Pain sits in the passenger seat, contentedly sipping a soda through a straw, watching the scenery go by.
"Do you want some?", Pain asks, shoving the soda in my face, briefly obscuring my vision.
I look over at the passenger seat, glaring. "No," I reply angrily, "I don't want anything from you."
Looking forlorn, my unwanted passenger pouts and changes the channel on the radio to a Top 40's station.
"Hey! I was listening to NPR, and you know how I hate Top 40!" I push a button, returning to "Morning Edition".
Pain replies, "Y'know, listening to the news will only make you feel worse. Listen to some of that depressing music you like so much instead."
"You're really getting on my nerves today," I reply. "Who invited you on this trip anyway?"
I shove a CD in the console: Conor Oberst. Maybe Pain is right. There are several emotionally devastating songs on this CD, but I listen to it over and over again. Am I a glutton for punishment?
We're both quiet for a while, listening to the music. It's like reading a tragic novel. It's cathartic to hear about someone else's pain, putting one's own struggles into perspective.
Suddenly, Pain interrupts the music, shouting over the guitars and vocals. "I know you don't want me to go away. You think you do, but you're so goddamed identified with me, you wouldn't know what the fuck to do if I was gone." He opens the window and throws his empty soda bottle onto the shoulder.
"Hey! Littering's against the law, and it's dangerous to throw things out of a car moving at 60 miles per hour!" I glare at him.
"Don't be such a fuss-budget," he spits back. "Maybe if you weren't so worried about everything, you wouldn't need me around. Just relax, man. You waste so much time on worry, and then you wonder why you feel like shit most of the time."
"We need gas," I say as I pull off the highway and into a service station.
"I've gotta piss like a race horse," Pain says, opening the passenger door and trotting off to the men's room. Looking back, he yells, "Want anything? Tylenol? Advil? Maybe a beer?"
Grimacing, I give him the finger and start pumping gas into the tank. He emerges from the men's room and is now inside the little convenience store, amiably chatting with the clerk, buying candy and soda. He waves to me through the window. I glare back and give him the finger again. He feigns hurt feelings and touches his hand to his heart, rolling his eyes up into his head.
I finish pumping the gas and consider what would happen if I hopped back in the car and sped off, leaving him stranded here in the middle of some American suburban purgatory. Then I reconsider. I guess I'm not done with him yet.
He opens the passenger door and sits down with a sigh, noisily rummaging through a plastic bag filled with candy bars, several cans of Red Bull, and a trashy magazine.
"Y'know," Pain says, looking at me squarely, "while I was standing in line waiting to pay the cashier, I honestly wondered whether you had the balls to drive away and leave me."
He continues to look at me and I have to look away. It's too painful to face the truth. He is so much a part of me, a piece of my identity----like depression. It's harder to let go than I thought.
"I knew it!" he laughs maniacally, slapping the dashboard several times. "You were thinking about it, and you knew you couldn't do it!" He laughs again and pops open a can of Red Bull. "It's a good thing I got some extra caffeine. We have a long day ahead of us!"
I stare straight ahead at the road, gripping the steering wheel until my knuckles are white, and I wonder what I ever did to invite such a passenger into my life, and what I need to do to let him go. I look over at him and I'm disgusted. He's slurping on hyper-caffeinated soda, eating junk food, reading a shitty magazine and just changed the radio to that horrible Top 40's station again. He looks back at me like a petulant child and I shake my head in disbelief that I would ever allow such behavior in my car. He sticks out his tongue, laughs, and turns the music louder.
This is of my own making, I tell myself. I invited him in and I can ask him to leave.
Maybe tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow.
(c) 2009 NurseKeith