The sun’s recently set. Night time has arrived a bit early, but there’s still a hint of the day’s warmth.
I’ve just picked up some last minute prints from Office Max to get a head start on tomorrow.
On the way back to the office, coming down Scottsdale Road I see a lone car up ahead.
A dark blue Cavalier, swaying slowly in and out of the empty lanes.
Thunderbird approaches, my turn off.
I should just go back to my little life. Go back to the office, finish this job, and be safe. Be normal. Blend in.
I watch Thunderbird get closer and closer… and let it pass me. For some reason, I decide to just keep watching and following behind the Cavalier.
This person isn’t texting, where there’s a slow floating to one side, then a quick jerk of a correction.
He’s drifting from the far left lane, to the far right lane, and back again in long gradual sweeps. I get just close enough to read his license plate. But I don’t call the police.
There’s minimal traffic coming from the other side, and with a divider between us and them. So I don’t feel too worried about Cavalier Driver hitting someone head on. As he lingers to the left, I cringe in anticipation of him nailing a tree, or rolling over the median and flipping.
The light ahead of us turns red. He slams on his brakes, way too early, coming to a screeching halt about 100 feet from where he should have.
I stop beside the Cavalier, and take a close look at the driver.
He’s got a college kid face. Curly brown hair, with a lousy goatee.
He has the windows down, seemingly using the cold winds in an attempt to keep awake. He’s leaning forward, almost nose to the steering wheel. His eyes close heavily for a moment, then force themselves open a few times.
I want to say something to him, but what?
The light ahead of us turns green. It takes him a moment to notice, but he does eventually, and we continue on.
I stay, very obviously, even with him, keeping an eye out for police. When he drifts into my lane, I move over a bit. He hasn’t glanced in my direction once. He has no idea I’m even here.
When you’re this drunk, everything and everyone you interact with isn’t fully real. Never entirely solid, your environment is more like a movie being played, where normal fears and consequences are so distant in your mind it’s almost as if they don’t exist at all.
I begin to see other cars off in the distance ahead. I’m running out of time.
Cactus turns red. Cavalier man stops, this time in the crosswalk.
I watch his face this time as well, knowing this is a longer light.
It’s quiet. I can overhear him talking to himself. “You… you can do this. I can… I can do… I can…” he holds his face in his hands, rubbing his cheeks and eyes.
I can’t yell at him for driving drunk. I don’t want to scare him, or make him angry. I don’t know what kind of drunk he is. Or why he’s drunk. There’s only one safe question to ask a stranger who’s clearly inebriated.
“Hey! You hungry?” I holler.
He looks to the left, then in his rearview mirror. His eyes are wide open, startled. Was he hearing things?
“Dude! Over here! We’re going to Jack in the Box! You comin?”
He follows my voice with his drunk head and finally sees me.
“What… no one told me you were… you were goin’ there. Yeah… yeah I wanna.”
“Cool man! Follow the white truck! It’s going to make a U-turn.”
He nods as his eyes close again. The light turns green and I gas up a bit ahead of him.
I blinker to the left lane with him floating around behind me too closely.
I make a slow U-turn, watching him attempt the same. His back tire nudges the median curb.
We creep up to the Jack in the Box together, he follows me into the empty parking lot and parks sideways across three spaces.
I get out of my truck in a hurry and meet him outside his driver’s window.
The car sputtered and shut off abruptly. I glance inside and notice he’s asleep, face on the steering wheel, his right hand taking a nap on the shifter.
I pull up the door lock in the window sill, and open his door.
“Come on man! We’re starving!”
He jolts awake and reaches with both arms towards me in a panic, “Get me… get me out of here! I’m stuck!”
He’s not stuck. But I pull him out of his dead Cavalier anyway.
He’s not stuck. But I pull him out of his dead Cavalier anyway.
He leans on me, and puts his face within licking distance of my own. His breath is like gasoline, “Dude… dude… I’m p-… I’m Peter.”
“Right on Peter, I’m Andrew. Let’s roll.”
I half carry him into Jack in the Box while he slurs something about his dead buddy’s name being Andrew.
He starts leaning/falling towards the front counter, so I corral him into the nearest booth instead. He plops into it too hard and looks around apparently confused at his suddenly different surroundings.
