HIGH SCHOOL NORMALITY contains strong language and some themes not suitable for audiences under 17. Viewer discretion is advised.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Shut Up and Drive

"Would you like to go out for Coffee sometime?"
"Sure. When would you want to meet?"
"Do you have anything going on right now?"
"I think I can squeeze you in. My car is parked over there. Let's go to the Coffee Plantation. They have the BEST coffee."

"Michael, I'm not going to date this girl. I just want to talk to her."
"David, listen. Getting yourself into what could turn into a relationship is not a good idea for someone who has just kicked a very bad addiction."

"Don't go yet!"
"What was that?"
"I'm sorry, it's just that my accident happened when I was at a green arrow."
"David, that was some stupid drunk driver."
"What, people don't drive drunk during the day?"

"You're not over Joy."
"Come again?"
"David, it makes perfect sense. You ask a very do-able girl out and take her to the one place that you're bound to see your ex. And why? To make the latter jealous."

"I had a really great time tonight."
"Me too, David. I really like you."

"What are you doing here? How did you know I was at the Coffee Plantation?"
"I saw it on your Facebook page and thought, I just had to come surprise you."
"You guys fucked!"

"I realized that religion was not going to keep me away from my problems. It's not a cure-all, you know. All that having faith does is give you something to believe in. God gave us all brains, and for the past 30 years I haven't been using mine right."

"Hi, Joy."
"David! Hi!"
"I was wondering if you would maybe want to have dinner with me next Friday?"
"Sure. Meet you at 3.14?"
"It's a date."
"It's about fucking time."

Immediately after I called Joy Harris, my ex-girlfriend, I called Mark Adams, one of my best friends. He, along with our other friends Aaron Stanwick and Michael Florence, had been eagerly awaiting the time when I would finally deal with everything that happened before the car accident.

I had gotten closure with Cal, my deadbeat dad who was slowly picking up the pieces of his life again, and now I was finally going to get closure with Joy. She had cheated on me with her best friend/ex-lover Jamie, causing our dramatic break-up at the end of prom. But that was three months ago, and I could finally put it all in the past.

My name is David, and I'm a normal high school student.
And for the first time since my accident, things were starting to be normal again.

First of all, now that I wasn't afraid of seeing Joy, the guys and I were free to go to the Coffee Plantation, home of the best coffee in the world (or hot chocolate in Aaron's case).

"It's so good to be back! I feel like we haven't been here in forever."
"We were just here the other night saving David from himself."
"Oh yeah."
"Need I remind you that there was never anyone to save from himself?"
"No, because you'd be lying if you said that. What happened after coffee anyway?"
"Nothing. We went to 3.14, saw a movie, and that was the end of it."

The guys looked at me suspiciously.

"And we told each other we liked each other and than I got out of her car."
"Classic! Fucking in the car!"
"We didn't even kiss, Mark."
"Dude, you don't tell a girl you like her and than not kiss her! I thought I taught you better than that!"
"We almost kissed, but then Jake called to tell me that Cal was in the emergency room, and the rest is history."
"So when is your dad moving back in?"
"He started today. He'll be all moved in by the end of the week."
"And how do you feel about that?"
"I have a shrink to ask me that, remember?"
"Oh yeah. But how do you feel?"
"I don't really know yet. I guess I'll figure it out when he's all settled in."

After a couple more hours of our bromantic banter, Michael and I went out to his car so he could drive me home. We got in and he started the car. Everything really was becoming more or less the way it was before the accident. All except for one thing.

"So are you ever going to drive again?"

I thought for a moment about his question.

"I haven't really thought about it. I haven't needed to drive."
"Don't you think it's time that you tried?"
"Michael, I can't even get in a car without being scared shitless that I'm gonna get in an accident."
"The best way to conquer a fear is by looking it dead in the face."

We were silent for a minute while I thought about what he was saying. I hadn't driven since the night of the accident, nor did I want to drive ever again.

