A Desert Turning
The desert sun was beating down into the car, turning it into a furnace. The old Buick didn't have air conditioning, and six hours in the Nevada desert had me stuck to the vinyl seats and in complete misery.
Just another couple hours. Then I'd be done. I would have made the break with the past, and moved on. I just wasn't sure that I wanted to.
But I had seen all the signs. He hadn't been interested in talking any more, he was never around, and when he was, he was always in a bad mood. I knew the time was coming. I didn't care that there was someone else, or just someone, if that was the problem. I only cared that he didn't seem to want me around any more.
Just a couple more hours and I would pull into the driveway at home, and him and Texas would be behind me. It just hurt.
I was just coming up on one of those dusty, run-down old places along the highway when I saw white streamers coming from the hood and over the windshield.
"SHIT!" I screamed, pounding the steering wheel.
But at least that gas station was ahead. Making it into it was easy, steam billowing out of the hood by then.
After I parked under the awning that hung over the gas pumps, and once I got the hood up, I relaxed a little. It was just a hose, and even if this station didn't have a hose, and I doubted it did, then I could still get some water and wrap something around it to get home.
While I was working under the hood, someone came up behind, their steps crunching in the dusty gravel..
"Yupper. Blown hose. See it all the time," I heard a deep, smoker's voice say.
I turned to see a fellow not much older than me, or maybe the same age, just worn out quickly in the desert. He wore a half smile on his face.
"Yeah. You got one that'll fit, any chance?" I asked.
"Umm, sure, bet I do," he said, nodding and turning back toward the old station.
I leaned on the fender and smoked a cigarette, glad for the shade of the overhead canopy. My mind went right to Mark, and how I wished things were different. I considered him my closest friend in Texas. We both were gay, and we both knew it, and we'd messed around a bit more than once, but there was nothing serious there.
But living in that small town with him now, it was like living with a stranger constantly in your life. I didn't care who he hung out with, or who he slept with, I only cared he had no time to so much as say hi to me anymore.
We'd pass constantly in town, and he'd not so much as wave any more. He never answered my calls, and if I left a message for him, it went unanswered, so I didn't even know if he had gotten it.
There were only a couple of places to go for us, and since he was popular at them, I didn't feel right, or comfortable, being in those places. They were more his now, and I had to find someplace of my own.
At one time we had spent hours a day together. But now, nothing. And he wouldn't so much as tell me why.
"You look lost," I heard that voice say.
I had been so deep in thought that the cigarette had burned away, and he had come back with a hose.
I rarely had felt so embarrassed.
"Just thinking about the road ahead."
"Yupper. Gotta figure where you're goin' before ya head there," he said, sizing up the hose he held against the one on the engine that still hissed and popped as it cooled.
"Yeah. Sure do."
"Runnin' from somethin'?" he asked as he pulled a screwdriver from his pocket.
"Nah. Well, maybe. Maybe running for a new life."
"Somethin' wrong with this one?"
I didn't even think about talking to a stranger about this, and the fact that I was didn't even register with me as I went on.
I told him about finding a good friend in the town that I moved to. How at first, it was pretty great. I told him how I first felt like I loved him, but later realized it was just a combination of who he was and what he was like, and a long period of loneliness before meeting him. Soon I had learned I did love him in a way, but I liked his friendship more. And I knew we were different types, and I wasn't his. We had become great friends, but there was no romance between us.
And I said how, now, after two years as friends, he avoided me. I had a few other friends in town, but no one I liked as much. No one had the same taste in goofy comedians, or stupid comedy. Nobody else talked to me so easy, and nobody else was as easy to talk to. But now he didn't want anything to do with me. And I told him how it hurt.
Only then did I realize I had told a complete stranger that I was gay. And about my feelings for another guy. I cringed.
When I dared to look over, he was tightening the last clamp on the replacement hose.
He looked up at me and said, "We can't help what we feel for someone. We can do somethin' 'bout what we do 'bout 'em, but we can't just change those feelings."
"I know," I said, agreeing with his words and relieved at his nonchalance.
"But you can do what feels right. It might not be the easy thing, but if you do what you think is right, you shouldn't go wrong."
"So, don't take the easy road, if it doesn't feel right, huh?" I asked, starting to rethink my decision to run.
"Nah, nevah take the easy road just 'cause it's the easy one," he said, shaking his head.
He lifted a bucket of water and poured in into the radiator as he said, "You gotta do what you gotta do. But if you think this friend of yours is worth the time and effort to keep that friendship, then you should try to keep it."
He replaced the radiator cap and closed the hood.
"You're good to go. Whichever way ya go," he said, wiping his hands on a rag from his pocket.
"So, what do I owe ya?" I asked, reaching for my wallet.
He held out his hand, saying, "Tell ya what. You think hard on which way you go outta here, and you don't owe me a thing. I've made more'n a few choices myself, and I regret many of 'em. I'm glad 'o many of 'em too, you understand. But the ones I didn't give the right thought to, they the ones I regret the most."
Meeting his eyes, I felt humbled a bit.
"Thank you, then," was all I could think of to say to him.
He nodded and smiled, and turned back to the old station.
I got into the car and started it up. The gauges all read okay.
I pulled to the exit, looking both east and west. It would be shorter to go ahead and call it quits, and just finish heading west.
I looked in the rear view mirror for a moment, and something caught my eye. I leaned out the window and looked behind me.
The old gas station looked even worse than before! The windows were all broken out, there were gaps and missing wood from the walls, and the overhead canopy was long collapsed and rusted over the pumps. I put the car in park and got out, staring at the old building. There was a huge mess of green coolant where the car had been parked, running out from under the edge of the ruined canopy in the dust and sand.
I got back in the car and backed up. I stopped in front of the doorway and got out of the car. Inside, the building was covered with dust and sand. Small objects had been blown in and piled into the corners. There were no footprints on the floor as I walked to the dust covered counter.
On it sat a radiator hose, still shiny with wetness. It was split, and a small puddle had formed beside it. I reached out to touch it; it was still warm.
Back outside, the desert sun shone down on the sandy parking lot and the ruins of the canopy that had shaded me, or that I thought had. Around the puddle of coolant I could find only prints from my tennis shoes.
Chilled, despite the soaring heat, I got back into the old Buick and started it up.
Back at the road, I looked east and west.
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