I nearly choked on my goldfish while driving down I-80 in western Wyoming.
I reached for the center console in my car to take a swig of coffee, but grabbed the wrong cup and instead of filling my mouth full of caffeine, I was staring Steve right in his unblinking, wide fish eyes.
“Holy shit!” I sputtered as I set Steve back in the cup holder. “Sorry, buddy,” I apologized. Steve made a lazy half-circle swim around the glass, his gills flapping in and out.
“We’re almost there, Steve; just another 500 miles,” I say to my fish. “Almost there…”
I see a road sign for a rest stop up ahead and breathe a sigh of relief. I’ve been driving nonstop for six hours and my butt is sore and I could use some fresh air, a cigarette, and to stretch my legs. I turn on my blinker and exit the interstate, pulling into the rest area. I sit in my car for a minute, watching truckers and families with small kids enter the building.
I hate interstate rest stops. The bathrooms are always humid, even in winter, and smell of shit. I always manage to pick the stall that’s either out of toilet paper or the toilet is broken.
I exit my car and inhale Wyoming air into my lungs, stretching my back until it pops like someone playing with a roll of packing bubbles. I moan in both pleasure and horror as my spine realigns itself, making a mental note to find a new chiropractor as soon as I get settled into my new town.
I’m on my way to southern Idaho. I don’t know why. Actually, I do; after a five year relationship with a man I was sure I was going to marry, he came home one day and told me it was over and he had been seeing someone else. I didn’t say a word to him as I started packing my clothes into suitcases.
“Mollie, wait. What are you doing?”
“You’re done with me, so I’m leaving,” I said.
I walked into the living room and grabbed Steve in his fish bowl. I went into the kitchen and poured him into a glass, back to the bedroom to get my bags, and walked out the door.
“Where are you going?” he asked from the front door as I put the luggage and my goldfish into my car.
“Away from you,” I replied as I got into the car and drove away.
I look inside the car window at Steve and see him floating in his glass. I hope he survives the trip. I should have flushed him down the toilet before I left, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’m going to be alone in an unfamiliar city and I need something to keep me company. Once I’m sure Steve is okay, I reach into my pocket and grab my pack of smokes, shake one out, and light up. Ah…nicotine. I hadn’t had a cigarette since before I left and the sensation of smoke filling my lungs calms me down. I reached inside my purse for my phone and called my dad to let him know what happened and where I was.
As I was talking to him, I lit up another cigarette and the noise prompted my father to ask me when I was going to quit.
“You know, Mollie, maybe you should stop smoking.”
I rolled my eyes and lied, “Okay, Dad. I’ll consider it.”
“You’ll never meet another man if you keep smoking. It’s a huge turn-off. Plus, what guy wants to marry a woman full of cancer and smells like cheap hooker?”
“Well, it’s true, Mollie. I wouldn’t want to fuck a woman who smokes.”
“Good to know, Father…thanks for that disturbing mental image. I’m hanging up now. I’ll call when I get there.”
I put the phone back in my bag and inhale some more and exhale out my nose, which causes me to cough. For a brief second, I consider quitting, but the thought passes as soon as I quit coughing.
A woman and her son exit the bathrooms and the boy is crying.
“I don’t want to be in the car anymore!” he wails. “I’m tired of driving!”
“I know, baby, but we are almost there. Just a few more hours,” the mom tries to comfort her son. This brings on louder wailing from the boy and he drops to the ground, escalating his tantrum. The woman looks down at her son and she looks completely exasperated. She lets him continue his fit, trying to soothe him by running her hand on his back.
I don’t mean to stare, but the boy is expressing my own feelings. I’m tired of driving, I’m tired of the Wyoming landscape, and I’m just tired. I begin thinking of how many more miles I have to go and I feel like having my own tantrum here in the parking lot, but I’m an adult, so instead, I pull another cigarette from my pack and light up. The woman finally calms the child down and they walk hand-in-hand back to their mini van. The boy is sniffling and looks defeated as he climbs into the vehicle. I hear the woman ask if he wants to watch a movie and his feeble reply of “okay.” She straps him into his car seat and looks my direction. I offer a smile to her and she returns it.
“Someone is tired of being in the car,” she says to me, and then enters the drivers side door. She starts up the van and pulls out of the parking stall. I look at the license plate as they drive away and notice they’re from Ohio. No wonder the kid freaked out. I don’t know where they’re going, but that’s one hell of a drive so far, and it appears to just be the woman and her son in the car. “That poor thing,” I mutter out loud, but I’m not sure to whom I’m referring, the woman or the kid.
I drop my cigarette to the ground and step on it, mashing the butt into the asphalt. As much as I don’t want to go into the restroom, I make my way there, knowing it’ll be several miles until the next place to pull over. I walk in and brace myself for the humid shit air, and check the first stall for signs of a functioning toilet and stocked paper. I’m in luck and have both.
As I’m sitting, I read the graffiti on the stall walls and see the usual: Bobbie luvs Mike, crude drawings of cocks scratched into the paint, so-and-so was obviously here, etc…and then I see one that catches my attention: “I may be lost, but it’s only for a little while.”
Here I am, sitting on a cold metal toilet in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, the smell of urine and feces assaulting my nostrils, paper towels littering the floor, a giant penis carved a few feet in front of me, and I have a bathroom revelation.
I am lost, but it’s only for a while.
I reach into my pocket for my lighter and with the metal tip, scratch my name and the date into the grey paint, and exit the stall. I walk over to the sink, wash and dry my hands, and say to my reflection in the mirror, “It’s only for a while, Mollie,” and I walk back to my car, get in, and drive.