Friday, April 23, 2010

Through Thick & Thin

2:30 am on a Saturday. My first weekend back in Chicago. I was in the passenger seat of a brand new Mustang GT that was doing 92 mph down Lake Shore Drive.  The girl behind the wheel was drunk. I was drunk. And a famous NBA player was in his Hummer desperately trying to run us off of the road. Not even 48 hours earlier I’d been in Carbondale crying my eyes out over an ex-girlfriend and wishing for death.  Now I was digging my nails into the dashboard and praying my life wouldn’t end like this…

 You may remember my old roommate Jen from a previous post. The Friday that I moved into our apartment was a miserable one. I’d just been dumped, I didn’t know a single person in the city, and my parents were down to their last shred of faith in me for switching schools… again. It was a tumultuous time with a whole lot of change charging at me all at once. After I unpacked a few boxes Jen and I sat in the kitchen drinking beer and trading war stories about our ex’s. The conversation left both of us feeling pretty rotten and she decided we should do something fun the following night. A bunch of her friends from UIC were going to a nearby bar and she insisted that I come along.

The north side’s “Hogs & Honeys” is the Wal-Mart version of “Coyote Ugly”. If you’ve ever wanted to see overweight and angry women “dance” in complete boredom on top of a bar then brother have I got the place for you.   As for the patrons it was basically me, Jen, her friends, and old guys with ponytails.  If you’d taken me out of our group it would have looked like a CW show so I definitely felt like the odd man out. But Jen’s friends were nice and pretty generous as well. They kept insisting on buying me drinks to welcome me to the city. It didn’t take long to get me good and drunk. I don’t just mean regular old drunk either. I mean “I’ve just been dumped” drunk. If you’ve been there, you know the difference.  The night dissolved into a blurry mess of digital camera flashes, pounding bass, and too many conversations happening all at once. It was like listening to dozens of people scream underwater.  There aren’t many details I remember. There was the skinny Indian kid who insisted he knew me that I’d never seen before. And Jen’s friend who asked me to dance and started whispering all sorts of dirty things in my ear as her boyfriend watched us.  But the next thing I can recall with any sort of clarity is Jen finding me and telling me she was ready to go.

In the earliest hours of a frigid Chicago morning, we trudged through the snow and Jen wrapped her arm around mine. “Chris, can I ask you something?”

I was too drunk to respond properly so I just strung some syllables together that indicated it was okay to proceed. “Are we gonna be best friends?” She asked. Sure. Why the hell not? I was freezing and she was my ride home. At that moment there wasn’t anyone in the world more important to me. So I nodded. “Good. Through thick and thin then.” She said as we got into her brand new Mustang with the “pull me over red” paintjob.

She started the car and began flipping through her collection of CD’s. “There we go…” She said as she slid one of the discs into the stereo.  She found the track she wanted and cranked that fucker ALL the way up.  She explained: “This just really sums up my life right now, y’know? Like everything I’m going through. Everything I’m feeling. Just… everything. Y’know?”

It was Britney Spears. The song? “Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman”.  I couldn’t make this up.

She slammed on the gas and peeled out of the parking lot. As we recklessly tore through the mercifully empty streets she began singing along at the top of her lungs. Jen was a smoker. And she was tone-deaf.  Auto tune meet no tune.  I was massively hammered and could barely speak, let alone insist that she pull over and we take a cab the rest of the way home. I knew she was too drunk to drive. I knew there was a good chance this was going to end very badly. And I was terrified because there was nothing I could bring myself to do about it.

The car screeched to a stop. But we weren’t at our apartment. We were parked across the street from an enormous house in a very well to do neighborhood. “That’s his house.” Jen said opening the door.  I shot her a look of concern. “I’ll just be a second…” She shut the door and went running towards the garage. He was the famous NBA player whose name I can’t mention that Jen had jus t broken up with.  When she’d been telling me the story the night before I wasn’t totally convinced she was being honest with me. But now here I was watching her put in the code to his garage door and stepping inside his house. I thought back to our conversation in the kitchen with her proudly declaring that she was over him. That statement wasn’t carrying much weight at the moment.

I saw some lights go on and off and a few minutes later Jen came running back towards the car. She got in and stared at me confused. “There was an away game. But he should be home by now.” We peeled off again and I couldn’t help but wonder exactly what her plan had been.

We pulled onto Lake Shore Drive and Jen started talking on her cell phone because drunk drivers should always have as many distractions occurring simultaneously as possible.  I knew she was calling him and asking where he was but by this point I could barely keep my eyes open. I don’t know how long I drifted off for but her screaming “OH SHIT!!!” woke me up right away.

SMASH! Something rammed the back of the Mustang and we went sliding wildly across both lanes of traffic.   A gigantic black Hummer pulled up alongside us. The windows were tinted but I had a pretty good idea who was driving. It was him. And he wasn’t too happy to see some strange dude in Jen’s car. She was still on the phone screaming at him but as he swerved into us the car jolted and the phone went flying behind my seat. “You’re f*cking crazy, asshole!” Jen screamed. I could have reminded her that the windows were up and the music was still on so he couldn’t hear her, but we had more important things to deal with.  Like not dying in a fiery blaze of bad decisions.

She punched the accelerator and tried to outrun him. I watched the speedometer travel impossibly high and dug my fingernails into the dashboard. Hey, Death? Remember me from just a couple days ago there in Carbondale? I was the one wishing you’d come along and end my misery. Yeah, so I appreciate that you were paying attention and all but this is not actually what I had in mind.

Good. God. Please don’t let it end like this. Not with Jen. Not with the overpaid NBA player. Not with God damn Britney Spears as the soundtrack.

The Hummer pulled in front of us and he slammed on the brakes. Those glowing red tail lights should have been the last thing I ever saw. But somehow Jen swerved out of the way. I don’t know how she did it. It would have been an impossible maneuver for a sober person. Ironically I guess maybe that was the key.  Regardless, we STILL should have been dead. Because there should have been a giant concrete barricade waiting to decimate us. But there wasn’t. There was an exit. OUR exit.  THE Fullerton exit we lived off of. Completely and utterly by chance.

I kept checking behind us to see if he would follow. He didn’t.  Jen pulled over and got out to examine the car. I waited in stunned silence. She got back in and started crying her eyes out. Sufficiently sobered up by the previous few minutes, I asked her: “Is it bad?” She didn’t respond. She just kept crying. “Jen… is it totally f*cked?” She shook her head and wiped the tears away.

“There are barely any scratches.” She wrapped her hands around the steering wheel and buried her face in it, crying even harder.

I took a deep breath… and threw up all over the place. Jen stopped and looked at me. I looked back at her. She started laughing through her tears.  I just shook my head. “Thick and thin, Chris…” She started the car back up and rolled down the windows. “Thick and thin…”

It wasn’t the last time I saw him. But that’s another story for another time.   


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