There was a gray one and a black one and a white one and Dean chose the white one. His Father was hesitant. He sucked in air between gritted teeth. “Are you sure, buddy?” his Father asked. “The black one is a lot sexier.”
The Salesman nodded in eager agreement.
Dean contemplated this. He took a stance he’d seen Walt Whitman do once in an etching in which he looked deep in contemplation (although Walt Whitman was in a breezy field of grass, not the stagnant heat of a Honda dealership in West Los Angeles). Dean wondered what kind of car Walt Whitman would drive if he were alive and seventeen. Something rugged yet refined, affordable yet elegant. Maybe a Rav4 or Toyota Highlander.
Dean chose the White Honda for its higher visibility. “Safety over sexy,” Dean’s Father said while giving him a loving but too-hard shoulder squeeze. “He’s more sensible than his old man!” His Father and the Salesman laughed. Dean forced a chuckle, but mostly blushed.
Dean’s Father and the Salesman made small talk as they signed over the White Honda. They talked about sports and they talked about weather and Dean realized that he couldn’t care less about either topic. Instead, he thought about the drastic differences between his Father and himself: while Dean’s Father was a gregarious paralegal who could talk to anyone with ease, Dean considered himself a writer while blundering just barely through everyday conversation. Dean’s Father often boasted of his sexual experience, having lost his virginity at sixteen to an alluring hand-and-foot model named Belinda. Besides a few brief flirtations and a chance bout of heavy petting after a Winter Formal in sophomore year, Dean was inexperienced in the ways of love.
“Pearl white. Pure white. Angel white,” said Dean.
“Bone white. Milk white. Egg shell white,” said Megan.
They were sitting in the weedy lot across from Megan’s house trying to determine what shade of white the Honda was. Dean had met Megan the previous summer at a camp for young artists. Though she was a year his senior, they mingled awkwardly at an ice cream social and became close by camp’s end. Megan lived in the mountains an hour and a half on the freeway from Dean. While a series of phone calls had helped them span this initial distance, the White Honda was the last necessity for their budding young love to bloom. That night, in lieu of an eight o’clock movie, they sat in the White Honda kissing deeply and huffing the new car smell. While their tongues trembled and tapped lightly against slick white teeth, Dean thought about the millions of molecules that constituted the new car smell. He wondered how much they could breathe in before it would all be gone. He figured that if he kept the power windows rolled and went easy on the A/C, it would last a bit longer.
The day after Halloween was el Día de los Muertos. Megan took Dean to a festival in a Hollywood cemetery to drink champurrado and commune with the dead. There were mariachi bands, sugar skulls, and costumed droves. Never before had Dean seen such a gathering in Los Angeles. He’d always thought of his city as defined by its separateness. Highways held disparate districts together, which held their own brand of isolation – dotted with cars carrying insulated, untouchable, and unknowable lives. To gaze into another’s window was a sin in Los Angeles. Once, crawling in rush hour traffic, Dean made the mistake of staring idly at the driver beside him. The man called him a faggot and Dean rolled up his window.
Megan led Dean past the graves of Charlie Chaplin, Fay Wray, and three of the Ramones. The lovers held hands and talked about death. Megan said she wanted to be cremated so her particles could be one with the universe. Dean found this romantic and worried his reaction was strange.
They stopped by Arroyo Canyon on their way home, where NASA sometimes tested rockets – explosions echoing across the expanse. But that night, it was quiet and calm like the moon. Dean and Megan had sex on a blanket in the back of the White Honda. They both were virgins, so they moved cautiously and carefully, constantly asking if the other was okay. Dean wondered if this was normal, comparing it to the urgent and passionate sex scenes of the movies. He wondered if Dean’s Father and Belinda the hand-and-foot model had been just as nervous, thirty years prior and in the back of a red Alfa Romeo. And he thought of an old joke of his Father’s:
Q: How do porcupines have sex?
A: Very very carefully.
Every weekend, he’d make the long drive to see her. He traversed this stretch so many times that his muscles memorized the journey. He believed he could navigate it in his sleep. One rare traffic-free morning, he drove it with his eyes closed for almost two minutes. He probably could have gone for longer had he not realized how dangerous it was.
