That was it. Jody said, “I don’t care what you do, I’m moving to California,” and I dropped everything. Everything. I quit art school to save money. I quit Starship Records and took a job waiting tables to make more money. I sold some of my crap, packed some of it into my parents’ basement, and stuffed the rest into the trunk of Jody’s Cordoba.
We left from Spartanburg rather than Savannah: one last chance to say goodbye to family and friends. The night before we left Jody visited her mother and I went to find my old friend, roommate, and cycling buddy, Jarod. He was back from Athens, Georgia, and living with his parents again after a couple of vicious acid trips. We stood on their porch, the crickets and the lightning bugs breaking the black silence. “Hell is real,” Jarod said.
“I’m serious. It’s a real place. I’ve been there.”
“You just had a bad trip, buddy.”
“No, I was there.”
“Okay. Well, I’m glad you’re back. Hey, you remember that time I got high and tried to buy everything on the McDonald’s menu?”
“Yeah,” Jarod laughed.
“Or the fight in the Black and White Zone?”
“Get him, Scoop! The fireworks—”
“That was amazing—”
“I’m sorry it all went to shit in Savannah,” Jarod said.
“It was my fault, man. Too uptight,” I said, and I looked up at his terrified face. “What’s the matter?”
“You can’t move to L.A.,” he said.
“I have to, buddy. It’s decided.”
“You’re going to die there. I see it.”
“I’m going to be okay.”
“Please don’t go. You’re going to die there.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said, and I hugged him. “I love you, buddy.”
He just took off to play guitars with Chris.
Just left to drink beer at Gary’s.
I think he went home. Try there.
Eventually we crossed paths, I can’t remember where — somebody’s house; dark, wooded; more goddamned crickets.
“Hey,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
“Jody and I are leaving in the morning.”
“What? Why didn’t you tell me,” Lee G. said.
“I couldn’t find you.”
“Yeah, been busy, he said. “Not home much. I’m supposed to be at Chris’s right now, can we talk about this later?”
“See ya,” I said.
“Okay, we’ll talk tomorrow.”
“Not unless you’re at my folks’ house at 5 a.m. Take it easy,” I said, and I stepped toward the Quincymobile.
“Wait,” Lee G. said, and he grabbed me in a tight hug. “I’m going to miss you.”
He’d been my best friend since the fifth grade. I was all done with goodbyes.
I sat down at the table my father made during our short time in Texas and opened my atlas to the U.S. interstate map. I highlighted the route from Spartanburg to Los Angeles: a bright yellow streak running nearly coast to coast across the southern half of the country. I snipped a piece of string from my mother’s knitting chest and laid it as accurately as I could along the line, and then I measured the string against the atlas’s scale bar. On a piece of scratch paper I divided the distance by the Cordoba’s mileage and wrote it all on a sticky note that I taped to the map, and then I counted my traveler’s checks for the nth time. Two grand: all the money we had in the world.
“You really think that piece of shit can make it to California?” my father said.
“Took it to Chuck’s today. He said the tires have another 10,000 miles on them.”
“Takes more than tires.”
“Yeah, guess so,” I said.
“What are you going to do when that bucket of bolts breaks down in the desert?”
“Well, I guess we’ll get my motorcycle off the trailer and ride to the next town.”
“Then what?” he said. “Find some crooked mechanic to steal all your money like he does every dumb ass that comes through?”‘
“Then we’ll just ride the rest of the way,” I said.
“What about your stuff?”
“It’s stuff. We’ll get more.”
“You haven’t thought this through. You don’t have enough money. You can’t just drive across country without a plan.”
“You’ve been telling me since I was little that when I turn 18 I was out. I haven’t been your problem for three years now.”
“Your mother doesn’t want you to go,” he said.
“Mom wished me luck and told me she was proud of me!”
“I’m not driving to Texas to pick you up because that piece of shit broke down.”
“Nobody’s asking you to!”
“Fine, smart ass. Do whatever the hell you want. You know everything,” he said, and he walked away. I went to my old bedroom in the basement for the last time and stretched out among the jetsam of my childhood, waiting for Jody.
I awoke to her breath on my neck and her warm body pressed against my back. “Say your goodbyes?” she asked, and I began crying.
“Why does he hate me?” I said.
“Why does he hate me so much?”
She let me cry for a bit, and then she said,”I don’t know, baby, but we’ll be gone soon.” Five a.m.was only a few hours away.