One time a few years ago I heard some religious people talking about how faith is something that happens when you give up control, when you stop actively trying to affect things, because as they saw it, 1) God controls everything, so why fight that, and 2) it felt so much better to not have to worry about that stuff anyway, right? Even Lisa mumbled irresponsible shit like that from time to time when we were wandering around Chico earlier this year. She spat it out like it was something she wanted to believe but couldn’t quite accept. That made sense from her-she’d had twelve-step mall-harvest Christianity shoveled down her throat so much in her original rehab stint that it was no surprise she’d reflexively spew it back out-but it didn’t make her any less irritating than when she was high.
I was prepared for it by then, though. I hadn’t really understood that silly “let go and let God’ hooey until I flew in a plane for the first time when I was thirteen; when that ten-ton metal death-ship took off, I knew all that separated me from molecular disintegration and fiery doom was the cumulative wisdom of a very mortal pilot up in the cockpit. The violent whims of jealous and vengeful deities never figured into that realization, but I appreciated the metaphor. Well, appreciated it without wanting anything to do with it-I’ll take care of whatever I can control, thanks very much, and God can be in charge of everything else if that makes God happy.
This isn’t exactly a theoretical exercise, either, because right now, I need all the control I can fucking get. My senses are still speeding like crazy from Olivia’s dexedrine, it’s too late to be driving anywhere anyway, and the Cadillac up ahead is freaking me out. I’d boomed up behind it pretty fast after the Alicia light, almost too close, but then braked in time to notice a tiny old lady at the wheel. I’d backed off, but maybe not enough to relax again, cause she’s still veering in between the left and center lanes of Moulton, which isn’t as empty as I’d hoped it would be at this hour. Tail lights flare up and die at weird intervals as the five or six cars surrounding the Caddy cautiously take evasive action. Each burst of red bores into my retinas like a nova, aggravating the pounding in my skull, which isn’t as empty as I’d hoped it would be at this hour either.
I wish I could close my eyes, but I gave up that choice twenty minutes ago when I drove away from Liv’s party with a head full of phantoms, a heart overflowing with fear, and an unconscious drunk in the back seat. I don’t exactly feel sober myself, but that truth’s debatable-if I was drunk, maybe I wouldn’t even notice or care-so I’ve been trying to regress into timidity, just like when I first learned to drive and was immediately conscious that I’d been given a dangerous weapon to play with. The granny Caddy isn’t helping, though, and whenever I dare to look away from the road at the speedometer or gas gauge, the first things I see are my own white knuckles glowing in the dark.
Some foreign invader has to be in the mix-besides the other chemical stimulants. Some foul uncontrolled substance had to have catalyzed my paranoid spasm of terror back there in the parking garage-maybe Chris and Kyle weren’t actually coming at me with death in their eyes, ready to stomp me into oblivion-but an inner-space bomb definitely went off, and I think Liv and R.J. could see it in my eyes as they helped lug Roy’s limp frame into the Civic. They’ll probably be freaking out by now-well, R.J. will be, at least-but the fear was escalating like crazy back there, and I just didn’t want to stick around on the sidelines of any of their stupid drama games. Spending time in confined spaces full of semi-legally intoxicated people is getting progressively mundane in Isla fucking Vista these days, let alone deep behind the Orange Curtain’s reactionary fascism.
And-shit, speaking of fascism-those better not be cop headlights blasting up behind me, not when that decrepit old bag in the Cadillac finally has mercy and turns left on El Toro. I fly through the intersection, which is also unusually crowded for this time of night-whatever happened to South O.C. dying at 10 p.m.?-and figure if the police are following, they’d have put the sirens on by now. Better slow down through Seizure World anyway; no use pissing off rent-a-cops under these circumstances. No sir-but keep your eyes peeled anyway, dude, because the only other vehicle that would ram your ass that fast tonight would be driven by one of three people who would be only too happy to run the Civic right off the road, right through the feeble fences and onto the deserted golf links of Laguna Hills.
