THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2014
I’m lying in bed reading the news, skipping past everything Ebola- or local-Detroit-politics- related because I am already feeling off. Christie’s earned its highest total in a night, leading with Andy Warhol’s painting of Elvis pointing a gun, which sold for $82 million Wednesday night.
I’m lying in bed exhausted but afraid to go to sleep. Still, I close my computer screen. The same thoughts are on loop, like I’m preparing to survive my next car crash—are we going to flip? Are we going to get hit by oncoming cars? How did we not also get side swiped? It is like having the spins but I’m inebriated by fear. I try to think of something positive, imagining that I am spinning the Wheel of Fortune wheel (a trick that used to help me fall asleep as a kid), and I land on a memory: my friend Renée’s ekphrastic poem about Andy Warhol’s Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times.
Life happens within bookends, a series of different stories held together by two mirrored or similar moments—when we wake and when we fall asleep, when we feed our pets, beginnings and endings—symbols that feed my almost daily paranoia of getting into another car accident. Will I get away alive?Is everything all just luck and consequence, proving yet again that most things are out of our control?
January of this year was my first physical car accident. I was also in the passenger seat. When we pulled into a gas station to call the insurance company, my friend lay on her back in the snow and passed out after I went inside. My instinct was to find Entenmann’s chocolate-covered donuts. I still have no idea why, except for the most obvious reason that they are something I like and gas stations always have them. Entenmann’s donuts are reliably there and reliably delicious, a consistency that feels controlled, safe,in a world where change is inescapable.
Back then, I remember feeling thankful that my car-loving road dog Tennessee—Tenny for short— wasn’t with me, but wishing he could teleport to me so that I could hug him. Tonight, he lies along the back of my leg. I feel him breathing. I eventually fall asleep.
I usually don’t get hungry until past noon but I start to crave a McDonald’s cheeseburger. No way, I tell myself, not after last Sunday. I can still feel Sunday’s sugar and sodium splurge in my thighs. Cheeseburger cravings usually signify a lack of iron, or sadness. Today it’s likely because I’ve been feeling down, even though most times I can’t chart the ‘why’ of my cravings until after they’ve been satisfied. McDonald’s isn’t the healthiest but it’s my favorite because of how it’s reliably the same. How, despite its reputation for over-eating and large portions, McDonald’s Dollar Menu burgers are so small. The onions are diced tiny. No matter the financial situation, a craving for McDonald’s is not forever impossible to fulfill.
No, not today. I continue drinking my tea with lemon and get to work.
I order the Two Cheeseburger Meal: two Dollar Menu cheeseburgers, one large order of fries, and a pop. I also order a small Reese’s Cup McFlurry and 4-piece chicken nuggets (no sauce). When I was in elementary school, my grandmother Louise would sometimes pick me up for lunch and we would eat at McDonald’s, drinking strawberry or chocolate milkshakes for dessert. Louise only orders off the Dollar Menu, her theory being that more people eat from it so it’s fresher. Louise also taught me to tightly roll the bag closed at the top so that the hot air doesn’t get out and the food stays warmer for longer. Tonight, I roll the bag with diligence, because there’s nothing sadder than eating cold fast food and I am already over the edge.
When I work from home I sit at the table nestled in the front bay window in the living room. It gets the best light and is close to Tennessee’s bed. He lies there and catches sunbeams, the white of his tri-color fur pushed up around his neck like an Elizabethan ruff. I take breaks by petting along the white stripe on his nose or his soft ears, often because I can feel his expressive eyes looking up at me: take me out.
I finish work just as it starts to snow. Fuck. I still need to take Tenny on a walk. I wait fifteen minutes so the sidewalk won’t be as slick, then bundle up.
On the drive back from Home Depot I find a mini Twix bar in my purse, collateral damage from that Sunday binge. Halfway to my apartment I notice the truck in front of me fishtail into the middle lane. I hit that same patch of black ice on the overpass, but manage to slow down before taking my foot off the gas and letting the wheel correct itself.
