“Velocity is also defined as rate of change of displacement-”
You drove and I lit the cigarettes, wind and smoke in my mouth, the wing-bits of love bugs that smashed on the windshield a fine grit in my teeth. Gas was cheap then, cheaper than a pack of Camels; we loved Camels for their sly animal smile. 20 to a pack, one cigarette typically lasted the length of a good song on the radio: we drove in search of ten good songs. The pack was usually mine; shoplifted from Kroger. I had more time to smoke than you did anyway- you still went to high school; I stayed home.
I’m going to be a writer, I’d said, wrote awful things about birthday cake and suicide on our home computer- when Columbine happened, someone bothered to bomb-threat our high school, too, and I worried for you, opposed your attendance: stay here, at least it’s safe here. Why die for high school?
I’d dropped out; you wanted to go far. Gas cheap, the two lane highways slender and long, asphalt broiling, oil-black snakes quick slithering from counterfeit puddles, always vanishing before the teeth of your tires approached. We didn’t know there were alligators, then- thigh-thick in swamp mud, giggling about the cypress knees- “the land of the wooden dicks”, we called it- always worried about snakes, instead. Red on black, friend of jack, red on yellow, kill a fellow– we had no idea what a moccasin looked like, a twig in the water, a damp root in soft mud. A sinuous smile coiled under rotting leaves: hello, hello. Don’t die for high school, stay here where it’s safe.
You drove; I didn’t know how. I stared into cornfields in a haze of my own blow-back, medusa-headed, yellow teeth; I chuckled to myself, smoke rolling on my tongue. You knew I daydreamed, never asked what, the suicides and bands that played in my head. You took 55 mph curves at 45, slow-stroking the top of your thigh with the heel of your palm, steady, methodical, skin smooth-wearing on thin denim: back and forth, back and forth. Your cigarette burned to a stick of ash in the triangle between tense fingers, the sticky steering wheel greased with fine gray, smears of white. You switched hands to inhale, lips rounding the exhale like a fish out of water, a gasp pulled between your teeth, window-side strung like taffy to disappear in the weeds of the backroad, a gretel trail of sorts: two thin streams tailing us like we wanted to go home.
Maybe then our exhales- shed free of us, heavy with toxins and ash- reveled roadside with the molecules of our alveoli, dermal cells, erythroctyes, still hung in their humid currents. Maybe they coiled round the sun-dried guts of armadillos, shrouded the glassy eyes of stray cats, flies; came to final rest in roadside piles of styrofoam cups, burger wrappers, butts. Maybe they expired for good between the tiny seedlings of a strong green weed, our molecules filtered, sifted into botanical hope which the wind then knocked free, fertile.
Surely something of us remains. Back then you smoked like the nicotine went straight to your heart, a foul-gagging jolt that kickstarted what was already running overdrive. Cigarettes to me tasted like sun or water, the smoke a skin-suit, a chain-link cloak that I worked incessantly to re-weave around myself. If I waited long enough, stayed still enough, surely I would metamorphose from worm to winged, release: a fire-breathing dragon carried far away on a puff.
Instead I climbed trees, wrote poetry, dropped acid, fucked. You studied physics, the stars, your room a sun-lit garden of rose wallpaper and filmy fabrics, world maps, goddesses. Across the hall the bare walls of my room were studded with ink, holes, blood; tangles of typewriter film dangled from the ceiling, the smeared negatives of poetry: root, ashtray, hope, sister.
We rarely spoke, too much home to carry. You slowed to a stop sign and the smoke coiled fat, a kitten tail, a mud-happy worm; we listened to crickets, frogs, night falling heady in a town small enough for stars, light pricks the promise of distance in a vast stretch of space, stuck. You turned on the headlights, hit the gas again, 15, 25, 35, 60; I lit us both cigarettes; we waited, hot wind, dirt in our hair.