His favorite thing about her was the love notes she wrote. During their visits, she would slide them secretly into pockets and sleeves. She tucked them in his wallet and stuffed them in his shoes. She slipped them in the spines of the books that he borrowed, peeking out just enough for him to notice them days, weeks, or sometimes months after their placement. He would discover them at home or in class, wet and wrinkled from the washer or tumbling from a textbook. There were hundreds of these notes, scribbled on paper scraps and yellow Post-It notes. They seemed to spew from every crevice of his life, and their lilting, loopy script never ceased to make him smile. These lovely inane nothings became his whole world, and he soon began to expect their surprise appearances in the most absurd and unlikely places. Biting into a tuna salad sandwich, he secretly wished to choke on a damp corner of notebook paper with “I love you” scrawled upon it. He would chew his food methodically, but never found a thing.
Dean’s friends were jealous of the White Honda. Though Dean spent less time with them since he had started seeing Megan, he would often catch them in the parking lot after school, peering through the windows of the White Honda with hands cupped to hungry eyes. They craved its cream-colored leather interior and would often ask Dean for joy rides up and down Ventura Boulevard. Dean would have honored their requests had it been any other car, but he cringed at the thought of them desecrating the White Honda with their dirty sneakers and cigarette smoke. It was a temple of his love for Megan, and Dean doubted they could comprehend its sanctity. Instead, he pretended to always have someplace to be, and it wasn’t long before they abandoned their cause.
As Megan approached the end of high school, the stress of Senior year set in. During an anxious late-night talk in the White Honda, Megan told Dean she was worried that they’d been spending too much time together. Her friends had complained about her absence, and with the academic exodus approaching, they wanted to see more of her. “Your friends must feel the same way,” she offered. Dean thought this over, tracing his finger over the leather stitches of his steering wheel. He had lost touch with most of them, and was barely bothered by how little he cared.
Summer started with a separation. After graduation, Megan set out to backpack through Europe. She didn’t invite Dean, citing the excursion as her last chance to spend time with her friends before college. She apologized, but Dean told her not to worry. He totally understood. Who was he to hog her? And besides, she’d only be gone for a month.
But never before had four weeks gone by so slowly. It wasn’t long before Dean became depressed, his life seemingly aimless without her. In an attempt to raise his spirits, he cobbled together every love note she’d ever written him. But reading them from first to last only made him feel melodramatic. If anything, he should have felt grateful. In the fall, Megan’s friends would depart for northern state schools or the east. But Megan would be enrolled in a college downtown, so Dean couldn’t imagine life becoming very different at all.
When she touched down at LAX, Dean was waiting for her in the White Honda. At the curb, she leapt happily into his arms, dropping her backpack on their feet in the process. Though the trip was a blast, she admitted she’d missed him terribly. He confessed he’d counted the days until her return. As he drove her home, Dean glowed with glee. She had flown from Berlin straight into his arms, and he was flattered by the distance she’d crossed to embrace him.
The pot smoke was palpable. It mixed with the smell of sweat and spilled beer to form a thick haze that hung in whoever’s living room Dean found himself standing in. When Megan told him of the graduation party she planned to attend, he surprised them both by begging to come along. But Dean was soon reminded of his low tolerance for Megan’s friends, so he opted to drink moodily on the party’s periphery. He stumbled through throngs of kids he didn’t know, keeping a cautious eye on the Red Bull and vodka sloshing in a Ball jar in his hand. Though it looked and tasted like piss, he had already had three.
Dean stood sulking by the kitchen sink. Hearing a strange series of dull popping noises, he turned to find a large arthritic Labrador ambling towards him. Though it quivered painfully with each step, the Dog still beamed with its tongue lolling out. Dean bent down to pet it. Combing his fingers through its graying brown coat, he discovered several knotty tumors in the Dog’s back and sides. Dean stood up, nearly falling over in the process. He frantically searched the house, worming through the crowd and asking for the hostess. When he finally tracked her down, she asked him urgently if it was the cops. “I think there’s something wrong with your dog,” he stammered. She sighed and looked down, staid and solemn. To Dean’s surprise, the girl said she knew. “He’s been sick for awhile. My mom wants to put him down, but I’ll never let her do it. I look at him and he seems so happy and I just don’t think it’s time.”