Once I’m off the overpass there is a red light. Slowing down, my car fishtails again, much worse than before. I quickly look to see if there are any cars coming through their green light or cops around, and reluctantly run through.
The cops eventually find the red car a few blocks away. They’re not sure if it had been stolen or if the driver was drunk, but in any case the driver is nowhere to be found. I text my roommate Meg to come get me. When Meg arrives I notice she brought Tenny. She says that he knew he was needed because he ran to the door when she got up to leave.
I’m not hungry, but I need a sense of security. “Can we go to McDonald’s on our way back?” I ask.
By the time I get back from Tenny’s walk it is already dark. When I leave, I avoid any possible sight of McDonald’s Golden Arches of Temptation, just three blocks away from my apartment. I’m going to Home Depot in the suburbs for bookshelves. I drive local streets because everyone in metropolitan Detroit drives 80mph on the highway even though the speed limit is often 60mph. Unlike the highway, most of the local streetlights are off, but high speeds and fresh snow are scarier than an almost rural darkness in the city.
Tenny starts to groan. He eats at exactly 8:30am. When I take him outside we see the first frost of the year. Back inside my apartment, it is freezing. I put a large pot of water on the stove and take a hot shower before it boils. I get out and make English Breakfast tea with lemon.
“Be careful driving, I hit black ice tonight,” I text my friend Sara as soon as I park near my apartment. It is over an hour past Tenny’s dinnertime. When I get home, I drop my things near the front door and run to the kitchen for kibble. “Wearing jackets in the house, it’s a Michigan winter,” Danny Brown says in “Side A [Old]”. Inside my apartment is freezing. I don’t take off my coat.
At some point I get a text from Sara saying that she parked in the dirt lot around the corner. We’re going to a poetry reading at MOCAD, Detroit’s contemporary art museum. When we get to there, Sara orders a white wine and I have a PBR. The first sip of beer makes my stomach feel acidic and starved, like it felt when I was a kid during Sunday church service and never learned anything about the Bible because I was too focused on trying to control my growling stomach, anticipating eating the body of Christ to calm it down.
There is a ten-minute break before the final reader but Sara and I decide to skip out early and grab some food. It’s hard finding a place that is not a chain, is good, and is open this late in Detroit. We decide on Green Dot Stables. We get in the car. On our drive over, Sara and I discuss the weirdness of the week. Sara talks about hers and I listen.
Back in my room, Tenny has taken up most of the bed. I climb into bed and unroll the bag. Eating in bed always makes me feel sloth-like happy, in this cozy-but-I’m-also-doing-something-wrong sort of way. “I think this went from weird week to worst week,” Sara texts as I finish my second Dollar Menu burger. When I finish eating I get out of bed and make a shitty margarita with Chi-Chi’s mix and Sauza tequila (gold). It is disgusting but a few large sips help calm my nerves. I can still feel the blood pumping through my upper arms and shoulders.
9:30pm or 9:45pm
A force; a screeching crash, and my head hit the back of the seat, hard. The car spins and in split seconds I try to anticipate: are we going to flip? Are we going to get hit by oncoming cars? How should my body be? I crouch in my seat and put my arms and hands over my face and neck, something I learned as a kid during tornado safety drills.
The car stops. I look at Sara to make sure she is okay. We’ve spun into the lane of oncoming traffic. How did we not also get side swiped? Instinctually I somehow know that the car that hit us is going to run. I feel a surge of adrenaline, the totality of rage. I get out of the car with such force that my earring falls out as I slam the door shut. I run across the street noticing the debris everywhere: hubcaps, large pieces of plastic, Sara’s entire rear bumper.
My instinct is to start screaming, to grab something and start breaking the windows of the red sedan that hit us, but instead I focus on its license plate. The car that hit us is now halfway down the cross-street and up on the sidewalk. I shouldn’t go up to it; I just want to get close enough to see the license plate. As soon as I cross the street, where the one streetlight still reaches, the red sedan speeds off.
Lisa John Rogers is a writer living in Detroit and the senior editor of Aftertastes.