Driving a Long Island highway after dark, air cool and damp the way it does when winter turns to spring, how it does in early summer near the beach, air so heavy with moisture I turn my wipers on to shear away the mist, the beach air, and the cool and damp; loud music, turned up to 11; blacktop gently curves. I move smoothly between broken white lines; turn the music up until it drowns out the car, the other cars, my thoughts; following red tail lights going as fast as I am, passing the ones who refuse to speed up to double the speed limit whatever the speed limit is and there is that moment. That moment when I am here, right now. And here, forty years ago.
Speeding down a Long Island highway at night coming home from a day caring for my mother slides into that other night/many other nights, four decades ago, driving home to my mother’s house from Long Beach after a crowded club and loud bands, Twisted Sister turning it up to 11. I exist in both nights, two of me occupy the same seat in one car, two cars become one: the 1975 Ford Pinto is the 1999 Volkswagen Golf. One littered with empty cigarette packs, beer bottles, and cassette tapes. One with empty candy wrappers, water bottles, and CDs. Steering wheels feel the same, the cool damp air still keeps me alert, and driving calms my nerves. I’m twenty and I’m sixty.
I taste vodka in the back of my throat. I have not had a drink since summer, 1990. The ashtray overflows with cigarette butts, all Marlboro. I smoked with delight, with panache, windows open, smoke and scarves and common sense flying out the windows behind me, Isadore Duncan without the talent, or the untimely death. There is no ashtray.
There is no ashtray.
Like rivers and creeks, time eddies and swirls, spins in and out of little whirlpools, diverts, evaporates, pools in gullies, returns as rain, seeps into the ground/pulls me into the mud/deeper still, rises as mist, settles like dew, washes me clean, pummels me, and chills my bones.
If a pack of Marlboros appears on my dashboard, I will smoke without a single thought. If a glass of vodka and seven was nestled in the seat next to me, with a single red swizzle stick, I would drink the same way I had night after night after night all those nights ago. Drinking, driving, smoking, and speeding. Some nights are just made for that, no matter how fast you’ve driven, how long, or how far you’ve come.