Stella, the worst road trip ever
“How can you eat that shit? You know it’s filled with dried pig anuses and cow ankle fat, right?” She’s referring to the pepperoni stick I’m chewing on.
Bozeman was disappearing behind us. I’d found a cassette of Springsteen’s Nebraska at the last Texaco. The close-to-setting sun was painting the sky a sentimental color. I should have felt great. But then Stella had to come in and ruin the moment.
“How can I eat it?” I say. “One bite at at time, like anything else.”
“You don’t think about where it comes from at all?”
I take a melodramatic breath and look over at her. “I only eat jerky when I go on road trips. But, I ALWAYS eat jerky when I go on road trips. And no, I try not to think about where my food came from, really ever.”
“Well don’t think you’re going to be kissing me with your pepperoni breath.”
“I’ll pick up some gum next time we refill. Will you kiss me then?” I said.
“Depends on the flavor.” She says, in a way where I couldn’t tell if she was kidding or not. Jesus, I thought, only 1200 more miles to Chicago.
Stella worked at the café in Seattle where I had been writing my TV pilot. We had a charming repartee most mornings, and I always looked forward to seeing her. She’d ask me questions about how the series (based around a group of environmental terrorists in the mid-90s) was developing and I’d ask her questions about art school.
I’d never thought really thought any of her flirtations were serious until one day, when I brought a female friend, a former development person at Showtime, to the café to go over what I’d been working on. Stella’s demeanor was immediately cold, and she glared at my friend with the hateful eyes that only a jealous woman can summon. It was at that point, I thought to myself, ‘hmm, maybe that café girl is into me.”
Our first dates were agreeable enough. We saw a friend of hers’ jazz combo and a friend of mine’s book reading. Reasonable, chic restaurants, where we went dutch on the bill (we were both starving artists, to some degree). And I still went to the café and flirted with her every morning, except now, I had a secret. As I set up at my regular table, with my laptop and triple americano, I’d look around at my fellow cafefolk and think to myself, smugly, “Yup. That’s right. I’m fucking her.”
Outside of Bismark, we get into an argument over Israel, of all things.
“I guess I just never took you for the self-loathing Jewish type of girl, who wears a ‘Free Palestine’ shirt to piss off her parents.”
“Yeah. That’s exactly it. I don’t support the terrorist actions of an illegitimate state to oppress 4 million refugees because daddy sent me to private school. Nail on the fucking head, Knox.”
“Listen, I’m sorry. Can we just agree to disagree about this? Some of my best friends in the world I NEVER talk about the middle east with, because it’s too sore a subject.
“Fine. We’ll agree to disagree. Do you mind if I plug in my Ipod?”
“Go for it. Just no more fucking rap. I already have a headache.” And with that, she put on a Tribe Called Quest playlist, and sang along to every word.
Our fight over my roadtrip to Caleb’s wedding should have been a warning flag, I guess. I’d assumed she would be able or want to come. It was only 10 days notice, and there were no affordable flights. I was excited about going alone, frankly, and it’s not like we’d been dating all that long, but Stella blew up that I didn’t think to invite her. “Baby,” I told her, “I figured you wouldn’t be able to get 5 days off and I dunno, long-haul roadtrips just didn’t seem like your cup of tea.”
When she wound up quitting to come along, I was exhilarated. Maybe I’d underestimated her, and she had fiery impulsive streak. Maybe, I thought, this relationship was more than just a nice diversion, but something I could sink my teeth into.
She wakes up as we approach Minneapolis. “Hey, are we there?”
“What? Oh, no. We’re in Minneapolis. It’s another six hours.” I say.
“Fuck that. If you can’t get us there in four, I’m breaking up with you.” And giggles to herself, as she curls up to go back to sleep.
I grip the steering wheel tight and up sink deep into a fantasy meeting another woman at the wedding, and driving back to Seattle with them, instead. After the wedding, I wind up leaving without her, heading up to Montreal instead of Seattle. How she got home, I may never know.
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