the first really bad thing that had happened so far. In fact, it was probably the fourth or fifth really bad thing to happen in the last eighteen hours, but somehow this was worse than anything else. I felt like I’d let somebody’s retarded child wander off into the mall. Except the mall was empty, and two hundred miles wide, and had no drinking fountains.
With Eugene gone, there was really nowhere for Shauna and me to go. If we left, he might come back, looking for us. We might get rescued and he might not. My torso started to hurt.
I felt incredibly stupid. I didn’t even know why; Eugene’s walking away was the first thing that had happened that wasn’t actually my fault, and I wasn’t about to start taking credit for the stupid things other people had done, too. I was tired of hearing myself whining. I was sick of hearing Shauna tell me how everything I did was irresponsible. If I said it was my fault it wouldn’t help anything anyway. We were stuck there because I’d made the same mistakes I’d been making since I was five years old. The same mistakes I’d come here to get away from.
That was the moment when I knew I was the person that I would be forever.
I really wanted to die. I might have just dug a knife out of the back of the car and slit my own throat right there, where nobody who lived nearby would be around to take it personally, but that would have left Shauna alone in the desert and, in doing so, proved her point about my irresponsibility.
Shauna walked behind the car and stared off at the horizon, crossing her arms against the chill in the air. I climbed back into the driver’s seat, closed the door and pulled my sleeping bag over my chest. Going back to sleep would be as reasonable as doing anything else at five in the morning. I hoped at least to avoid unnecessary conversation with Shauna. We’d both sound like idiots until we found out where Eugene had gone, anyway.
I closed my eyes. I imagined Shauna’s and my bodies being discovered a week from now, just barely dead from thirst. It was so strange to think it could actually happen, like a tragic, laughable news story come true. I wondered if it would be clear to whomever discovered us that she hated me. With all the broken glass, it probably would.
Another door opened. Shauna climbed into the back seat and slammed the door behind her. I kept my eyes closed.
She didn’t say anything. I couldn’t think of anything to say either, except to apologize for trapping her in the desert and then losing her new boyfriend. None of my thoughts hung in place long enough to be organized into words. I was hungry. Both of us were silent, as if we were on a very long elevator ride.
Shauna said "How long are we going to wait?"
"How long are we going to wait before what?"
I glanced up at Shauna in the rear-view mirror. She was staring out the window.
"We don’t even know which direction Eugene went, " I continued. "And if he finds anyone to give him a ride, he’ll come back to get us."
"When the light gets better, we should look for footprints."
"We did a lot of walking around last night."
"Well, we may find something."
"Okay, let’s do that." I took a breath and hoped something would happen before we went looking for footprints that wouldn’t tell us anything anyway because it would be stupid to go walking after Eugene, and if he found anything, he’d come back to get us. It didn’t make sense that there would be no other cars coming this way. I really wanted to go back to sleep. It wasn’t going to happen.
I started to get worried. I was experiencing one of those moments when people promise God that they’ll become priests or give up drugs if they make it back home alive, but I didn’t know what to promise. Announcing to myself that I wouldn’t do any more stupid things felt like it would be yet another in a long list of stupid things I’d done. I would always do stupid things. I was no better than the idiots barking on TV talk shows or asking mindless questions to advice columns in newspapers. I had written one fucking stupid TV script in my life. I had no savings and no career. I had never had really really good sex. I would never have really really good sex. I would always talk about stuff I should be doing instead of doing it. In thirty years I had accomplished nothing and I don’t even know if I knew I was doing it. I had been living my whole life on the island of the stupid. At least I knew that now.
I was sitting in the middle of the desert in a windowless car that wouldn’t move. I felt like I’d had a triple bypass enema. I was hollow inside.
I climbed out of the car, walked around and reached in through where the back window had been, looking for the last can of soup. It would have been stupid to open the hatch and have it slam me on the head again. "You can tell me anything you want about how stupid I’ve been after we get rescued. I’d appreciate it if you’d put it off until then."
"Toby...I think I’m done telling you what to do."
I almost didn’t care what happened next. I had nowhere to go if we got rescued. I wanted Shauna to get home safely. I still wanted Eugene to move out of his grandmother’s house. I really didn’t care anymore. He could just go back where he came from.
It was getting lighter. Shauna opened the door, stepped out again and walked around in front of the car. I found the soup and sifted through more piles of stuff - all our crap in the back was now jumbled together - looking for spoons. I found one fork that looked clean enough to use. I wondered if we could wash dishes without using water.
Shauna said "Toby. There’s a car coming." She started walking out toward the road. Headlights were moving toward us from the East, opposite from the way we’d come.
I put down the soup and caught up with Shauna. It was nice to think we probably weren’t going to die. That’s really most of what I was thinking about at that moment.
It was a semi cab with no trailer. We crossed the road and waited, waving our arms as it approached. It slowed down and pulled over as much as it could before stopping. The passenger door opened and Eugene jumped out. "Hi guys," he said.
"Eugene! Thank God!" Shauna shouted. She ran toward him and hugged him. The driver, a stocky guy with a big beard and suspenders, and a female passenger climbed out of the truck. I think she was his wife. They were dressed pretty much the same.
"Bill, Daphne, this is Shauna and Toby," Eugene said, gesturing an introduction. I waved.
Bill and Daphne both said "Hi."
Eugene pointed East. "We’re about eighteen miles from the interstate. They’re on their way to Barstow and they say they can give us a ride."
"Thank you - thank you very much!" I said to the truckers. "Can we get a few things?"
"Sure," Bill said, pulling a pack of cigarettes out of his shirt pocket and gesturing toward our makeshift camp. "Who did that to your car?"
"I did," I said, nodding. We ran off to get our things.
Copyright 2002 Betsy Shebang
Columns by Betsy Shebang