"Okay, get out."

Michael and I both got out of his Jeep Wrangler while he left it running. He walked over to the passenger side and opened the door, letting himself into the passenger seat.

"What are you doing?"
"Helping you conquer your fear. Get in the driver's seat."
"Michael, is this really necessary?"
"Just get your ass in the driver's seat."
I walked over and stepped up into the car. As I put on my seat belt, I was remembered every time I had put my seatbelt on. My first parking lot lesson, my first time in traffic, the first day I got my license, and of course the last time I had sat in the driver's seat. I sat there for a minute or two thinking about it before Michael broke into my train of thought.

"Okay, put the car in reverse. Okay, put it in drive, and go."

I put my foot on the gas pedal and drove forward. I realized that driving was like riding a bicycle. No matter how long you go without doing it, you never forget how. I remembered to break into my turns and how to change lanes. We blasted some Sinatra from the speakers as we cruised down Shea Boulevard. We came to a freeway entrance, where I gladly entered and cruised down the 101 all the way to Tatum. We were having a good time. I was reminded of why I used to love driving so much.

Then came the left turn that I would have to make off of the freeway and on to Tatum Boulevard. I stopped at a red arrow and waited. My palms began to sweat as I waited for it to turn into a green arrow. I stayed stopped as it changed from bright red to bright green. After hesitating for a couple seconds, I eased into the turn, aware of every other driver on the road. I took a deep breath as I drove through the turn, trying not to give into the image of a pair of headlights heading toward Rebellion the Pontiac. Once I was out of the intersection, I exhaled and wiped one of my drenched hands on my shorts.

"Are you okay?"
"I will be once I get some more practice with left turns. It was the green arrow. I felt like I couldn't trust the people on the other side."
"That's why they tell us to be defensive drivers."

We finally got to my house and I turned the car off.

"Thank you, Michael."
"Hey, anytime you wanna drive her, you can. Just call first, and make sure I'm in the front seat."

I felt strange when I walked through my front door. It felt so good to be driving again. For the first time all summer, I felt independent.

Cal was laying down on the couch when I walked in.

"Hello, David."
"Hi, Cal."
"How was your day?"
"It was fine. I drove a little bit."
"Did you, now? Which car?"
"Michael's. It was his idea."
"That was nice of him. You know, I was thinking that I could always get a ride to work with Rabbi Lewitt. We live right on the way for him."
"So you'll save on gas?"
"Well, this way you can have the Prius to take to school and to work."
"You're giving me the Prius?"
"Well, I'll still need it to go to class on Tuesday and Thursday nights, but other than that, it's your's."
"Wow. Thanks, Cal. Um, I should go to my room and read some more. Two weeks of summer left and I still have to read a whole book."

As I attempted to focus on the words of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, I thought about Cal's proposition. There had to be some sort of catch. This was my father we were talking about.

The next few days went by slowly. Starting on Monday, I was working eight-hour shifts every day. I was trying to soak up all of the hours I could get before school started and my hours would be extremely limited. Steve Weiss, my drug-dealing co-worker, was currently in L.A. for a family vacation, so I had the floor pretty much all to myself. The work was easy and I was being paid $7.75 for every hour I worked, so even though it was long and somewhat boring, it was worth the money I was making.

Before I knew it, it was Friday night, the night that I was meeting Joy at 3.14. Cal dropped me off and I walked inside.

I was just there a week prior, but it seemed different. The atmosphere and the circumstances by which I made my entrance vastly differed from last week when I was on my date with Callie. I walked past the sign that said "Seat Yourself" and there she was sitting at our usual table in the corner. Her hair was a little longer and styled a little differently, but it was definitely Joy.

"Hi, Joy!"

We hugged before I sat down. We ordered waters and a medium cheese pizza with extra cheese before we started catching up.

