by Kathleen Hernandez
April 2008

Blue and red lights flash on the side of Route 301 in Maryland, illuminating the menacing oak trees. The rural roadside forest trees echo the flashing lights louder than the siren can screech our ears. Our concern about the cops starts to swell.  We need to turn off the main road and fast.  The pounding beat of the provisional license through my wallet prods me to remember a daily shortcut routine that would help us escape from our fears of a ticket for speeding or for driving in the restricted morning hours.  I feel a sigh of relief when my boyfriend, Marcus, takes the turn on the back road while I give direction in the passenger seat. Smiles return on our faces at the thought that we are so slick we could get away with murder.

The road ahead is pitch black, but no worries arise.  The breeze feels nice against my skin as it creeps inside the window opening of the car. With the windows down, I feel the mist from the outside drizzling weather, my hair just tossing and turning as it catches the forceful winds. The radio is blasting new R&B hits as the car races down the streets at the two o’clock morning hour. This was the life; I feel free and grown.  The DJ on the radio puts on the new number one hit single “Shut-Up and Drive” by Rihanna, which completes the sensations of soaring through the curves in the secluded back road.

I’ve been looking for a driver who’s qualified
So if you think that you’re the one step into my ride
I’m a fine-tuned supersonic speed machine
With a sunroof top and a gangster lean

Yellow signs on the side of the road pass unheeded; they tell us to change our speed for the different windings and turns that should be taken with caution. But we are making good time. I am almost three hours late for curfew, and the thought of almost being home makes me anxious; in my mind I hear on repeat my mother saying, “Ok, see you Marcus and Kat at eleven thirty tonight,” as we waved good-bye in memory.  Our speed increases to fifteen miles per hour over the given speed limit.

My engine’s ready to explode, explode, explode
So start me up and watch me go, go, go, go

Got you where you wanna go if you know what I mean
Got a ride that smoother than a limousine

Suddenly the music seems to get louder and the sight of trees spins across my eyes. The tightness of the seat belt tugs across my stomach and chest as it forcefully tries to keep me calm. I feel two arms trying to grab me for a sense of safety, trying to grab my body. My feet remain still, and my hands grasp my new edition Dooney and Burke purse (I can’t let go under any condition because my mother would kill me if there was scratch on the fresh leather).

Can you handle the curves? Can you run all the lights?
If you can baby boy then we can go all night

 As the car starts to make funny sounds, I became even more confused about what is going on.  The screeching sound effects only found in movies are popping up in my head. As the car is spinning, in my mind I am watching a virtual intense action thriller or I am on a heightened rollercoaster ride. My body is responding in sync with the car. If the car jerks right, my neck jerks to the right also.  As my adrenaline increases so does the music volume.  A throbbing sensation promptly finds its way to my neck and head. My mind is dazed, in a trance, a feeling that I never experienced before, so I just close my eyes for reassurance and to substitute as a pain reliever. Our bodies are on a tilted incline.

Not until the car comes to a complete stop from this strange, imaginary, impulsive reality do I feel safe again. I regain my senses and, before opening my eyes, I hear the song on the radio, the volume lowering to a more moderate level.

      Cos I’m 0 to 60 in three point five
Baby you got the keys-
Now shut up and drive
(drive, drive, drive)
Shut up and drive
(drive, drive, drive)

Still dazed in that trance, I see Marcus’ lips move, but no sound is coming out. Regaining consciousness, I realize Marcus is repeating are you ok? Questions start to form and race through my mind. What does he mean, am I ok?

My eyes turn slowly to the running car engine sound. The first thing I see is a broken windshield. My heart picks up its pace to an uncontrollable beat. All I can do is tear up and put my hand over my head to calm myself. I want to scream. I want to yell on the top of my lungs, “WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED!”  Sucking up my fears and worries, I wipe away the tears and start to find answers to my many questions. I look out the window to see what is on the road next to me. Scattered dirt surrounds the car. The road still seems damp from the early morning drizzle.  Marcus turns off the engine to the car, cutting off the music at the end of the last chorus of the song.

      Can you handle the curves? Can you run all the lights?
If you can baby boy then we can go all night.

I slowly unbuckle the tightly fastened seat belt from across my waist and chest. As the seat belt rerolled itself back into its compartment, I feel pressure being released off my body.

Marcus and I just sit there for a couple of seconds, pondering our next step. The question “What to do?” keeps puzzling us. Oh, call my mom.  My fingers tremble and my palm is moist from the mixture of sweat and the cell phone heat.  Before I hit send to connect the call, the memory of her voice restating, “Ok see you Marcus and Kat at eleven thirty tonight,” keeps flashing over and over.

Taking deep breaths, shaking inside like an eighty-two year old with Alzheimer’s, Marcus and I try to open our doors for our escape. My door opens with a breeze, but Marcus’ is stuck. I carefully get out the car as he cautiously climbs over the seat.  Leftover rain on the leaves of the trees starts to drop on my head. It seems that the raindrops correspond to the tears that run down my checks. Headlights pull up to the scene of the crime; more emotions cry out. How to explain why a wooden phone pole is lying in the middle of the street or how our car ended up against a guard rail?

I start to slowly walk towards the car with the blinking hazard lights and try to think of my first word. My mother sent my father. Many thoughts of disappointment and outrage are about to come out. All I can do is just take a deep breath of regret and speak.

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