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Radio Hell

Car radio with "my love on the screen

Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.

Hey there. The name’s Lauren and thanks for tuning in. This… is a story about me. Viewer discretion advised, this isn’t going to be a happy story… If you’re looking for some “wholesome and uplifting content” then go back to instagram or facebook or whatever. It won’t be here. I guess you could call my story a tragedy. But not like a “sad romance movie” kind of tragedy. More like one of the old ones. You know, the ones where the audience watches the main character make a terrible decision and yet she’s completely oblivious to how bad she’s f-cked up her life? Yeah. That’s this. I think they call that tragic irony.

Anyway, life’s been tough recently. Well, no… Life’s been a huge pile of shit recently. After breaking my leg in a skiing accident with no insurance I’ve been practically drained of any savings which means, once again, I’ll have to delay going to college and still work my job at Bath & Body Works where Sharron will be waiting to ask “why I haven’t left yet” and consequently blame it on my “poor attitude” and the fact I don’t “smile enough”. Shortly after the injury my boyfriend left me. I don’t blame him. It was my fault. He was kind and smart but obviously too tied down with a girl who’s only got a high school diploma and can barely afford her rent to really follow his dreams of traveling the world and teaching advanced physics to students in Berlin. And I was too much work, ruined by my first boyfriend and traumatic abuse that left me, to quote my therapist, “vulnerable and defensive, shutting out the few people who might have ever come close to loving me whenever I needed their support the most”…

And three days ago, my mom died…

Police say it was an accident. She was going above the limit on that highway that passes through Mount Adeth. This time of year the mountain road is sleek with ice. You could be going 20 under the limit and still wind up down a hundred foot drop.

It’s easy for them to explain how she died. But no one can tell me why

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Why was my mom even travelling on that road? Maybe she was coming to see me, not like she normally does, but even then you would have to go out of your way to take that old highway. My mom lived back in our home town of Copps Hill. It’s less than an hour west of Wyrd but that highway splits through the mountains to the south so… where was she going?

And another thing- my mom hated driving. It’s the reason she always asked me to pick up her groceries whenever I’d come to visit. Well, that and she knew I would never pressure her to pay me back. She was very much a “stay at home mom” but not in a good way.

So WHY?! Why was she driving? Where was she going?

There are rumors… stories local to Wyrd about the mountains and that abandoned highway. About all the hikers who go missing and whose bodies are never found. About the highway “calling people” and those who drift away at the wheel… or even purposefully steer off the road.

But she wasn’t like that. Maybe she was reckless up there but- uhg. WHY. Now she’s dead and I’m left planning her funeral and figuring out her estate and I don’t have the first clue of what to do! Why did she have to leave her only daughter with no extended family to manage the grief and aftermath of her death, alone?!

I had to trade some of my off-days at work so I could sort out all of mom’s belongings. You’d think a death in the family would be the one excuse to get some time off. Well, not when “your attendance and support is required during this busy season.” I would have called in sick but I’ve received enough “verbal warnings” to know I’m a step away from being fired.

You never realize just how much junk you have until you have to move it. It’s worse when that junk isn’t even yours. I don’t think my mom was a hoarder but she didn’t make my life easy saving every souvenir to-go cup and mailed-in magazine.

There’s a thousand little knick-knacks she must have called “antiques” but really were just aging memories of a time she could never get back. Without her, they look to me to find some “sentimental value”. But they only remind me she’s dead… so I sort them in the bag marked “trash”.

Somewhere in the field of “stuff” I find an old picture book. I never kept my mom as someone who would save photos. Her “antiques” were one thing, but I’m sure she justified her collection believing she could just resell the odd items for some small profit. Family photos don’t buy you cigarettes.

I open the book to find a vibrant young woman. She appears to be 16 or 17. Her hair is a lush amber tone that blooms into frizzy curls. Her makeup and clothes scream 80’s and even though her fashion is out of style I’m taken back by just how beautiful she is. I can see it in the frozen hazel gaze and by the thin line of the mouth- this is my mother.

I flip to another page. My mother sits at the bottom steps of a pearl white porch. An older couple looms above her; her parents. The patio itself is cracked and peeling and the calm poses of the family decidedly staged. I never knew my grandparents and mother always seemed to withhold her comments about them. I ignorantly wrote them off as your stereotypical grandparents. Caring and humble; always with their door open and a plate of dinner to take home. But the rough features of my grandfather’s hands, the tight leer of my grandmother’s face- the photo makes me doubt their kindness.

I see less of them as I turn the pages. Taking their place is my father. I barely knew him more than my grandparents. He died when I was four- murdered; beaten and left for dead late one night when he was strolling town. I just remember mom being in shock. I was still too young to fully understand what had happened but just old enough to miss him.

He appears charming but has that look of immaturity you’d see in any high school boy. I’m sure my mother loved him. Their prom photos beamed that bright naive romance.

There are their wedding pictures. Highschool sweetheart that married as soon as they turned 18. My grandparents are absent here. I’m there though. My mother had me when she was only 17. She dropped out of school to take care of me.

The following pictures tell of our short time as a family. I remember my father, in little ways. How he would play with me; picking me up and tossing me in the air. How he settled me down in my bed and some nights read to me. But the photos don’t share my idyllic memories.

Instead, I see a family struggling to survive- both financially and emotionally. We cycled between trailer homes and two room apartments, a very transient life I don’t remember. Around this time mother took up smoking as her glow of innocent joy became increasingly dim. My father is missing more and more, presumably away working longer shifts. But then I remember how he died and I’m forced to wonder what a young man in a struggling marriage was doing “strolling the city” late at night.