"So how was your summer?"
"It was really good. Went to New York City."
"Really? How was it?"
"Everything I always dreamed it would be. I just want to go there right now. How was your summer?"
"It was interesting. After the accident, things sort of took a turn for the worst."
"Yeah, Mark told me about the accident."
"Really? I didn't know you guys talked."
"We don't. He just informed me."
"Yeah. Um, he also told me that you had been in rehab."
"Yeah. Six weeks."
"Why were you there?"
"After the accident I got addicted to pain pills. I'm better now, though. Been going to N.A. and seeing a shrink once a week."
"That's good."

Things were starting to get awkward now. I knew that they would at some point in the evening, but I didn't realize that it would happen this soon.

"So, are you seeing anyone?"

Yeah, that's gonna make it less awkward.

"Not really. Went out with this one girl last week, but I don't think anything's going to come from it. I don't know if I really want anything to come from it."
"Oh. I see."

And the awkwardness continues.

"So, how's Jamie doing?"

Joy choked on her water with the mention of his name. She must have been surprised.

"Actually, I haven't talked to him all summer."
"Really? Why?"
"Well, being that he was the reason that you and I broke up, I couldn't bear to be around him."
"Wow. I figured you guys would have started dating once I was out of the picture."

And here it was; the most awkward moment of the night.

"Why would you say that?"
"Well, being that you did cheat on me with him, I figured you would want to be with him."
"David, he kissed me."
"And you kissed him back. No matter what you say about it, it all comes down to the choice you made to kiss him back."

Joy looked stunned.

"David, why did you ask me out to dinner?"
"To get some closure on our relationship. Why did you think I wanted to have dinner with you?"

She gave me that stunned look again.

"I don't know. I guess part of me thought that maybe you wanted to get back together?"

Now I was stunned.

"Look, Joy, if prom had never happened, if you had never told me what you had done or even done it in the first place, then we would probably still be together. But you kissed him, so I can't be with you."
"David, I made a mistake. I love you, and I feel so horrible about what I did, but you have to understand that things--"
"--just happen, I know, you've said it before."
"So, if you understand, then why can't we get back together?"
"Because things don't just happen. Things happen because you want them to happen. Saying that it just happened is an excuse and regardless of whether it happened accidentally or on purpose, it happened. If this 'just happened' as you claim it did, how can I trust that it won't 'just happen' again with another guy?"
"Because it won't."
"How do you know? How do I know?"

She looked into my eyes. As much as she wanted me to be wrong, she knew that I was right. The pizza came and we ate in silence for a little while. Finally she broke the silence.

"I really am sorry about how things ended."
"Me too."

We finished, paid, and went outside to wait for her mom.

"So, I'm really glad that we got to do this."
"Me too. There's my mom."
"Okay. So I guess I'll see you around?"
"David, I'm going to England for a semester."

That was unexpected.

"England, huh?"
"Yeah, it's this amazing music program. If I succeed there, I'm a shoe-in to get into Juliard."
"Wow, I just can't believe you're leaving."
"Only for a semester. Besides, there's really nothing here to keep me from going. That's why I asked you if you wanted to get back together. It would have been a reason to stay."

I was in complete shock. But there was only one thing I could say about it.

"Have a great semester."

We hugged, and she got in her mom's car.

The next day, I didn't have to go to work until 2. I woke up early and asked Cal's permission to drive the Prius for a little bit. It was the first time I had been in the car by myself since the accident.

I backed out of the driveway, trying carefully not to hit my mom's car or the garage wall. After I backed out, I put her in drive and made a left turn onto Tatum.

I was cautious at first, but after a few minutes I really eased into it and started enjoying it. It was one of those drives where you really have a chance to think about things. I thought about everything that had happened since prom; the break-up, the accident, the addiction, the date, and finally, the closure that I needed to move on with my life. As awkward as dinner with Joy was, it was necessary.

In some strange way, it was the perfect ending to the most tumultuous summer of my life.

David Adler
Normal High School Student