Michael Anguiano
Waiting For My Exit

I closed my eyes and tried to breathe deeply, willing my brain tissue to stop sloshing around so irresponsibly, but the lurching and bouncing motions of the car wouldn't let me concentrate.

"Dude, are you okay?" she says over the sound of the wind, the passing freeway traffic, the blaring radio. The corners of her mouth are tugged into a discreet smirk, which she doesn't think I notice.

She never gets hangovers. This is a fact that pisses me off to no end, given that she drinks twice as much as I do and tends to careen drunkenly through the bulk of her free time.

"You're looking a little green around the gills," she goes on. "Do I need to pull over?"

I start to nod my head, but even considering it is painful. I know that a few cushioning layers of subdural tissue separate my gray matter from the bone of my skull, but at the moment it feels like my brain is lying, throbbing and vulnerable, in an empty chamber lined with spikes and bristling electrodes.

"I was saying, do I need to pull over?"

I know it's pretty bad when I'm concentrating so much on the images to distract me that I can't even follow a conversation.

"No," I mumble. "I can dry-heave right here."

She has a deep, throaty laugh. I can tell when she's faking a laugh, it's the only time she sounds delicate.

"I dunno, you don't look like you're gonna make it," she says with a grin. "Maybe you should climb in the backseat, get some sleep."

"Can't sleep in a moving car." The passing wind is loud and a bit painful, so I hunch down a little lower. I squint against the bright light of the morning.

"Bullshit," she replies, "I've seen you do it a couple of times."

"That wasn't sleeping," I answer, "that was passing out."

She laughs again.

Something with a heavy bass and an annoying hook blares out of the speakers. "Ooh, I love this one," she says, turning it up the radio.

I cringe as discreetly as I can.

"Okay, okay," she says with a grin, "I'll turn it down." She twists the knob, turning it off entirely. "Better?"

"Much. Now I can die in peace."

"Oh, come on," she says, shaking her head, "you'll be fine. Give it a couple of hours, and you'll be just fine."

"Thanks, I feel so much better." Risking movement, I gingerly reach for the jacket under my feet and tug a baseball cap out of a side pocket. With fingers like dead branches, I fumble with the size adjustment and let it out to the largest size.

No good. Even without the constricting pain of a tight headband, the cap is painful just lying on my scalp. I drop it on the seat and carefully shift my weight, turning away from the window and from the sun.

"So why do you get that drunk," she says after a while, "when you know it's going to affect you like this?"

"Good question," I reply woodenly. "I'd like you to look into that, and let me know when you've found an answer."

"I mean, if you're going to punish your system like that, you might as well do it with something that'll make you happy, not something that's gonna leave you depressed and sick," she continues, undaunted. "Smoking pot would be so much better, and you don't end up with a hangover. Munchies, maybe, but that's better than spending six hours puking your guts out. Why alcohol?"

I sigh. Not a conversation I want to have, but no easy way out of it. "Because when I get stoned, I get horny. I'd expect you to remember that, if you hadn't been pretty stoned yourself. That's just what I need these days, to be horny and stoned and alone. Better to just get drunk. Besides, I don't want to start doing something self-destructive that I might enjoy."
She looks at me for a moment, then puts her eyes back on the road. "That doesn't make any sense at all."

I chuckle for a moment, pleasantly surprised that the motion doesn't make me sick. Sicker, I should say. "When you do something that you recognize is self-destructive, there's a sense of power and control there. If you don't have to, you don't need to, but you do it anyway . . . I dunno. It's sort of life-affirming, in a perverse way. By taking a small self-destructive step, you recognize that you have enough control that you don't have to take the large self-destructive steps."

She doesn't reply to that. It's not how she thinks of things, so it'll take her a minute to digest that.

"Remember when I took up cigarettes last year?" I figure example is the only way she's going to get this. "That was one of those times. I knew a couple of guys who smoked cigars, and they wanted me to smoke cigars instead of cigarettes. Couldn't understand why I had no interest in smoking cigars. Didn't seem to grasp that I enjoyed smoking cigars, so it was better to stick to cigarettes."

She looks at me again, then looks back to the road. "That doesn't make any sense either."

I sigh. "I took up cigarettes because they hurt, they stank, and they tasted awful. It was an unhealthy habit, and so when I was at my worst it gave me something to do that I could abandon as soon as I felt better about my life. If I took up cigars, I might enjoy it enough to keep doing it indefinitely. Neither cigars nor cigarettes are healthy, but I don't enjoy cigarettes, so that was the obvious choice for something that would hurt but that I could quit as soon as I wanted."

She shakes her head, unconvinced. "So you figure you'll drink instead of smoking pot because you can quit drinking anytime you want."

She never seems to do the math on these things, and my skull has enough loose connections at the moment that I'm having trouble tying together the threads of my argument and remembering where I'm going with this whole thing.

"No," I say finally. "Smoking pot as an escape from my problems won't leave me with a good reason not to smoke pot when I no longer need an escape. Drinking, on the other hand, comes back on me like a bitch. Better that I drink, 'cause I'm not as likely to make a way of life out of it. Not with hangovers like these."

She nods, although I doubt she understands. Give it a week or two, then she'll make some comment echoing my sentiment and expressing her conviction that I was right. Of course, she'll be drunk at the time.

I sigh, looking at the mile markers as they whiz by. I take a shot at the math to figure out how long it would be until my exit.