Burning Bridges by Sadie Williams Yellow dotted lines passing in congruent intervals along the pavement. The road is reliable. I can always count on the yellow lines, highway exits and stoplights to be there, directing me. The road takes me wherever I want and never controls me. Displaying different paths and their outcomes, but letting me pick the final destination. A perfect parental figure. This wasn’t the first time the road had guided me. In fact, I know this particular route all too well. I know that I’ll have to make at least one bathroom stop, no matter how little I drink. I know my ears will pop approximately halfway down interstate sixty-nine. I know the regulations of crossing the Canadian border. Passport, check. Vehicle registration and insurance check. I don’t have any food, animals or illegal substances so I’m good there too. The backseat is almost filled. Three suitcases of clothes, two duffle bags of miscellaneous and a bicycle. Basically my whole room or at least the essentials of it. With all this stuff I almost feel like I’m not traveling alone. As if my luggage has taken on a human form and I’m in charge of showing it a good time or something. After all, I am responsible for whether or not we make it to our destination and I am seeing to it that we do. Reduced speeds ahead. Eighty-five cents? Shit. Shit! I need fifteen more cents. I thought I’d have enough when I left. Must have only grabbed a hopeful handful from our coin chest. Good thing there’s about ten cars and a semi in front of me, enough time to forage through the floor. When was the last time this thing was vacuumed? This is disgusting. I guess it’s not that bad to look at or maybe that’s because I’m used to it, but having any of your senses close to this is down right torture. Nothing? Come on, you good for nothing… ah, wait! A quarter! It’s stuck? Is this really happening? The floor is like a wet lollipop. Oh God. I can’t tell if this coin just got stuck or if it grew out of the floor. I need something to help pry it off. This is ridiculous. I really wish I had an I-PASS right about now. Uhhhh. People are starting to honk. There’s a decent sized gap forming between the next car and me. Eureka! Got the quarter! Gripping onto the armrests, I slide back into the driver’s seat. I’m getting passed and no one seems thankful for their improved position in line. I feel obligated to exchange apologetic faces with their glares. Oh, how appealing a dark abyss sounds right now. I shift hastily out of park and pull up. Now at a stand still and actually seated, I avoid eye contact with my neighbor travelers. I wonder if they all know it was me who held up the line? Probably. How could anyone overlook this thing? The rims are rusty and generic looking, kind of like donut replacements. The original paint is worn down and faded, but distinctively purple. Sometimes the left taillight decides to stop working. This usually isn’t a problem unless you’re trying to explain that to a cop who’s pulling you over “for the last time” regarding the issue. The rearview mirror has a tendency to fall at random. Ironically sustaining massive speed bumps, but then falls when the car isn’t even moving. It’s been reattached countless times, each time forming a thicker layer of glue on its back. This might have something to do with the reason it doesn’t stay. The radio falls out sometimes too, but this is generally to be expected after speed bumps. The front seats are separated and there is nothing but bare space between them. No middle console, nowhere to set a drink, nothing. The seats are comfortable at least. They feel like velvet, but I’m not sure if that’s the actual material. Some mystery fabric.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this van. We’ve been through a lot. Trudging to school everyday last year at six-thirty in the morning, consoling one another’s tribulations. The act of simply talking can be very healing. It’s nice to have someone who will just listen, you know. You don’t necessarily need feedback for a revelation. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and reevaluate a situation. After school would let out we’d celebrate our freedoms with some old fashioned off-roading. The empty field behind the Italian Outpost is where we loved to wreak havoc. It was perfect. There was never anyone around. Well, except for that one time when we were making loops in the baseball diamond. I stopped dead in my tracks upon seeing six (yes, six!) cop cars sitting just outside the fence. The headlights were staring right at me and I could see exhaust trailing behind. Was anyone behind the wheels? To this day I don’t know, but I left quietly. Okay, can I just get past this tollbooth already? That incident really set my estimated arrival time back. Tollbooth workers must hate their jobs. Is that what they’re called, tollbooth workers? They