Around Northampton I’d taken to making the Corolla skid on icy side-streets, attempting to demonstrate to Anna how to steer into the skid, attempting to make the car’s antilock braking system utter its warning noise. On un-slick roadways, there was a game of pulling up to the light and chanting quick-time reaction, quick-time reaction while easing my left foot over the brake and keeping my right just above the accelerator – all to see how hard I could cause Anna to grip her armrest when I made the tires squeal.
This scared Anna and she yelled at me for it. But, her yelling only made me gleeful. In those moments, I wanted nothing more than for her yelling to continue. So, I’d retaliate by saying that Anna was being mean, or that she amazed me constantly at her ability to suck the fun from everything. At this she’d implore me to stop being a dick, and I’d correct her to say actually I was being a MassHole, having finally adapted to my surroundings.
To any potential observer we’d seem hopelessly dysfunctional. But, the belief I’d developed was that we were only pretending toward dysfunction. I hoped the back-and-forth was a register we could occupy.
Besides, the car was a space where we could test each other without violating whatever sanctity we respected in the apartment. Eventually, we’d attempt to collaborate on a way to extract ourselves from the invented tussle, to greater or lesser effect.
For instance, on one occasion, headed home from running back-to-school errands on Presidents Day weekend, after I’d attempted what I called a Tokyo Drift in an empty, ice-covered section of parking lot, Anna eventually said she felt bad about yelling, and I said I felt bad for making her yell, and we began to speak to each other in our reality tv voices. Anna continued on, saying she wanted to change from a yeller to a not-yeller. She wanted me to help her find the strength and the courage and the what-not to change. Briefly, we planned a yelling-intervention. We imagined a three-night, expenses-paid escape to The Yelling Retreat, an upscale solace-space replete with breakfast nooks in the creek-nestled outskirts of Putney, Vermont.
But then, Anna despaired, saying she couldn’t change because she knew I would only cease in my antics if I was the recipient of yelling. While I waited to turn onto Market Street, she’d begun to stare at me with all sorts of gloomy expressions. So, I asked her: “What the hell are you looking at me like that for?”
“I’m perfecting a look that means you’re a pitiful little man,” Anna said.
What I knew that Anna could only have guessed was that there was an aspect of the pitiful to my Tokyo Drift attempt. It had proceeded from a moment of stark wonder – a moment that several seconds later gave way to an overwhelming compulsion to drive recklessly. I had circled the parking lot while Anna ran into Target, then pulled up to the curb when I saw her exit the sliding glass doors. I’d seen her not see me, then I’s seen her see me and begin walking over. While she made her way I found myself looking at her as if we were just members of the same carpool. I experienced maybe five seconds of dissonance that pitted winter’s stasis against our huge momentum toward each other. The effect was like becoming aware of human evolution while filling an ergonomic coffee pot. And then, this mysterious, beautiful woman was climbing in the car beside me. It was as if I’d hoped my new carpool mate might be a cute, smart blonde, and then, she was; as if I’d hoped we might hit it off, and then we did. At which point, Anna sat down and the 20 months of our dating felt quick and not-quick, our errands important and not-important, whereupon I’d spied the vast, empty, ice-covered section of parking lot in front of an abandoned JC Penney, piloted us to it, and did a wild donut I called a Tokyo Drift, which produced in Anna something far worse than yelling – a demand I take her home and a full 30 minutes of silence.