Tail Lights


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

I drive around a lot. Partly because of my work, but mostly I drive because I can’t imagine staying in one place. It’s not that I can’t afford to settle down – I could, if I wanted. It’s just that I’m… restless. And ignoring that would be like ignoring who I am.

I knew, ever since I was a kid in my hometown, that my life wasn’t meant for… that, for a “home”, a “family”. My mom is somewhat to blame, she was never right for parenting. She was a lot like me, restless. And because that’s who she was and because she had me, she was never “happy”. I forced her to settle down. And that ate at her. Every. Single. Day.

But I wouldn’t turn out like her. I wouldn’t let myself be eaten away.

I remember when I first got my license, I stole my mom’s car and drove to another state. I wasn’t “going anywhere,” I was just moving. Pacing. The mind likes to think and mine does it best when I’m on the road. That’s the only time I can ever think. I really only stop to get gas or to sleep. And when I’m awake, I’m moving. I have to be.

I mentioned my job. I’m sort of a “delivery manager”. I make sure several trucks get from point A to point B and then to point C and so on. You’d think for how much I love to drive I’d sign up as the middleman and drive the trucks myself. And, well, I was… for a time.

But you see, truckers are required to take “mandatory rests,” and despite what my manager called a “great work ethic,” it was technically illegal to drive 24 hours without sleep. But to borrow a cliche I guess I’m just “built different”. I could go one or two days easy. Driving is just second nature to me. Like breathing. Automatic.

So I quit being a truck driver. If they were gonna force me to sit still, I’d move on. But luckily with my time and the right connections, I landed a manager’s position. Now all I have to do is make a few phone calls, track a few trucks, and do some simple paperwork. The great thing about all that is that I can do it while driving. And better yet, no “mandatory rests”.

Living on the road, I’ve seen a lot of places. Some good, some bad, some so nice I’ve been tempted to stay. But I don’t. The longer I stay in one place the more it feels like I’m stuck on a treadmill. My legs are moving, but they’re just biding time until the moment I step off and, well…

My patience runs dry.

That’s what I think anyway. Ever since I got my new job, I’ve had a lot of time to drive, which means I’ve had a lot of time to think. And I’ve been thinking about what it’s like, to settle down, to sit still. And I can’t wrap my head around it.

You know how some birds are always migrating? It’s coded into their DNA. They’re like nomads. Some humans were nomads too, a long time ago. But then we started to form packs. But even packs of wolves move around, so why do we have homes? See that’s the part that doesn’t make sense to me, how can you just sit there and hide?

Maybe the code in their DNA is broken. Maybe they just need someone to show them.

Did you know more people die by suicide than a car crash?

Let that one sink in.

Some days I’m driving to a warehouse to check in with our partners. They’re stationed all across the US so I’m driving for quite a bit. They think it’s so courageous of me to drive all this way. They think it just goes to show how much I care about my job. But really it’s just a convenience. I “overperform” for them and in return they pay for some of my trip.

But today, I’m just driving. Today, I’m feeling restless…

I’m not going anywhere, not exactly. Just West for now. It’s late at night and I’m on a road I’ve never been on. It’s nearly empty and along the road is a whole stretch of nothing. Mostly woods and some hills. I’ve been driving this way for… oh I don’t know, thirty-three hours? But it’s roads like these I like to travel. Narrow, straight, and lonely…

I check the rearview mirror.

A part of me has always wondered if I’m being followed. Maybe that’s why I’m restless. It feels like whenever I stop, they (whoever “they” are) are catching up. But I’ve learned the best way to cope is just to move forward. You can look over your shoulder, sure, but don’t you ever turn around. If you turn around, you’ve stopped. If you’ve stopped, well, something’s gonna catch up to someone. You just never know who or what.

Behind me there’s a single car but they’ve kept their fair distance. Ahead of me there’s nothing, nothing but miles and miles of more of what’s around.

Maybe humans still are like wolves. Afterall, we still travel in packs, even on the road, with complete strangers. We follow behind each other, sometimes mimicking their speed. And maybe that’s reassuring for some people. But for me, it feels like I’m going nowhere. That’s why I take these back roads away from everyone else. That way I can sort them out – who’s following and who’s not.

I’m not sure where or when I’ll stop. I keep saying one more mile, but every time I check the rearview mirror and see them there, I decide to keep going. At least until I’m sure…

We come across an intersection, the first in miles, and I take another glance back. The car is still behind me. I would describe it better but their lights make it impossible to see. It’s a four door car, just a little larger than mine, and maybe white or silver. Honestly, I can’t tell with how dark it is.

I slip over some rumble strips and snap my eyes forward.

Just goes to show even I have limits. I should really get some sleep. Soon, but not yet.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I had a partner. Someone to keep driving whenever I have to sleep. I thought about it once, when I was driving trucks, but whenever I talk to certain people I can just tell, they don’t want to keep moving. They do because it pays. And I think if I was to work with someone it would have to be someone like me, someone who not only wants to keep going but has to. And it’d have to be someone with no commitments.