don’t even get a real title? You’d think in today’s day and age we could virtually eliminate this job. I mean they must hate their jobs anyway. It’s the definition of monotonous work. The only available form of enjoyment is through forced conversations that never get past hello. My turn. I initiate small talk assuming he’s aware of my recent extravaganza in line. No reply. Pfff, the manual drop could have counted faster. Back on the road again. About one hundred kilometers per hour gusts of wind force through the halfway open windows. Might as well start brushing up on the metric system now, I suppose. “Fucking Americans” my born and raised in Michigan mother would say, “always have to be difficult about things. Why we didn’t convert thirty years before you were even born is beyond me.” That woman always had something to say. Especially regarding me. She wasn’t exactly thrilled by the idea of this trip. Oh, who am I kidding? She was completely devastated. I wish I could say I feel bad, but I don’t really. I never thought I’d actually just get up the nerve to leave, but she should have seen this coming. Must have dazed off there for a second. I hate that feeling, not knowing how you just drove that last mile or so. Shit. I’m running pretty low on gas and there are no more stops before the border. We’re here, but look at this line. This will take forever! They even have the dogs out, great. Man, I hope we make it. If we do make it, at least gas is cheaper up there. If we don’t, security should be obligated to bring me gas, right? How embarrassing would that be if I ran out right now, in this line? I’m sure there are people here who saw my performance at the tollbooth and want an encore. All right, calm down and act cool. I start impatiently poking at the radio. Nothing good on. I can’t control my eyes. They’re obsessively glancing at the gauge and then out the window. I hope I don’t look suspicious, but I probably do look like a fifth grader about to crap their pants. Ehh, I just made eye contact with one of the security officers. He probably thinks I’m up to something. Really, if anything, I’m looking at him for support. Maybe if he knew what was going on he’d bump me to the front of the line. Get me through quick and easy. I probably look guilty. Wait, maybe that was a good thing, looking at him. If you were guilty of
something you definitely wouldn’t make eye contact out of fear of drawing attention to yourself. What the heck? I can’t stop looking at that little flashing red E. Maybe if I stop looking at it we won’t run out. Ah, but now I’m thinking about it. I envision gas dripping onto the pavement, wasting away. The sound of the engine is a constant reminder that I’m using gas, but getting nowhere. I can’t escape this. I’m slowly and inevitably running out of gas. It doesn’t matter what I do at this point. This situation is out of hands. I just have to have faith. Faith? I’ve never had that in my entire life. God’s going to be like “Who are you again? Oh, we’ve never met.” No we have. I just took a twenty-year leave of absence. “Oh yeah, you…” Why is it that we only seem to find God when we’re in a time of need? Even the least religious person’s mind wonders to some form of a higher being when every other resource has been drained. I press the petal cautiously and move up towards the window. I grab the neatly stacked pile of necessary papers on the passenger seat. I’m ready. Security has tightened and some insignificant rules have changed, but this shouldn’t take too long. Canadians are nice anyway. It’s the same old slew of questions: “Where are you going?” “Toronto, Ontario” “For how long?” “The summer, is all.” Though I wish indefinitely. “Where will you be staying?” “390 West Adelaide Street” “What’s your purpose in coming here?” I don’t know, really. To get away from my life, those people, that town. The dreary Midwest and the sadness that accompanies it. Tedious chores for an already impeccably clean house. So clean that being comfortable is impossible without fear of upsetting some imperative balance. Pressure. Irrational ideas of perfection. Because I’m sick of wallowing in my own pity. Because I’d jump at anything that resembles a fresh start. “To visit my Dad.” There’s a short pause. A quick phone call. I hear mumbles. I don’t try to listen, but it’s surely something important. Maybe there are some scoundrels trying to cross the border or something. I wait to be spoken to. “You’ve been randomly selected to have your vehicle searched.” (!!!!!!!) Say it as if I just won the fucking lottery, why don’t you? I guess a young, American, female, traveling alone is unheard of. This doesn’t seem very random. I’ve got to be approaching negative miles per gallon at this point. Whatever. I’m in no position to argue. “Please direct yourself to the left. Park, leave your keys in the ignition and enter the building.”