Dean found the Dog with a stick in the yard. For the rest of the party, the two played fetch. Dean would lob the stick across the dimly lit lawn and the Dog would dash out and proudly return it, slobber-soaked and dirty. Dean’s arm grew weary, but the Dog never faltered, always with the stick in its snaggle-toothed smile. Dean pondered the possibilities of eternal fetch. If Dean kept throwing, would the Dog always bring it back? He wanted to know what the Dog thought of death. How could the Dog be happy with a stick while surely aware of its impeding demise?
Megan stormed over and interrupted their volley. She said she’d been looking for him for fifteen minutes, calling his name throughout the house. In his defense, Dean said he simply didn’t hear her.
The world looked different from the passenger seat. Dean held in hiccups and watched it all pass by. “My friends think you’re weird,” Megan said with her fists locked at ten and two. “All you did was drink and play with that goddamn dog.” It was strange to see her at the wheel of the White Honda. It felt like astral projection. “I think you like that your friends think I’m weird,” he slurred. “I think that’s their way of saying I’m interesting.” As she pulled up to her house, she scratched his car against the curb. Dean heard the dull scrape, but was too drunk to care.
“Goodnight,” Megan whispered as she took Dean in her arms. In the foyer of her parents’ house, she pressed her soft lips against his. “I’ll wake you in the morning.” As she climbed the darkened stairway to her room, he tried his best to follow. He stepped clumsily behind her with his hands on her hips like a blind person doing the locomotion. “Are you crazy? My parents would kill me!” She sent him back downstairs, where he slept on the couch.
Dean woke up in the middle of the night. He kicked off a blanket. It was too hot to sleep. Even for summer it was warm, what Dean had once heard his mother call “earthquake weather.” He thought about the floor plan of Megan’s house and realized her bed was directly above where he slept on the couch. If there were an earthquake, her bed would come crashing down through the ceiling and crush him to death. Megan would be at the funeral, weeping in a sexy yet modest black dress. “If only he’d spent the night in my bed,” she’d wail. Her mother and father would console her on either side, and Dean would be looking down from heaven with a grin on his face, Tom Sawyer style.
In the fall, Megan went to college and hated everyone there. She had trouble making friends, and would often call Dean in tears. It would take most people at least thirty minutes to get from Dean’s house to the college. In the White Honda, Dean took seventeen. Each time, she would wait by her dorm room window on the twenty-third floor until she saw him pull up in front. She would slip down from her high tower and they’d speed off in the White Honda. One night as he whisked her away to West Los Angeles, she confessed thinking of him as some kind of chivalric knight, the Honda, his brilliant white stallion. She thanked him for rescuing her every weekend, and he took profound joy in her analogy.
When her roommate was away, Megan asked Dean to stay the night. They would entwine their naked bodies on her tiny lofted bed, sublime, shameless, and safe from parental intrusion. In the mornings, Dean would wake up before six to move the White Honda from meter maids and street sweepers. It was tedious, but he never complained.
One early hazy morning after a night in Megan’s dorm, Dean heard a brittle crunch as he stumbled sleepily towards the White Honda. He lifted his foot to find the ground flecked with bits of broken glass. Dean eased his head through the jagged hole where his driver’s side window had once been: the glass had been shattered, shards splayed across the floor; the upholstery scarred, torn with the stuffing exposed; the CDs pilfered, the coins for meters too; and adorning it all was a fine confetti of torn scraps from his Thomas Brothers guide. Searching for a reason why such heartlessness would be exacted upon the White Honda, all Dean could find was the stereo, halfway wrenched out of its socket but still attached by some stubborn soldering and wires. Dean tried to make it play, but only got static.
Megan found him sitting on the sidewalk, ghost white. She ran out in her pajamas and lifted him up, pulling him into an embrace so tight that he felt she could absorb his grief simply through tactile transference. She cooed in his ear, assuring him he wasn’t alone – together, they could amend this disaster.
Though they spent the afternoon sweeping up glass, Dean felt blessed. The thought of the White Honda spending nine days in repair would normally be staggering, but having Megan by his side made it all seem manageable.