Believe me it’s tough sometimes. No friends, no family. Nothing I can feel connected to. The only thing I’ve got is my phone. It’s how I get my news, my weather. It’s how I entertain myself. But this way I don’t feel tied down. And this way, there’s no one keeping tabs.

When you think about it though, I’m not so different from anyone else. Whenever I stop at a restaurant or gas station that’s how other people are – heads down, looking at their phones. They have their whole world siphoned through a tiny little screen. How many of them do you think actually see their families? Or would they be more likely to facetime? Most people say they can’t imagine living like I do, yet I think they just haven’t tried.

But whatever. It’s easy for me to live like this because I’ve never planted roots. Maybe some of them are just stuck where they are and will be forever.

Up ahead I see the dim lights of a gas station. I check the rearview mirror.

This would be their chance. Mine too.

But the car is still behind me and it’s not slowing down.

A quick glance at the fuel gauge tells me I’ve got a little longer before I stall. But even then I’ve stored a few spare gallons in the trunk. I’ll be good for whatever comes.

We pass the gas station and continue going West.

I’m careful about these things. Can’t just stop when the gas is low. I’ve gotta be sure, gotta know when a car is “just” behind me… and when it’s not…

There are just so many cars, so many people going around, all of them with their own life story, their own destination, and yet we all share the same roads.

Makes you wonder who you’re sharing them with.

My phone rings.

I try reading the caller ID but feel I have to blink just to clear the fuzziness from my eyes. I definitely need to rest soon.

I ignore the call and put my phone on silent.

Traveling so much my job can get a bit tricky, and work hours even trickier. But those that know me well know that I’ll usually return a call as quickly as I can. Like I said, a few hours of sleep, and I’ll be back at it.

What was I talking about before this? Oh well. A restless soul and a restless mind.

My teachers used to say I was easily distracted, but I think they were just easily ignorable. But school in general was rough for me, and I definitely played hooky on more than one occasion. It’s honestly a miracle that I graduated. But I think my teachers were just soft on me after my mom passed away.

Intentional Overdose. Figures. Like they say, more common than a car crash…

But I guess I’ve got her to thank for my current lifestyle. Her house, her furniture, all of it passed to me. I sold everything except the car, which left me with more gas money than I had miles to drive. And so for a while after highschool that’s how I lived, like the ancient nomads.

I’m not sure if that would classify as “homeless” but then what the hell is “homeless” anyway? And why does everyone say that word like it’s bad? Would it be better if I blew my money on some place I can’t afford? Am I “better off” sitting around in a tiny apartment? Hey, all I’m saying is I get to see the world. I don’t feel restless…

Well, mostly…

How long has that car been behind me? I should have been keeping track but time flies when you’re skipping time zones. Has it been an hour yet? Or two? I can’t see who’s driving, not with their lights on, but I know they’re alone.

So many people travel alone. It’s not like the old days with horse-drawn-wagons and the new frontier. Back then you needed backup otherwise nature had you played. But now our wagons are made of metal. Now they have locked doors. Now they keep you warm and cool and go even faster, and now we travel alone. Sort of… I guess there’s still that pack mentality. You’re always driving next to someone. Except now, we never know who that someone is.

There’s a stuttering sound as my engine begins to stall.

Hm. I thought I’d make it a bit farther.

I flash my tail lights and turn on my hazards, and then I pull off to the side. It kills me to slow down. Any time I tap the brakes I think I’ll go flying forward. And anytime I pull over it feels like I’ve crashed. But now here’s the test.

The car behind me passes but slows down and parks up ahead.

A good Samaritan, huh? Even so, they should’ve moved on. Oh sure, they’ll stop and be generous, and offer to help the guy who’s stuck. Except, I’m not that guy. I’m not stuck. I’ve got a few gallons in the back for this very reason, and after I’m refueled I’ll keep on going. I’ll find a new road to drive on. I have to. It’s because I’m restless.

The driver steps out of their car. Even though it’s dark I can see them waving at me. I wave back and they start to come closer.

I check the rearview mirror. No one’s around.

Tail lights from a car during night.

Art by Anonymous

Maybe, someday, people will think more like I do. Maybe they’ll realize how silly it is to settle down or pull over. Maybe they’ll realize that you should always keep moving, no matter what. Because whenever you stop, you’re giving them a chance. And eventually that thing that’s chasing after us, will finally catch up.

That’s why I give them a chance and why I don’t take any. That’s why I’ll go until I’m empty and why I always come prepared.

I don’t like to do this, but I have to. They don’t have to follow me, but they do.

The other driver is close now.

In the glovebox, I pull out a few zip ties and my 48 revolver.

Truth be told, I don’t pick them out. How could I? They’re the ones who follow me…