We would drive until we hit dead ends. The point was to get lost, really, but we could never shake the city lights in our rearview.
When Davey dropped out of college he told everyone he was training to be a professional wrestler because he didn’t want to admit he’d turned to relentless day drinking, interrupted only by the occasional four hours of sleep. He had a public breakdown during a lecture about the subconscious and its relationship to instinct, and after a brief stretch in an institution, he came home.
I had never left. I was still looking down the barrel of my mundane Midwestern childhood and I felt unreasonably resentful about the whole thing. All I’d accomplished since everyone else left for college was memorizing the first five hundred digits of pi. I bragged about it in the same way and for the same reasons that hot girls brag about drinking straight whiskey.
Davey and I used to search for dead trees alongside the river. Davey pushed over a dead tree behind his barn a long time ago, before his eyes had carved themselves so deep into his head that I could barely make out their color. It seemed like something time-consuming enough for us to start doing recreationally. There was definitely skill involved in finding trees that were worth pushing over. Trees too dead seemed boring, and trees too alive made us feel weak. Feeling power was the whole point of pushing trees over, anyway.
I was in charge of finding trees with the perfect balance between weak and strong. It takes like ten whole minutes to push over a tree, so I let Davey rock them back and forth for a while. Then we’d both thrust our weight against the trunk in an absolute way, and it would topple to the ground. We never moved the fallen trees. It never mattered. We wanted to shove them to the ground and leave them there, so we did.
On a muggy day near the edge of fall, my air conditioning succumbed to humidity that seeped through the cracks of my car doors and window seals. Davey was quiet, which wasn’t unsettling or atypical. I was thinking about how much laundry I hadn’t done. We twisted around gravel roads, took brief stints on county highways past scorched weeds and wilted August corn.
“Dead cat,” he said, turning his head to follow the carcass.
I looked, said nothing. I wondered how fast we were going and what we would hit if the car just kept going straight.
He chewed his thumbnail and spit it out the window before saying, “Have you ever seen that documentary about those crazy people who were related to the Kennedys somehow?”
“I saw part of it but turned it off,” I said. “My mom said it was going to make her cry.”
“Oh. Well, there’s a part in that movie where this cat takes a dump or something behind Big Edie’s portrait, and when Little Edie tries to make a big deal out of it, Big Edie says, ‘Good. I’m glad somebody’s finally doing something they wanted to do.’ They lived in that big mansion with stray cats and raccoons and piles of garbage. But some of the stuff they said was pretty profound. They were just so batshit that nobody really thought they were geniuses. I think they’re geniuses.”
I tried to roll my window down further and it worked so I rolled it back up.
He spit out the window. “Anyway, I just thought of that. The dead cat or whatever.”
“Or whatever,” I repeated.
I guess they found Davey in his closet after he went to the grocery store one day. According to police, he’d bought a gallon of skim chocolate milk, two boxes of saltines, and twenty-four rolls of toilet paper with a coupon. Lots of people argued about whether or not these things were significant. His viewing wasn’t terrible. Seeing him in his casket, he looked calm and himself, to be honest. His family wept. I wept, but it was self-serving. I hadn’t seen him in a few years. He had since married a telemarketer with auburn hair who I’d never met and who made chicken parmesan for him twice a week. He started going by Dave. He was miserable, I guess.
On a drive once, Davey told me he was ‘really good at knots.’ I told him that that was really fucking stupid to say because all knots are different and everyone is good at knots if they twist them around enough.
Gwen Beatty is a sorority dropout who plays in several fictitious bands that all sound exactly like Cheap Trick. She very recently tasted honey for the first time.
Lead image: “Knot” (via Flickr user Sara Lando)