The Irish Exit

March 19, 2020

 

California was over.

I gave one last yank on the rope that pinned my suitcases to the roof of my car. The rope wasn’t as tight as I would have liked, but that’s why I put the least valuable of my things in the suitcases.

I squeezed inside the car. My front seat was so close to the dash that I was practically fucking my steering wheel. No matter how hard I pushed my back against the boxes crammed behind me, they refused to budge.

I took a deep breath and brought the engine to life.

A few recovering addicts waved goodbye as they lit panic cigarettes on the sidewalk. I cranked up the window when their smoke invaded my car. That’s right. Cranked. I couldn’t afford automatic windows.

I glided down Seventh Avenue past a halfway house, two decaying hotels, a few closet-size apartments with rent prices well over two thousand dollars, a bail bond office, a dirty, rotten law school, a homeless encampment, and the largest Scientology center in the city. There was nothing beautiful about the neighborhood. Except that it was mine.

I stopped at the last traffic light before the I-5 South ramp. That’s when a breaking news alert interrupted the music on the radio. “Governor Gavin Newsom issues the first-ever lockdown in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the state of California.”

I muted it.

There was no point in listening to what I already knew.

The traffic light turned from red to green.

Everything I could ever want was in California.

I turned left to leave it all behind.

The tarp covering the suitcases whipped through the air as I accelerated onto the highway. The suitcases stayed firm. I pushed harder on the gas.

Silhouettes of palm trees raced by me in the darkness. Even now, I couldn’t help but smile.

My phone ruined the moment.

I didn’t want to answer the call.

But I did.

“What took you so long to pick up?” my father asked.

Most people say hello.

“I’ve been a little busy.”

“You wouldn’t be rushing like this if you left days ago. Like I said.”

Helpful, as always.

“I should be home in a few days. I’ll call you when I get to Arizona.”

“You need to listen to me,” my father said. “There’s going to be more lockdowns. People are acting nuts. This is serious.”

“I’m going to focus on the road.”

“Wyatt. No. Listen.”

“Gotta go. There’s a lot of traffic. Bye.”

I hung up and looked ahead of me.

Minus a few electric-powered cars, the freeway was empty.

My phone danced in my cup holder.

My father.

Of course.

I let it ring to voice mail.

He called back.

Three.

Four.

Five.

Six times before finally giving up.

I’d get back to Jersey in a couple of days.

Three.

To be exact.

I wasn’t sure if I had that much time.

What if the cell phone towers stopped working?

What if I couldn’t rely on technology?

I-10 to I-20 to I-30 to I-40 to I-81 to I-95.

Commit the route to memory.

Just in case.

I-10 to I-20 to I-30 to I-40 to I-81 to I-95.

Arizona to Texas across middle America before landing in the country’s armpit, New Jersey. All other routes took me through Ohio, which already had strict travel restrictions. I didn’t want to take a chance driving through there.

I-10 to I-20 to I-30 to I-40 to I-81 to I-95.

What if things got worse?

What if I got stuck in another state because of a new lockdown order?

Where would I stay?

I couldn’t afford living at a hotel.

I-10 to I-20 to I-30 to I-40 to I-81 to I-95.

What if I got sick?

I definitely couldn’t afford that.

The medical bill would kill me.

I-10 to I-20 to I-30 to I-40 to I-81 to I-95.

My phone startled me when it screamed to life.

My father refused to quit.

I had to give him that.

But it wasn’t him.

The word ‘Leah’ lit up my screen.

I figured she’d call.

Just didn’t expect it to be so soon.

Leah wasn’t calling to wish me good luck.

She didn’t want me to go.

If I answered, Leah would try to convince me to stay.

And I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

The book will be available on December 21, 2021.