Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch
cbertsch

Tailgating

I used to do it all the time. Starting in North Beach or the Castro or the Richmond or, most commonly, the Tenderloin, I'd follow every lane change to the Bridge, snaking around people making a left onto Van Ness or taxis emptying their passengers on Hyde. The Bridge was less panic-inducing, but separation was inevitable. I learned to track your taillights, my already-refined ability to identify a car by its lights sharpened into the sort of reflex a fighter pilot wouldn't mind having. And, when the number of Accords from the 1970s became overwhelming, a not-infrequent occurrence in the Bay Area, I went on instinct, looking for the right one, reading license plates at five, six, seven car-lengths and across lanes. "477-TTQ," is running through my head as I write this and even though it has been over a decade I wouldn't bet against my memory. Some lines are cut into stone that refuses to break.

Today I did it again. Only this time it was Camilla to Elm to Tucson to Prince to Cambell to River to First and then on up the incline. I so wanted to be in the car with you, but did the next best thing, pulling out in front of a white truck when I normally would have stayed put because I didn't want to lose you. There. It always sounded like a metaphor, even when we were a two Honda couple. These days, though, that impression is a lot stronger. I left the radio off, hoping you'd call. And then you did, as we approached Grant. Talking and tailing, tailing and talking. It almost felt like being inside you, two becoming one without ever quite getting there, the metal between us a conductor of feelings that would die if those last barriers really did fall away.

I approached the stop sign at Prince with dread. A car was bound to come between us. And it did. But as you pulled away towards Campbell, we were still talking, our phones tethered together by an invisible cord longer than the space between us. "I'm going to stop talking and listen to a few songs," you went on to say, as we approached First. I let you go, but kept following, my words redirected toward the computer screen I'd be sitting in front of later on, after dinner, now. I thought of your red Honda, how it was serviced in Elk, the way the custom sunroof folded up like a delicate piece of flesh, something you want to set in motion precisely because it's so fragile, because it opens into a window on the world. I thought of the North Coast, that last curve before Highway 1 curves inward. The Lost Coast lies ahead, mountains looming in the mist. There's a black sand beach far below. We used to scramble down to it, delighting in the remoteness and the risk. It always seemed like the end of the world.

I can see you on the pull-out far above, your body poking through the sun roof, hat glinting in the half-sun. "I don't like the way I look in those pictures," you told me, sitting in line at the airport. You meant the ones from your old workplace. But the one I have in mind fits the bill too. You're far too thin, a woman starting to disappear, so close to being lost but smiling bravely in the hope of staying found. Some days I think you're finally gone, that what mattered then has ceased to be solid. And then you remind me. When you buried your face in my chest today, trembling, I reached out to hold you fast. I pressed my fingers into your arm, smelled your hair, wanted you to stop crying, hoped you'd never stop wanting to cry on me. I'll follow you anywhere. I'll slip in and out of traffic to keep you in sight. I'll stay for the whole ride home.
Tags: autobiography, desire, prose
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