He was driving for so long that when I snuck a sideways glance in his direction under the flickering light of streetlamp after streetlamp whizzing by at 70 miles per hour, I could see his eyes glazing over, dead to the world. I doubted for a moment if he was really behind those eyes, wondering if he’d secretly gone blind somewhere between El Paso and the Akron exit and didn’t want to suffer through the agony of telling me his misfortune. I thought about asking him if he was alright, suggesting to him that I take the wheel, even if we have to pull over onto the shoulder right here, that’s how dead he looked. I was afraid to go another mile inside of this death trap controlled by the ghost of a boy left beside me. For a moment I wondered—if I did ask—if I’d even get a response. And so, paralyzed by this fear, I let it be. If God gave him this space, allowed his soul to slip momentarily away from his body even though he was still controlling a vehicle, then maybe it was simply my time to die. So I spent the next few hours of silence staring out the window, analyzing each bend in the highway, each ditch and cliff along the side of the pavement, wondering which one I would meet my end in.
By the time I had allowed myself to pick one, a drop-off steep enough that the highway was level with the tops of the trees at the bottom, he finally seemed to return to his body, if only half-heartedly.
“I think,” He managed to get out, his quiet tone seeming to acknowledge the fact that it was invading the silence and ruining the theoretical space we’d created within it, “That we should stop here for the night.”
He nodded toward a glowing Super 8 sign up ahead that seemed so out of place in this existential drive. It was a roadside motel far too normal for this crazy delusion of a road trip we were on. Pulling off the exit, the slowing of the car seemed to slow time. It was as if we needed the extra time to break from the universe of silence we occupied along that highway and glide gracefully back into the real world. Our minds needed the time to start up again, to begin to operate as normal, or as close to normal as we could manage simply to get through this pit stop in the real world. Knowing it would only be for the night, only require one conversation at the front desk and then the energy to get our head to the dingy pillows where we could sleep for the night, our minds never truly woke up. They did their bare minimum, knowing we would escape from them again soon and there was no reason to carry us at full speed right now. No need to allow us to think until we were entering the real world long term.
Tonight was not that night. So we mumbled out our needs to the woman at the front desk, dragged out feet across the tacky design of the hallway carpets, fumbled with room keys, and dropped into the dusty mattress still in our day clothes. It took a small mental battle to even convince myself to kick off my shoes before I curled up into the comforter and disappeared into my dream world.
“Goodnight Jason.” I murmured into the darkness, my arm reaching out for him across the bed. He was already asleep, shoes hanging off the edge of the bed.
I fell asleep stroking my hand softly up and down his back, hoping I could make his dreams feel as comfortable to him, as sleeping here next to him was to me.