'I look at you and smile because I'm fine'
- The Killers.
You got a fast car. We’re speeding down the motorway, leaving behind the road. Leaving behind our past. Escaping the confines of our old town. Any place is better. I look over at you, your eyes fixed on the road ahead. Your eyes, unblinking, filled with determination and ambition. Your hands are clenched tightly on the steering wheel, adamant that you can control our future just like you can control your car. The open windows let in a fresh breeze that caresses your hair, every dark strand waving in a synchronised motion. Looking at you, I feel hope. I feel happy. I feel safe. Maybe together we can get somewhere.
You sense my gaze upon your face and glance over, a smile spreading uncontrollably across your face. Your eyes meet mine and light up with happiness and excitement. You turn your attention back to the road, but you move one hand from the steering wheel and place it upon my knee, squeezing gently. Words are unnecessary, your actions speak volumes. You are driving us to happiness, I just know it. Moving to the big city, we will both get jobs, and start afresh. Leaving the dead-end town of poverty and inertia, moving to the city of opportunity and ambition. Regardless of what we find in our new home, with you by my side, I know we will be just fine. We will finally see what it means to be living.
I place my hand over yours and interlock our fingers. I turn away and look out my open side window. My sunglasses shield my eyes from the sun’s strong evening light. The wind pours through the window and as I willingly allow it to dishevel my hair, I feel its touch cradle my face. Not even the violent sound of the wind rushing through the car can disrupt the sense of calm and tranquillity that is taking over me. I close my eyes and enjoy the feel of the crisp breeze against my skin. I could not be more content. Starting from zero, we’ve got nothing to lose. Wherever we are going, it has to be better than where we came from. It just has to be. No matter what awaits us in the city, as long as I have you with me every step of the way, I have nothing to fear. You are home to me.
I look up at the approaching signs hanging over the motorway. Ten miles away. Just ten miles away from our future. From our happiness. I think back to the words you spoke to me earlier this evening with such conviction. The words which led us here, to the motorway, to the veins that lead to the city.
‘We have got to make a decision. We leave tonight or live and die this way.’
But it was not the words that you spoke that made me agree to leave with you. It was the way in which you said them. The look of fierce confidence written across your face told me that you believed without a shadow of a doubt that we could make it out of this town and be happy. The way that you tightly gripped my hands in yours as you spoke them told me that you had never been more determined in your life about anything.
You remove your hand from my knee and place your arm around my shoulder. I nestle against it. I knew that I would never forget this moment. At this moment, I had a feeling that I belonged. I had a feeling that I could be someone.
'You've lost the sparkle in your eyes,
you fell for life into its traps'
- Gary Go.
We have been in this city for six months now. Life isn’t exactly how I thought it would be. I wasn’t expecting to be rich and famous, but I wasn’t expecting to be living in a shelter and struggling through life either. I guess I was slightly naive in thinking a new place would immediately solve all of our problems. That suddenly everything would be fine and change for the better. Still, we have each other, and we are getting by.
I managed to get a job as a checkout girl, and I know that things will get better. They just have to. You will find yourself a job, and I will get promoted, and then we will have enough money to buy a big house of our own. Live the life that we always wanted. Live the life we planned on, that night when we left town six months ago.
You often drive us around the city in your car. Trying to relive the high that we felt on the night we left. Never completely finding it. A hint of doubt and worry creeping into our thoughts. Never spoken aloud. But always there. The elephant in the room.
You suggest we go for another drive in your car. The weather today is beautiful, marred only by the occasional cloud. Your hands grip the steering wheel. I notice your grip is not quite as strong as before. The open windows push your hair back, revealing your bare forehead, a suggestion of a wrinkle or two lined upon it. I am sure they weren’t there before. Looking at you, I feel the beginnings of concern. However, I still have hope. And happiness. I am with you. That’s all that matters. Maybe together we can get somewhere.
You look over at me as I stare at you. You instantly smile. Just like you did on the night we left. Only this time, your smile is not entirely complete. Not entirely convincing to me. As your eyes meet mine, the sparkle has dimmed somewhat, a dull light emitting from them. No longer the dazzling gaze from before. You take one hand off the steering wheel and briefly stroke my cheek lovingly, before returning your attention back to the busy road ahead. Your actions speak volumes. You are determined to drive us to total happiness. Your contentment may be wavering, but you still have hope. You still have ambition. With you by my side, I hope we will be just fine. We could finally see what it means to be living.
But as you begin to accelerate and we tear through the city, an irrepressible doubt dominates my mind:
‘You got a fast car. But is it fast enough so we can fly away?’
