Jen will stay at any party, wherever it is, whoever is throwing it, until no one’s left dancing, until the empty bottles are getting cleared away, until finally somebody throws her out. She’s a reckless, coarse, boy crazy flirt, following with strict single-mindedness the long line of unremitting alcoholics in her family, none of whom seem interested in wearing seat belts. She once got tossed out of her SUV to get her head slammed twice: first by the door frame and next by a lamp post. She has the staples in her skull to prove it.
Now she had a wedding to go to, but the drive back was a problem. “The deal is,” Jen said, “is that you drive back. I don’t want to worry about getting fucked up. And also you can’t complain. I’m not leaving early just because you’re bored.” Jen knows me well. I’m usually ready to say goodbye to people just after saying hello. I also don’t drive much but I desperately need the practice.
And I am plain bored of Vermont. Bored, sick of the town and its people, its lazy contractors who’d rather go fishing, its trashy women, its cheap clothes, its merciless deer flies, its sixty-year-olds wearing muscle shirts, its fat, stupid underclass, its bushy mustaches on the cow-faced men, and its raspy, clacking drawl that makes the drawn, prematurely-aged women sound like two-pack-a-day smokers. A chance to leave this village of the damned was a good enough reason to endure a wedding. The ceremony was about an hour south on a hot Saturday. Jen’s best friend, Janice, a waitress, pregnant with her second child, was finally marrying her perennially underemployed boyfriend, a carpenter for hire and ex-Jehovah’s witness.
By 11 o’clock, I’d had about enough. I’d done the drinking, the eating of the barbecue, the watermelon, the blueberry pie. I’d done a little bit of the dancing, and the charming of the parents of the bride, who, for some reason, had taken a shine to me, a total stranger, the step-father proffering joints all night long and reminiscing over his two failed marriages, and the mother asking about my height.
“How tall are you, six-two?”
“I’ve always liked tall men.”
“But I always end up with the short ones.”
By now I’d pulled out a book and decided to settle on the well-lit porch to read until Jen was ready to go home.
She was incredulous. “You are such a gay pussy.”
Jen was comatose by the time some of us dragged her to the car. I had only an inkling of how to get back home. I had counted on Jen’s coherency to navigate and talk me through the hard parts of the driving, like highway merging.
Within ten minutes, on winding roads with no lights and defiantly empty of signage, we were lost in the pitch black. I worked my way up to Middlesex, got on the highway by hitting the gas and praying, exited a few minutes later at Waterbury, and somehow drove all the way back to Middlesex on a farm road. This happened twice.
“Jen, I have no idea where I’m going.” She was curled up in the passenger seat like a cat. Like all cats, she ignored me.
“Jen! Wake up.”
“Doing great, keep driving.” A wet murmur, like an infant. Her head had fallen atop her chest. Every minute or two Jen’s frame jerked, as though she had the hiccups. She made snuffling noises.
“But I don’t know where we are,” I whined.
“That’s great. Just drive.”
I finally broke out of Middlesex, got on a main road, and drove the wrong way until South Duxberry. Once we were turned around, once I got my footing, the fog fell. Oy, the fog. Ahead of us just a thick coating of steaming milk. To see better, I leaned over the steering wheel like an old grandmother driving to church.
“Jen, there’s fog. Lots of fog, Jen.”
The windshield bloomed with condensation that was impervious to wipe downs. I drove 10 below the speed limit and even that seemed too fast. But for the car behind me, the car driving so dangerously close, its headlights just a few feet away from us, the driver of that car, I guess he thought I was driving too slowly for his liking. And he wanted me to know it.
“Jen, there’s a guy right on my ass. What do I do?”
“It’s okay, keep driving.”
I just about slammed the brakes so the idiot would hit me. We would have had it out in the deep mist like two Nordic warriors. But then the divider line turned into dashes and with a great roar the tailgater pulled out and blew past us like a Stephen King ghost car, its engines blazing and explosive. He disappeared into the fog ahead, racing to some late-night Cheez Whiz snack his fat wife promised him back at the trailer.
“Asshole. Jerk. Cocksucker.” Despite the enumeration, I still felt like a gay pussy. And once again, that humid pall of humiliation settled on me.
A minute or two later, flashing blue lights in the rear view mirror broke through the fog. I couldn’t see the police car, just the blue and with it the instinctive feeling of terror that the flashing lights of authority generate.
“Jen, oh my god, the police. We’re getting pulled over.”
“Yeah, okay, drive.”
Moaning in Hebraic self-pitying despair, I slowed for want of anything else to do. There was no shoulder; there was no place to go. Instantly, the police car — a giant Cherokee — decided, by some miracle, to pass us, and like the car before it also disappeared into the fog.
“A tender fucking mercy. Finally.”
A few miles up the Cherokee appeared again, stopped and blocking half the road, still flashing blue, while the cop, standing dangerously in the road, dropped some flares. When I carefully drove around him, I saw that he had pulled over the guy who had been intent on running us off the road just minutes earlier.
“Justice!” I shouted. “Justice!”
Jen: “Yeah, doing great. Keep driving.”
A trip that should have taken one hour had taken two, but at least we made it back to the house in one piece. I dragged Jen, a gigantic puppet with no strings, across the lawn to the house. Her high heels scraped the ground. I pulled her upstairs and tossed her into the guest bedroom, and then went down to the kitchen and plucked a bottle of wine from the fridge. In Jen’s purse, yay, a cigarette. The smoke shot into the dark kitchen.
The next morning, the next very late morning, I wormed out of bed and looked for Jen. I harrumphed a bit until she opened her eyes.
“Hi,” she said.
Jen stretched. She’s been living in a teepee for a year, so a bed must have felt luxurious.
“Where are we? In your house?”
She looked around. She yawned. She stretched her arm. There was the stink of old wine.
“So hey,” she said, “how’d we get back last night?”
“That’s a bit of story.”
“Let’s just say a gay pussy drove us home.”