The traffic lights blurred together in a paralyzing panorama. The scene through my windshield spun like a roll of film. Water pooled at my wheels and padded upon my Chevy’s soft top.
After thirty seconds I realized I had been screaming. It was a high guttural sound, having slowly swelled up my throat before ripping out my chest. Once the car had spun three times, it stopped facing backwards in the left lane. My 2002 silver Chevy Tracker found itself ridden with remaining inertia. For a moment there were only two wheels on the ground. I leaned violently to the other side and released a sigh of relief as it landed properly.
I looked to the car next to me, his expression completely blank.
“I’m alive!” I screamed with a mix of mania and fear. The man simply stared for a second and then drove off. There weren’t many people at the intersection. Not many people were driving that day at all.
It was a Saturday morning in November. All the color of October had faded, its wet remains had scattered on the sidewalks. Grey skies stole what little warmth was left in the town of Southington, Connecticut. I was driving to visit a friend of mine named Paula. Paula was a grandmother, a plant-mom and the proud owner of two golden-doodles. She was also the editor of the textbook for a class I was taking: Outdoor Emergency Care. I was a junior in high school and the class was a college-level course. Paula had said she would help me study for the exam.
I turned my car around and drove for a minute before pulling over to take a breath. I’d just approached the hill she lived on. To my right were weaving residentials. To the left was what seemed to be a small country club. The rain made everything greener: the lawns, the pine, the streets. I looked at the map on my phone again and tried to memorize the address. I’d been to Paula’s house before, maybe a year earlier. So, I felt confident I could find it.
By the time I reached your driveway, all of the houses looked the same. They were all stunning two stories with open windows facing the valley from your mountain side balconies. Logic buzzed in my ear, telling me I should park and check Google Maps again. But I thought, it was five minutes from the light. There’s is no way I got lost.
Paula often hosted her family at her house for events as well as babysitting her grandchild. While I’d met the rest of her family, I had never met her son and it wouldn’t had been strange to find someone else there. The flower at the front of the house were still miraculously blooming and a Christmas wreath had been preemptively placed on the door.
That’s strange, I thought. I parked the car and looked to the passenger seat. With the spinout I’d nearly forgotten the snacks I brought. I had gone to the local diner and bought a dozen different donuts for the meeting. I opened the car door and grabbed the box.
Before I’d even left the car, you were suddenly standing in the doorway. You must’ve been in your mid to late twenties. Your six-foot, athletic frame was clad in a white t-shirt and a pair of plaid boxers. Your feet must’ve been cold on the stone front steps, but you radiated warmth.
“You’re here!” You shouted with a grin. I smiled thinking you knew who I was. I closed the car door and started walking towards the house.
“Yeah, I’m here! I brought donuts too.” I replied. By the time I arrived at the door you were salivating with gratitude.
“Oh my god, I love you,” you said. “Come inside! Come inside!” You ushered me in like a long-lost friend, eager to hear about my drive and the on goings of my life. You had messy brown hair and blue eyes. There was more color in your cheeks than there was in the whole world—at least I thought so—until I saw your kitchen. The warm light from the kitchen fixtures seemed to touch everything in the room. The ceiling was extended, and the granite counters were covered in breakfast food and solo cups. At least ten people milled around the island, mixing drinks and making jokes. As I entered the room everyone stopped and cheered, “You made it!” I smiled and raised the box of donuts.
“Looks like a great party you’re having,” I said, wondering which one of them was Paula’s son and where she was.
“Yeah,” your responded, “We’re glad you made it. It’s been great so far—it’s only gonna get better with these bad boys.” You gestured to the box of donuts and I nodded.
“I’m surprised you’re even awake to start this early,” I said. It was 9 a.m.
You and your friend gave a hearty laugh as one of you patted me on the back.
“We started last night; this is just the hangover cure.”
“Oh,” I laughed, “that makes more sense. Do you mind pointing me to the bathroom?”
“Of course,” you said. “It’s just down the hall, on your left.”
Your bathroom was yellow, like my mom’s at home. It had this terrible mirror with faux gold framing and fake flowers on the back of the john. After I washed my hands, I took out my phone again to check the weather. The reception was shit, and it took a while for the app to load.
32 degrees, rain until Tuesday.
I looked in the mirror and saw how tired I was. Really, I looked like a wreak. And I had no idea why you took me in without knowing my face, if it was the donuts or shear faith. But you did it with such commitment and fervor—I couldn’t help but admire you for it. I should clarify, I’m no way idolizing you. Running around in my underwear while making morning margaritas was hardly my idea of “living” at the time. But it would be a horrendous lie if I said part of me wasn’t changed from that day forward.
I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, I realized that I didn’t want to look run down. I didn’t want to be sixteen years old taking a college-level class. I didn’t want my only friends to have grandchildren while I was graduating high school. Of course, Paula was a godsend, but I was young—and I wanted to be surrounded by young people. I wanted to party like one, drink like one, think like one. The truth was—I wanted to be you.
I didn’t have time to come up with anything cool to say. All I had was the donuts and that didn’t seem like much to work with. I left the bathroom with a renewed sense of purpose and took my place on the bar stool adjacent to yours. You poured me a glass of orange juice and asked me about my life. We talked and talked about politics and your girlfriend’s obsession with Stevie Nicks. You asked me about my classes and the guys I was interested in. I replied that the classes were (regrettably) the most interesting part of my life.
You told me, “Don’t worry. School sucks, but you’ll be out of undergrad before you know it.” I laughed out loud while the humor of the situation was lost on you.
“I’m serious!” you said. “Soon enough you won’t have to worry about any of that stuff!”
“But then you’ll have to pay taxes,” one of the girls chimed.
“And then you die,” you finished with a raise of your glass. I laughed at the joke and nodded to its underlying sentiment. I looked at the clock again.
“Well guy, this has been wonderful, but I really need to see Paula now,” I said matter-of-a-factly. The donuts were almost gone, and it was almost an hour past the meeting time. Your face was blank, flooded with confusion and a lack of explanation. The rest of your friends looked the same.
“Who’s Paula?” the girl from before said. I laughed, “Okay guys, you’re hilarious.”
“There’s no Paula here.”
“Fal—we don’t know who you’re talking about.” I stopped drinking my O.J. and looked around the room. They all seemed as confused as I felt walking in here, I put my cup down on the counter.
“So, you’re telling me that this house is not owned by a woman named Paula?” I asked you. You held my eyes with the same blank expressions as before.
“No, we just moved in. This is a housewarming party. We moved in yesterday.”
“I was supposed to meet my friend Paula a hour ago. I thought this was her house and that maybe you guys were family…” You shook your head and started to smile.
“I thought you were a friend of a friend,” you said.
“Well,” I replied, “I kind of am—if you ever meet your neighbors.” You all laughed, and I couldn’t help but laugh with you. You asked me if you could keep the donuts and against my own wishes, I had to refuse.
“I need some for my friend,” I said. It was a perfectly sound excuse to you. Your friends told me to come back in the afternoon when I was done at the neighbors. I said maybe, and you gave me a hug.
As I walked out the front door, I could feel the space growing between us and our small, 45-minute friendship. What I would’ve given to have stayed in that kitchen with you. What I would have sold to live in the beautiful bubble that was your friends, your home, your parties. I would’ve loved that. But instead, I took what was left of my dozen box and never looked back.
Fallon Repeta is a student at Central Connecticut State University
Headline Photo: Fallon Repeta