“I’m gonna get one of those sirloin burgers with everything on it. You want one too?”
“Yeah… I… yeah, yeah gimme uh… gimme one a… one those things.”
I order two of the sirloin burgers. Not hungry myself, but this guy needs some time to sober up. I’m not sure why I’m doing this. I thought of the heroin kid at the office, and how I let him leave.
“You wanna Coke?” I holler back at Peter.
His head is down on the table, sleeping again.
So I buy us each a Coke, too. Maybe the food and caffeine will help him.
I stand by the counter, waiting for our burgers, letting him sleep a moment. When the burgers arrive, I hear him groan into the table, so I take them both and sit with him quickly.
“Here you go, eat up, Peter.”
His head pops up, there’s slobber connecting from his mouth to the table. He doesn’t notice it. Peter just stares at the burger wide-eyed.
I push his burger towards him, then begin opening my own.
He takes his sirloin burger out of its box, and starts biting into the entire thing, without removing the paper wrapping first.
“Ohh… mmff… mmm oh man. Oh man thank you.”
At least he’s eating. That paper can’t be any worse than the booze he drank.
He eats, and eats. Every bite seems to send a beach vacation down his spine. He loves that burger way too much.
Peter licks his fingers, slams down the entire soda in a gulp then leans back on his side of the booth, overcome with satisfaction. His eyes, though still very glazed, stay open now. He’s looking up at the ceiling, as if imagining the stars beyond it.
“Feeling better?” I ask him.
“Yeah, thank you. What was your name again?”
“Yeah, yeah that’s right. How did we get here?”
I laugh at him, and he smiles, embarrassed.
“We lucked out, that’s all,” I tell him, “So what’s the deal? Pretty early to be this drunk on a Wednesday? Where’s the party?”
He looks at his hands, pondering whether he should tell me.
“Are you drinking to remember, or drinking to forget?”
He crumples in his seat.
“To… to forget.”
I know that look. Too well.
“What did she do to you?”
He puts a hand over his face, it muffles his sad response.
“She… she cheated on me. Like right in my face, too.”
“Did you try to fix it?”
“Yeah but she dumped me anyway. Says I’m a… she said I'm a loser.”
“How long were you with her?”
“Since high school.”
He tries to sip from his straw, finds the drink empty, then falls back into his seat disappointed.
“Yeah I know. And you know what else? It’s gonna sound really, really lame.”
“Try me,” I say, sipping my own soda.
“She was the only girl I ever had, man. She was really something special.”
“That doesn’t sound lame at all.”
A smile appears then vanishes just as quickly from his mouth.
“So why the driving drunk?”
“Oh I don’t know. I just… I guess I just do it to see what’ll happen.”
“If you want to kill yourself, just use a gun,” I tell the table.
He chuckles at me, “Yeah that does sound pretty stupid, when I say it out loud, huh?”
“It’s okay Peter. It’s okay to be depressed for a while, it just shows how much you loved her. Just be depressed in the living room, not on the street.”
“You’re not gonna tell me to like, ‘go find other chicks, she was a bitch,’ and bullshit like that?”
“I’m sure she was a great girl at one point. And you’ll find another one when you’re ready. Just don’t think of her as your only reason for living.”
He nods, thinking about it. His gaze bounces between me and his hands for a moment, then he asks
“Ok, Andrew. You’re… you’re really nice. Are you from AA or something?”
He laughs, relieved, so I do too.
Peter seems to have taken those bits to heart. His demeanor lightens up and we talk about what he’s doing at ASU, and where he wants to work.
We go outside, he offers me a cigarette which I decline in favor of my own. He tells me his phone number, says we should hang out. I put it in my phone and call it, but don’t save the number.
We chat for a bit longer, I observe him closely to make sure he’s sobered up enough before I let him get back in his Cavalier. Eventually, after we both laugh at his terrible park job, he shakes my hand and opens the car door.
“Hey, thanks man. Thank you,” he says from his driver’s seat.
“Don’t worry Peter, you’ll do great. Just keep your head up, okay? You’re worth it. Just go home and sleep.”
“Thank you, I will. I’m right down the street from here. Thank you!” he starts his Cavalier, and waves at me as he pulls into the street.
I watch him drive away, staying perfectly in the lines.
Here’s hoping Peter made it home safely.