'It's like I hardly know you, but maybe I never did'
- James Morrison.
We have now been here for eight years. We can’t carry on like this anymore. We finally have our own house, we even have two beautiful children now, but we can’t afford to stay here on our income. It’s not enough. I have a job that is just about paying the bills, but you still don’t have a job at all. It’s just not financially sustainable. I’m not entirely sure how we have got by for so long. I rarely see you anymore, and when I do, you’re not the person that I know. That I knew. You stay out drinking with your friends and rarely see your children. You drown your anger and discontent with alcohol, and forget the promises you made me. The promises of happiness. Of getting somewhere.
I believed you when you told me that a new city would mean new beginnings. That it would mean a chance to have a new and better life. And the worst part is, you believed it too. I don’t doubt that you meant it at the time, but eight years have passed and we are still exactly where we started. Battling poverty and unhappiness. It’s just the same problems in a new place. We are at a dead-end again. I have grown up. I have realised that we can’t drive away from our reality. It will find us eventually.
Your ambition is gone, along with your hope, along with your determination. This city has dragged you down. And I’m not strong enough to continue on like this. I wish I was stronger. But I’m not. I can’t pretend that everything is going to be fine. Because it isn’t. Not if this carries on. I’d always hoped for better. I used to think that maybe together you and me would find it. I guess I was naive to think that. We will never see what it means to be living.
I get the kids ready and take them to school in your car. I drive back home and as I turn the corner onto our street, I see you standing on the pavement outside our house, waiting for me. I park the car and get out, looking at you questioningly.
‘Let me take you for a nice long drive out of the city. We haven’t had one of those in a while.'
A smile only just manages to surface on your lips as you speak to me. Your voice sounds jaded. Your face is unshaven; the black stubble peppered about your face is flecked with moments of grey here and there. The defeatist demeanour that you now wear stabs me like a knife to the heart. I know that there are unspoken words between us, things that need to be said. I nod my head silently, determined to use this drive as an opportunity to speak the untold truth.
As you drive your fast car and head for the outer city limits, I try and gather my thoughts. I try and work up to saying the words that need to be said. I know these will be the hardest words that I will ever have to say in my life. But I can’t repress them forever.
‘Look...We can’t live like this anymore. This city is dragging us down. It’s dragging you down. You have got to make a decision. You leave tonight or live and die this way.'
At first I think you haven’t heard me. You don’t react to the words I have spoken. Your eyes stare straight ahead, empty and blank, deprived of any emotion. You turn us onto the motorway. The arteries that lead out of the city. The car begins to accelerate. Your hands are loosely holding the steering wheel, barely holding on. The open windows allow in a violent wind which tugs your hair roughly backwards. My eyes search your face yet can’t find a trace of emotion. Looking at you, I feel overwhelming worry. Sadness. Fear.
Finally, you look over at me. Your chin begins to tremble ever so slightly. But you retain control of it. Your eyes are filling up with tears. But you don’t allow one drop to fall. It’s almost as if you believe that if you can keep yourself composed, then you can keep your problems composed. That you can manage your pain. A few words escape from your lips.
‘I am sorry. I am so, so sorry.’
I know that your words are heartfelt. That you really are sorry. Emotion drips from your every word. You place one hand upon my knee and squeeze gently, just like you did on that night eight years ago when we left town. But things could not be more different than that night. I no longer feel contentment at your act of comfort. I feel suffocated. I feel pity. I feel alone. Your actions are not enough anymore.
You hold my gaze, unable to look away from the pain written across my face. It is at this moment that you realise you are unable to do anything that will change my mind. Nothing that you say or do will change anything. You understand. I am worn down. Resolute. You have to leave. You are no longer home to me.
We are unable to break each other’s gaze, lost in a moment. We forget about the road ahead of us. A sense of mutual understanding between us. I understand that you are a broken man who had good intentions, a man who turned to drink through the shame of your own shortcomings and failures to follow through with all of the promises that you made me. I understand that every night it kills you to know that another day has gone by with your promises still empty. Still unfulfilled. And you understand that it breaks my heart to ask you to leave, but that I am left with no other alternative. That I wish things could have been different. But as it turns out, your car isn’t fast enough for us to fly away.
This moment of clarity distracts us. We don’t notice that your fast car is gradually moving into the next lane. We don’t notice that it is quickly approaching the slow moving lorry ahead of us. We don’t notice. Your eyes are locked into mine, a thousand apologies glistening within them, as we crash into the back of the lorry.
You had a fast car. I guess we chose to live and die this way.