And I know it’s probably an odd thing to say but I’m surprised how few pictures there are of me. If I’m there at all I’m clearly not the focus of the photograph. I’m hardly caught with my mother. At some point, I stop showing up in pictures altogether. Any reference to my life past the age of 7 is just missing. Nothing of my band concerts, school dance, or graduation. The rest of the photobook is filled with more pictures of my mother’s forgotten youth.

The lively 17 year old girl with amber hair stood in sharp contrast to the aged monotone woman of late marriage. I always assumed my mother’s quiet distress came at the death of my father but now, as the cloudy haze of nostalgia is clearing from my view I see she had been this way long before. I think of back then, mother’s frequent “accidents” and her several bruises. The present lack of his image around the house. And I debate the meaning of her cold, silent mourning following his death. Was it really shock I saw? Or was it relief?

Did she really love my father in the end? Or did she hate him? Did she feel ruined by him? The same way I felt after my first boyfriend? Why didn’t she talk to me about it?

I know why… It’s the same reason I never told her that my first boyfriend raped me. I was ashamed. Of course she wouldn’t tell me. Was she depressed? She had to be. She was beautiful and vibrant and had her whole life ahead of her and then a man stole it from me… her…

What was she feeling before she died? Was she in pain? Was that why she was on that road? Did the stories get in her head? Did she go there to…

Could she not bear the pain anymore?

No. She wouldn’t do that! She wouldn’t do that to me… but… how do I know? What was an accident and what wasn’t?

There’s really only one way I can be sure.

No more wondering or second guessing myself. I drop what I’m doing and grab my keys.

I’m only at a quarter tank of gas but I won’t stop- I can’t stop. It’s the only thing that matters now. I take the 30 minute drive south-east where the landscape bends higher and the turns wind closer. At last I come to the exit and turn onto that damned highway.

The sky is drowned of color as heavy sleet starts to fall, showering my windshield. As expected, the road is rough, ridden with potholes and layers of wet rocky mud. I cling close to the jagged walls of Mount Adeth. On the other side of a flimsy guardrail is a deathly drop into nothingness. The shadows of the growing storm only allow me to see so far before I hit a wall of black.

The thin painted lines of the road are constantly disappearing and I’m filled with panic as I steer each turn. A few times I catch my car jolt in an odd direction, set off by a pothole or patch of ice. I feel like I’ve been traveling this road forever when I realize I have yet to see another vehicle. I’m both relieved and anxious at this point but also dangerously impatient to get my answers.

I slow down to take a wide turn and come to a short stretch of road. I stop now because there… fifty feet in front of me and at the edge of my brights is the exposed railing… the spot where she…

I wasn’t going fast on the turn. She couldn’t have gone fast on the turn. I slowly bring the car forward and examine the scene. I see the splintered guardrails, the fresh tire tracks leading into darkness, and…

the signs…

The pair of bright yellow turn labels pitched high where all can see.

Why… Why would she do it? Why would she do this to me?

It’s because she doesn’t love me.

I pound at the wheel. I want to break it. Break her. Break myself.

The tears start to come and I blast the radio. There’s nothing but a sea of static. I want to drown my thoughts in it- I want to be lost in the sound. Lost and far away from HERE.

But my thoughts speak clearer. Clearer over the static. Clear enough where I realize it’s not my thoughts at all… But the voice on the radio…

Hey there. It’s uh… me. Lauren. Well, technically you.

“What the fuck?”

Listen. This is weird. Okay? I get that but you just need to listen. Calm down and we’ll get through this together.

I’ve lost my mind…

We’ve lost our mind. But I mean hey, that’s just spoiled milk for our list of shit gone wrong. But I’m here for you now- or we’re here for each other. And you want to know the funny thing? I’m the only person who’s ever said that to you and meant it.

You- you don’t know…

I don’t know?! Girl. I’m the ONLY ONE WHO KNOWS. Dad died. Grandparents? Never there. First boyfriend, fuck him. New boyfriend? Ditched you. And mom?

My mom was speeding and got into an accid-

Don’t lie! C’mon, we’re not stupid. She didn’t love us. She never even came to visit us. We always came out to see her. And for what? To pick up her groceries? That’s all we were to her, an errand girl.

But you know the really fucked up part? She didn’t kill herself because of dad…

She killed herself because of us…

Having that baby- having us… It ruined her life. When our grandparents found out, she was practically dead to them. She had to drop out of school to take care of us. And afraid of being a single mom, she was forced to marry an abusive man who couldn’t hold a job and cheated on her.

She didn’t want anything to do with us.

And who can blame her… Look how we turned out. A sad, lonely, and abused little girl with nothing but a highschool diploma and minimum wage job… Oh and now she talks to herself like a crazy lady…

… Was anything good in my life ever real?

[sigh]

No.

All our life people just used us.

But they don’t get to do that anymore. Because WE are in control…

[Engine Starts]

It’ll be quick and easy. You don’t even feel the impact.

[Car starts forward. Building speed]

We’ll show them all. Make them regret the way they hurt us.

We’ll finally be happy.

[Car at top speed]

We’ll be free of our pain.

[Speeding and then a screech]

[Sigh]

I speed towards the empty blackness… only to turn at the last moment. I shut off the radio. Ironically, it’s the memory of my mother that made me stop. A recent memory and about nothing that significant. But I was with her, at home… and we were just sitting together… talking… and laughing…

We were happy then… and it was real…

But that’s okay… Because even if you survive today… even if you tune out the radio… the voice will be there… and your tragedy will never END…