On Monday I have night class and often I am exhausted and not in the mood. After a long day of work, I get in the car and drive towards home. I, however, never make it home. Just as I get close to my town, I have to slow down and turn left to go to class. I park the car, grab my soda and books, and take a small walk to the building my class is located in. I say hello to my friends and proceed to bitch about whatever homework I didn’t finish. Last Monday played out nearly the same as it does every week, except this time I was silently dealing with something that had happened on Lone Oak Road.
For those who do not live in Paducah or the surrounding area, let me tell you about Lone Oak Road. It is a four lane road that should only be two. It is congested and miserable. This is not a metropolitan area at all, but Lone Oak Road is always backed up. The street lights never work in sync and you will catch all the red lights. Each side of the street is crammed with businesses: banks, fast food restaurants, consignment stores, pharmacies, gas stations, and tattoo parlors. People are trying to get in and out of these businesses and no one is willing to let anyone in or out. It is my 5 o’clock nightmare.
Last Monday had been a long day for me. I couldn’t make people happy and had been snapped at by clients most of the day. I was exhausted from lack of sleep the night before, and had a music class to attend from 6 to 10. I was grumpy and not in the mood for timbre, tone, and harmony, but I climbed into my van and started to class. I had a craving on that fateful day. A craving for Long John Silvers, only greasy fried fish would soothe this weariness. With my last ten dollars grasped in my chubby little hand I pulled through the drive thru and ordered.
“Long John Silvers, can I take your order?”
“Yes, can I get the L11 with a Diet Coke, please?”
“That is a L11 with a root beer.”
“No, an L11 with a Diet Coke.”
“A root beer?”
“No. A Diet Coke and add a three-piece shrimp please.”
“Okay, that is an L11 with three shrimp and a root beer.”
“Yes, that will be fine.”
I accepted defeat. A root beer it was going to be. I was handed my box of fried fish and looked for a place to put the cardboard box of goodness. My van is in rough shape. I drive about an hour and a half each day getting to and from work. I live in this van. I eat in it. Clean Saidee’s backpack in it. Change clothes in it. And occasionally sleep in it. This activity shows in piles of empty Cato’s bags, empty soda bottles, empty filet o’ fish boxes, toys, and clothes. There was no place to put my box of fried happiness. So I lovingly placed it atop a mound of cardigans and my oversize purse. I opened the steaming box and started feeding myself greasy French fries.
I drove with my left hand on the steering wheel and the other hand grasping the box of food. Each time I had to slam on my breaks I kept the box from sliding. I was protecting the fish like a mother protects her child who is in the front seat for the first time. Every few seconds I would tear at the flakey fish and feed myself with my fingers. My fingers were covered in grease as I continued to tear. I was in my own world, dreading the music class, singing to the radio, and feeding myself, when it happened. As I moved a plump greasy shrimp to my mouth I turned my head to see a gray car with three teenage boys laughing at me.
Under normal circumstances I would have mouthed, “Fuck you,” and given them the finger. Under normal circumstances I would have fantasized about their lives and made up a story about the boy in the backwards hat having gonorrhea and how he had just slept with the blond kid’s girlfriend, now the blond kid was infected and prom was going to be a little itchy this year. But I was in a vulnerable position with a greasy face and fingers, the shrimp still perched upon my lips. I put down the shrimp and put both hands on the wheel at 10 and 2. I looked straight ahead and pretended this wasn’t happening.
I had crossed a line that can’t be uncrossed. This is my life: a life of fast food on the run. My life is lived in a dirty black van, with me singing along to the radio or, if I am lucky, a Clutch CD that Carvell has left in the player. I have always believed that in my own vehicle no one can see me. I can pick my nose freely and change clothes with no one being the wiser. In my car I can sing like Adele. In my car I am safe.
Tomorrow is Monday and I will be mean and exhausted. I will swing by a fast food place and repeat my order into a microphone. I will go to class and see my friends. My schedule will not change. Three teenage boys with possible gonorrhea took away my sanctuary and I don’t know how to get it back. I am no longer invisible in my own car.