Here we go. I sigh as I turn the key counter clockwise. An impending doom overwhelms me. There’s no way the van will start again. I go inside and answer some repeat questions. The guy playfully chats with me. A public servant who actually enjoys their job? I’m in no mood to be friendly, but manage to put on a good show. After about fifteen minutes I’m free to go. I walk out to the van. Squeezing my eyes tightly together I turn the key. All doubt subsides as the engine groans. I make my way onto the Blue Water Bridge. I love this bridge. I long for the luxuries of being a passenger. Pressing your face up against the window. Eyes like typewriters, moving along the fast settings. A perfect steam canvas. As beautiful as it is, I have to get off this bridge and to a gas station. I maintain a stable speed to conserve gas. It’s not enough though. The van begins to jerk as if I’m stomping the petal. I veer off to the side. We come to a complete stop. Doomed. Suppose I should get my Dad on the phone. Maybe he can bring me some gas. He’s pretty much all I have, seeing as I’m in Canada now. “Dad. It’s me.” “Where ya at kid?” “Uh… I’m… on the bridge.” “Yeah.” “Stranded.” “Yeah. Wait, what?” “The van ran out of gas.” “Golly! Well….” “Sorry” “Can you get a hold of some gas then?” “Dad! Can you bring me some?” “I’ve got work in a half an hour. I don’t have time to drive all the way out to the bridge and back before five.” “Ehh. Fine.” Of course. I should have known. A fresh start with my Dad? Impossible. Why did I think coming here would magically repair our relationship and mask fifteen (and counting!) years of neglect? I guess I’ll start walking. I can’t believe him. This bridge has got to be like a two-mile walk and I don’t even know where to find a gas station. My breath is louder than the cars passing by. The scenery passes slowly now, but I take no appreciation. My head is down. I don’t want to look directly at the cars. I hear something pull up behind me. I turn around. A man is slowing down in a pickup truck. I walk towards the windshield, straining my eyes to see who is behind the wheel. A young man opens the door and walks towards me, but leaves about the length of one person between us. “Need some help,” he yells over the sound of the traffic. “Yeah, I ran out of gas back there,” I yell back while pointing. He looks to be about in his mid twenties. His hair is dark and grimy. I wonder where he is from. I wonder if he’s coming to Canada for the same reasons as me. I can see my van off the shoulder of his car. “Ah, you’re in luck! I’ve got some in my trunk. You can hop in and I’ll getcha back?” I get in and force some friendly chatter. I suppose the only difference between this and a
tollbooth conversation is how long the exchange takes. After only about a minute of driving we’re filling up. I thank him persistently as I get into the drivers seat, leaving the door open. I turn the key, nothing. Nothing? But there’s gas… what? “Sounds like you might have damaged your fuel pump, driving it till it died. Can I give you a ride somewhere around here?” “No, I’ll be fine. Thanks for all your help though.” I’m glad I figured that out now as opposed to having walked to get gas and back. It’s starting to get dark. “I’m going to call a taxi.” “Good luck.” Now I’m alone with this wretched van and my only hope in Canada is driving away. I sit on the edge of the road with my feet near the traffic. Cars angrily swerve out of my lane. The lights on the bridge are on. The sky wraps around the glowing lights. Stepping back to let everything soak in, I rest upon the bridge. The metal feels cool underneath my arms. I didn’t think it would take this long for a taxi. I need to get away from this and leave everything behind. I will never be free as long as I’m drowning in this baggage. My arms shake as I push each suitcase over the railing. I see my reflection outlined in the dark waters. Past the water I can see a bright city awaiting my arrival. I envision being dropped off at an empty apartment. “Just let yourself in. The key is under the eucalyptus.” My surroundings are vivid even without familiarity. The stairwell is steep and creaks no matter how softly you walk. Once you get to the third floor it’s the second door on your left, the one with the welcome mat. A musk of rotting food creeps into my nostrils. I don’t want to breathe. The walls are brick. It’s charmingly cold. I am alone in a foreign country. This is the best thing to ever happen to me.