Well, yeah, but I can’t even remember what kind of car they-oh wait, it would be a truck, that noisy monster from the day they beat the shit out of me. Goddamn, that was awful. My head still hasn’t stopped throbbing, and the horrible memory of past pain isn’t making it any better. But you’re used to recurring problems by now, right, Derek? They don’t go away, do they? No, they don’t-no matter how far you run or how much distance you try to put between yourself and the latest wretched episode of melodrama, whatever that might be. And has that ever been a nasty freeway-pileup of shame, hasn’t it? Stealing your childhood friends’ toys, biting them like a feral dingo when they annoyed you, scrawling lewd, psychotic graffiti all over every desk in elementary school just because you could, pulling the chair out from underneath a girl as she sat down because you had a crush on her in junior high, lying about that and how many other things-
Jesus, those motherfucking headlights are right behind me. Turn here, turn right on Lake Forest, you bastard, and maybe you’ll ditch them. Them? Yeah, dude, who else could it fucking be? Come on. But I’m tired of running from those Addison assholes. Well, you need to be ready for the freeway now, okay? But…I’m not ready. The headache is intensifying. Hang in there-see, there’s the I-5 sign and…no, no that one’s south-bound, don’t turn there, damn it, the light’s red…
…And how many other things? You know how many. You know them all-groping mortified girls underneath the brutally chlorinated water at Wild Rivers, throwing rocks at cars with the De Luca twins as traffic thundered by on Del Obispo, sneering at the other idiots in tenth-grade math when they couldn’t grasp the concept of a goddamned isosceles triangle, cussing out the dingbat gym coach for his pro-Jesus, anti-Clinton bullshit. Yeah, it was a veritable cornucopia of D-list sins, and all those stupid, petty compulsions were multiplied in the greenhouse-fishbowl that was Dad’s house, weren’t they?
Oh God, you know they did-they fucking melted in the merciless San Dimas sun, sublimating in the heat and boredom and useless effort you put in faking your interest in being there. Goading Hannah into earth-shaking tantrums for no reason at all, resentfully dragging ass when doing Dad’s dishes because he bitched about Mom not making us work hard enough, barely tolerating the moronic rants of his girlfriend’s kids, relishing the sight of her in bandages after a car crash, humoring the superficial crap of his other friends up there, and deliberately wrecking his fragile Christmas party last year because he had the fucking arrogant gall to insist on everyone attending midnight mass-when he fucking knew how we’d react to that…
…And…and…and stalking Lisa long, long after Chico had eaten its way through her brittle psyche-over email, over the phone-and worlds away from anything she and I would ever become, and how that kind of obsessively freakish behavior has been marring everything ever since, including the whole thing with her brother and the detective and fucking selling her out so they could stomp those asshole cousins of hers and, and-holy fucking shit, they’re right on top of me. Where the fucking fuck is that on-ramp? San Diego right, L.A. left…but where is it? What the he-hang on, I remember. They combined Lake Forest and Bake. Bake Forest. Ha ha ha. Stop at the light. Ho ho. Go to Rockfield and…fuck, they’re behind me again, and it is that truck, damn it. I wonder how much faster I could go if I didn’t have Roy’s dead weight in the back seat…
Shut up. Shut. The fuck. Up. Stop thinking. Stop worrying and just drive. You know the way-you’ve known it ever since you mapped it out for Dad back when his commute was a living hell and you thought that was the only way to fix it. You can do it if you just let yourself, and forget about that stupid litany of guilt or what Lisa’s mall-harvest God would do to you because of it. This is Rockfield, now, right? Right. Okay, so how to you either A) get to the 5 or B) move over to Irvine Center from he-
Dammit, the truck’s right there, right alongside, and that’s Kyle’s ugly fucking gob screeching out the window. Your turn for evasive action, Haynes-do it now, do it NOW, and-where are we? Block after block of darkened office buildings and immaculate corporate lawns and acres and acres and acres of parking lots…yep, must be Irvine…the tiny fishing village of Irvine, California-exhibit A in the Continuing Saga of Naranjastani Suckitude, and oh my fucking God this headache is unbearable…and you’re alone, Derek. Alone with slobbering Huns at the gates, because Roy’s asleep and he couldn’t help you anyway, could he?
This was a mistake-this whole thing was a mistake, driving down here mid-week for the hint, the possibility of seeing Lisa at her sister’s party, and you know it and you knew it and you did it anyway…why? So some lazy cop could bust these rabid yuppies that are unnaturally attracted to maiming and killing you for muddying the non-existent honor of their hated half-brown cousin? What the fuck is that all about? Pull into that parking lot over there, man, and take some time to ponder that mystery of the universe, why don’t you?
Well, pulling over’s a great idea, and I’d love to do it and all but this headache-see, I thought I could make it. I thought the surface streets would make sense, you know? I thought that the freeway would mean instant vengeful death, and that I could undo all this ridiculous shit by just pushing, pushing back, pushing hard the way Lisa’s God is pushing against my skull right now, crushing my head like a grape and pull over, pull into the lot and stop kill the engine parking brake keys don’t forget to turn the headlights off before you-