In a few months, Megan began to settle into college life. She found friends and seemed generally less depressed. Dean tried not to complain when she couldn’t spend time with him. On nights she was busy, he would drive around in the White Honda. He never had a destination, but it gave him something to do.
He got in the habit of asking “do you love me?”, which irritated them both. They saw each other less frequently, her notes became scarce, and everything fed Dean’s growing insecurity. But each time he felt like giving up on their love, he would find a folded Post-It in a sweatshirt pocket and it would cause his world to spin.
“Where’s your stuff?” Dean asked out the passenger window. Pulling up at Megan’s dorm, he found her empty-handed. She sat down silently and buckled her belt. In the thinnest voice, she asked him just to drive.
By then, Dean had mastered destination-less driving. He knew when to turn, when to signal, when to merge. He was capable of driving around for hours, creating the illusion of progress while moving no more than ten blocks from where he began. All of this was helpful when Megan confessed, teary-eyed and wracked with guilt, that she’d been seeing someone else. Someone at school, from one of her classes. She believed that an overwhelming distance had formed between her and Dean, whether it be literal or emotional, she didn’t say. And this was something Dean couldn’t understand, because he could span any distance in the White Honda.
Megan apologized, but it was no use. In no way could Dean comprehend how their love could end. Perhaps there had been signs that things were falling apart. It was possible that he’d simply been unwilling to see them.
When Dean was eight, his mother thought he was deaf. He rarely responded to her, and would often sit inches away from the television with the sound turned up. She took him to an Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor who diagnosed him with Selective Hearing. His mother grew pale. She sat in a chair. “Don’t worry,” said the Doctor. “His hearing is fine. All this means is that he hears what he wants to.”
Dean recalled this with alarming clarity. It played like a movie in his mind. It was strange how long it’d been since he last thought about the incident – he used to frequently, as it was one of the few vivid memories he had of his mother. It distracted him from Megan and the heartbreak that he felt. And he was distracted from this distraction by a truck that merged swiftly from a side street and nosed into the rear passenger corner of the White Honda.
As they spun out into the empty intersection, Dean and Megan rapped their heads against their respective windows. When they stopped spinning, Dean was bleeding from the mouth. He looked at Megan, who was bleeding from the mouth. And Dean remembered a story about the wife of Edgar Allen Poe, who was quite a talented pianist. One night as she played the piano, she played with such intensity and rapture that she began to bleed from the mouth. Dean wondered if maybe he and Megan had simply reached the pinnacle of their intense and rapturous relationship. Maybe that was why they bled from the mouth.
Dean apologized obsessively after the accident, but Megan insisted she wasn’t mad. The Doctor said they’d be fine – they’d only bled because they both bit their tongues upon impact. “And the tongue’s the most resilient organ,” the Doctor said with a smile. As they waited for their parents to pick them up from the Emergency Room, Megan said she thought it best that the two stop talking for a while. Dean couldn’t tell whether she meant until their tongues healed or forever. Regardless, all he did was nod.
Dean fixed the car, but it never drove the same. Furthermore, Dean was afraid of it. Shortly after the accident, Dean’s Father sent him out for groceries only to find him hyperventilating in the driveway. He sent Dean to a Therapist to see if she could help. The Therapist suggested that he could manage his anxiety attacks by picturing a peaceful, soothing place. When asked to pick a place, Dean could only think of Megan’s arms. That was where he had felt the safest. But instead, he told the Therapist that his place was in a hammock between two palm trees on a white sandy beach. And even she had to admit that his answer was horribly cliché. They both knew he never gave a shit about the beach.
Dean sold the White Honda through an ad in the newspaper. Before handing it over, he carefully cleaned out the contents of its many pockets, compartments and crevices. Beneath the passenger’s seat, he found a creased Post-It note. He couldn’t bring himself to read it, so he left it hidden when he surrendered the keys.
For a couple of weeks he rode the bus, but the crowds and body odors made him dizzy. He eventually started borrowing his Grandfather’s car, a clunky brown Le Sabre. In exchange, Dean agreed to chauffeur his Grandfather around in the rare instance he had someplace to go. When embarking on these drives, Dean’s Grandfather would tuck an empty Ball jar beneath his seat in case he had to piss. Though Dean never saw him use it, his Grandfather told him it was comforting to know it was there.