I just needed a ride. He was there. Always there. It didn’t occur to me until it was too late that there was a reason why. It seemed unlikely that anyone else could stand him. His incessant chattering, his vitriolic manner. If you managed to get a word in edgewise long enough to say anything positive, he would reply with something snarky and cutting. Something aimed to make you feel like a fool. Inadequate, disgusting. It took me far too long to realize that was his own fear about himself. That he was nothing, a waste of space. In acting as he did, that’s steadily but surely what he became. And I started to feel myself becoming that with him. I was wasting time in his car, getting from one place to another, but going nowhere.
Coming back to town had been necessary, I knew that. But I wasn’t prepared for how desolate it would feel. All those old friends and lovers now married with kids. Except, of course, for Aaron, who was readily available to pick me up at the train station. Yes, I had opted to take the train cross-country from New York for one last flirtation with the idea of “romantic” notions about how traveling to a small town in Oregon (and remaining there indefinitely) wouldn’t be so bad. That living there again was not a big deal. Everywhere was the same nowadays. Everything is everything, everyone is everyone–and yet, the final frontier did still seem to be securing that everywhere is everywhere. Sure, there were plenty of “simulation cities” and the town I was from in Oregon was one of them. Yet there were still places (even though it certainly wasn’t New York) you could go and feel as though you were somewhat alive, and that the people there actually read and knew things beyond simply what they were fed by mass media.
Before getting back to my own simulation city, riding the train did help soothe me, I had to admit. It was mostly empty, no one seeing much of a bargain in taking an almost three-day trip for the price of roughly two hundred dollars, one-way. But I did. And I saw so much of the country, too. This vast abyss, which continues to be so largely wild and uninhabited. Save for the endless clusters of big-box stores that reminded you what America had decided to do, in the end, with all the land they had pillaged and plundered from the Native Americans.
Occasionally, I would read from the lone book I had not packed away in my suitcases, knowing better than to bring more than one in my purse, because that was always overly ambitious, and presumed that the journey itself wouldn’t be taxing on my psyche. From the lines of Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again, I read, “Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same.” It was true. Rockville, Oregon would always be the same. This, in part, is because the people would always be the same. Birthing carbon copies of a subsequent generation over and over again. When so many wonder why racism persists, it’s because of these numerous pockets of towns where whiteness is the norm, and no one else ever has to be considered. On the off chance that they do, it isn’t met with much openness of mind.
I knew that seeing any of those high school ilk would send me over the edge. But I made an exception for Aaron, as my mother informed me she would be busy volunteering down at the retirement community, where she seemed to want to live herself. My father had already died years ago, and the three siblings I had were scattered across the U.S., all of us mostly estranged from one another. The only thing that would have still bound us was living in this town.
So, in a sense, my mother was my last remaining relation. The one thing that tied me back to this place. That, and she was willing to offer up my old room. I didn’t know what I was doing anymore. Granted, I decided to have that revelation a bit later than most. From what I understood, the majority of people who slunk back to their hometowns with their tail between their legs to “recalibrate” did so around their mid- or late twenties. I, instead, was now in my late thirties–a period when it was certainly no longer “cute” (read: socially acceptable) to do what I was doing. Which, in many onlookers’ eyes, was nothing. Yet in my heart I knew I needed to just stop. Stop everything and sit in silence long enough for something to come to me about what my next step was meant to be. The only place I really believed I could do that was Rockville.
As Aaron prattled on about the latest gossip regarding some people I vaguely knew decades ago, I started to think I had made a terrible mistake. But there was no turning back. I had no job and no apartment anymore, and this was what the world saw fit to offer me at this time. I didn’t care what he was saying, and he, in turn, didn’t seem to care that I patently did not care. I occasionally inserted an “Oh really?” and “Uh huh” in to give him a sense that this was any kind of A/B conversation. But no, we were strictly in AA.
When he pulled up to the house, a wave of both comfort and nausea came over me. It was in the middle of nowhere. It was like a farmhouse without the acreage. Mother had instructed me that she would leave a key in the flower pot, but I didn’t say as much to Aaron, who might take her absence as an invitation to come in and keep talking. Incessantly. Of nothing.
As I said goodbye while he was still bloviating, I was bothered that I wasn’t permitted the chance–the necessary quiet–to let the weight of this arrival fully hit me. Instead, it was mitigated by the mindless jabbering of someone slightly deranged. What did it say about me that this person had been someone I once dated? In some sense, I wondered if he was still holding out hope that we might actually get together again, when all I wanted was access to wheels and maybe a sounding board to vent to. I was never going to get the latter with someone who seemed to love hearing the “sonority” of his own voice so much.
Upon entering the house, it was as though no time had passed at all. It was, in fact, the abode forgotten by time. All the same decor, furniture, framed photos. In doing nothing, Mother had effectively transformed it into some kind of memory mausoleum. I had to retreat into my room to ignore it. I wondered how long I would be here…maybe for the rest of my life. For it was already a one in a million shot to make it out of a town like this in the first place. The odds were now forever not in my favor after I had looked a gift horse of escape in the mouth.
As my days and months slowly yet quickly unfolded in Rockville, it was Aaron who served as the only person I could turn to for transportation and shoddy commiseration. Often, it would be he who reached out to me to perform some off-color attempt at “going somewhere.” The only place that was ever really open was the coffee shop. And even that closed by three. Yet in addition to the car, this was Aaron’s favorite location to run his mouth. I couldn’t, in all honesty, even tell you what he was talking about. Once in a while, he had a small nugget of wisdom or insight to offer, but any such rarity was overshadowed by his ceaseless chitchat.
Months turned into years, which dragged on with Aaron’s mindless monologues. Because he had inherited a handsome sum from his own parents that would last him his lifetime, he was consistently available. And because the only kind of work I could finagle in a milieu like this was as a part-time grocery store cashier, I was too readily available to him as well. My patience had begun to wear thinner and thinner after getting a job. I found people so tiresomely vacuous that I couldn’t withstand it any longer without at least the small carrot of being paid minimum wage to endure their energy-sucking nature.
I guess you could say that’s why it suddenly became insufferable for me to be driven anywhere by Aaron, even though I needed him to if I was going to get to work in a timely fashion. One day, as he gabbed and gabbed, I could see invisible diarrhea coming out of his mouth and I wanted to stop up the hole with a rag and choke him so that he might never speak again. That’s when it struck me that if I, say, struck him over the head repeatedly, would anyone really know he was missing? I could say he had left town on a whim and bequeathed the car to me if anyone asked. Which they wouldn’t. Because no one gave a shit about anything but themselves. Especially if it pertained to an unmarried man with no children. You were a cipher in society without those “accoutrements” to make you at least somewhat relevant. Shit, if I got rid of him, I could snag his car. And with Aaron’s car, I could just drive right out of this town. I had enough money to start somewhere new. All I needed was the wheels.
They don’t want you to know this, but killing is one of the things that proves your humanity. It’s the very essence of being human. To take another life as a means to somehow further your own. It boils down to the core of primal survival. And I had made the decision that I was going to do what I needed to survive. This was the thing that was meant to “come to me,” by being back in Rockville, through the silence that never actually arrived. Maybe if I had been allowed the luxury of some quietude it wouldn’t have come to this: murder. They say silence can drive some people insane. For me, it was a lack of it that ended up doing so.
As I drove south toward California in the driver’s seat, I pulled over near a more secluded part of the deserted road, got out of the car and chucked Aaron’s body into the woods. I’m freer than I’ve ever been now, and it can’t be argued that I owe it all to him.