My grandfather holds the steering wheel too-tight in his liver-marked and frail hands. My grandmother sits beside me in the back seat of this enormous SUV, behind us are some random people I have known over my life. She is upset, looks back and forth between the windshield, my grandfather and my face continuously as she becomes more and more upset with his driving and his demeanor. The SUV lurches to the side making the passengers all crush to the left as he swerves to the right, onto the shoulder of the road, narrowly missing a car. For a moment the steering wheel is lose in his hands now, he seems upset and lost in his thoughts, but then he finds strength again and holds onto the wheel with vigor. Slowly the SUV moves onto the road proper and he accelerates once all four tires are on pavement.
It is one of those summer days in Oklahoma when you can see the mirage on the tarmac in front of you, stretching on to the horizon. Lizards and tarantulas are running from one side of the road to the other in an effort to get off of the sun baked road. There is not a cloud in the sky. No chance for shade or cooling rains, just clear blue skies and an oppressive sun that seems determined to pull all moisture from the lands.
I look back into the third row to a man who is telling my grandfather to speed up. He is late for something and agitated.
“Come on, hurry up dammit,” he says to my grandfather, looking at him in the rear-view mirror.
My grandfather looks at him in the mirror and smiles. It is the smile of a demon, something I have never seen on his face before and it terrifies me. My veins freeze, my blood becomes ice as my soul flickers away for a moment. The gas pedal is mashed to the floor and the giant V8 engine explodes with energy as the gas is dumped by the gallon into the carburetor.
I take up a lot of the backseat. I am not a small man. My shoulders more than cover my own seat, giving little room for my grandmother to move around in her own space, but she seems fine with this as she clings to my side. Her hands are in my own now, as she closes her eyes and leans into my arm. She is a small woman, made small by the ravages of time. Her back is bent, and the arthritis has turned her fingers, ever so slightly, to the inside of her hands. Her tears roll down my arm. I am not sure what her tears are for a moment, and I check to see if I am bleeding. (Irrational thought in an irrational dream does not seem out of place.)
“Pull over,” I finally say to my grandfather but he pays no attention to the tiny voice in the backseat. The voice that has just come from my mouth sounds strangely familiar to me, but it is not my own.
I saw myself now as the camera would see me, but this time I am not the 36 year old man sitting beside his frail grandmother, but rather I am the ten year old clinging to her for assurance. There is panic in my eyes and breath is coming faster and faster as terror takes control. That voice that wanted to demand that we pull over was from the mind of a 36 year old former United State Marine, but the voice that had come out, well, that was from the 5th grader who needed his grandfather to hug him.
Again the SUV swerves as my grandfather lists in and out of lucidity. A semi truck carrying crushed cars to a dump is ahead of us for a moment. I can see the cars and I wonder at the lives that they had carried in them for all of those years. Where are those people now, who have they become, are they as scared as I am at this moment?
“I said pull over Grandpa,” this time the voice is right and true, it is my own again and there is command in it. My grandmother looks up and gives me her smile that tells me she is proud and happy of what I have just done. Grandpa looks at me for a moment in the rear-view mirror and then a realization seems to break over his face. He looks at her, suddenly ashamed, and tears well up in his eyes. He turns around in his seat, looking at us instead of in the mirror now, he slows the SUV and pulls to the shoulder.
I open the door as the tires roll to a stop and my feet his the ground with a skid. Pulling my grandmother out from the leather seat I hold her for a moment just to make sure she is steady her and then I reach for the handle on the front door but before I can take hold the SUV roars to life, tires complain as they break free from the tarmac and the world seems to slow around me.
It was at this point that Michael Bay took over directing my dream. In an insane action sequence I race along side the SUV for a moment before I leap onto the shiny chrome back bumper. My grandfather, lost again in his delusions, swerves from lane to lane and back again across the highway, as always in an effort to beat the other drives to the destination. Cars and trucks zoom past me, the drivers, shocked and scared are honking and waving at me as my grandfather races to his goal. Holding onto the car in various ridiculous fashions, a car door handle here, the roof rack there, I make my way from the back of the vehicle to drivers side window with my feet on the nerf bar.
“Stop Grandpa, stop,” I plead with him, one hand on the window and the other holding onto the luggage rack. He looks at me through the window, and for a moment there is nothing there, no memory, not recognition of who I am or even that a person is clinging to the car he is driving, but then, slowly, his eyes soften and his smile returns, my Grandpa wakes up for a moment.
“I can’t, I don’t know how,” he whimpers to me, shaking his head. He is asking for my help, he needs for me to change the situation, but I am stuck there, holding onto the outside of a speeding SUV, lest I fall to my own death. As I look into his eyes for a moment everything is alright again. We are lost in a timeless moment, back on the little acreage where I grew up with him, and he is strong again, younger, and taking care of me instead of weak, feeble and frail with age.
The rev of the engine snaps my attention back to the road and our precarious situation. I look forward on the highway and see a tollbooth racing towards us. It is all cement, glass and steel; unmoving and uncaring that we are about to destroy ourselves as we smash into it at 80 miles per hour in this death trap. I look back to Grandpa and he is lost again, he doesn’t remember that his grandson is clinging to the car, he doesn’t understand that tollbooth is going to kill him in an instant.
In his mind he is driving back to the farm from working at the flour mill in Blackwell. The road is dirt, but recently graded and smooth enough for his daddy’s Chevy. His brothers are with him and they are talking about fighting in Europe again. This thing is going to get out of hand, he thinks to himself as he listens his eldest brother reading the newspaper aloud.
The sound of shearing metal and shattering glass assaults me as we slam into the little air-conditioned room at more than 90 miles per hour. My body is destroyed by a million daggers of glass and metal as the front of the SUV opens a gash in the room. The last sight I see with my own eyes is the generic office wall clock that momentarily hangs on the opposite wall of the booth, 11:40 eternal. It is falling now, in a spastic pirouette of energy as the building around it disintegrates in a cataclysm.
The moment freezes in place; tiny, gleaming shards of glass hang suspended in the air, mixed with perfectly round globes of what has to be my blood. Sound is gone now too, I can no longer hear the road noise, or the engine, or even the sounds of the crash; there is only silence…
The sound of my own whimpers brought me close to waking at this point, but I could not break free from the dream until my wife shook me and held on tight telling me that everything was okay. But, my eyes were open now and the room was dark in the predawn hours… I crawled out of bed, told Abbey to come with me and we went to sit on the porch. I sat there in the muggy darkness, listening to the sounds of a sleeping world, patting my dog as she sat beside me.