His name is Navdeep, and he’s going to kill us. That’s the declaration of Andy, my traveling companion on this early morning ride share to the airport. Andy began his backseat commentary with, “Hey, that’s a red light!”, then graduated to “Dude, you’re gonna kill us!”
We are Vegas bound for our company’s national sales meeting; at least, we will be if we survive this car ride. Andy must believe we have a chance of stopping in time, which is why he continues hollering at our driver, who appears not to hear him at all, nor does he notice he’s three feet from breeching the forbidden zone.
As for me, I have locked eyes with this pair of overhead traffic lights, and they appear to me as the red orbs of a modern ostiary. “Thou must not pass!”, those eyes appear to say, but Navdeep’s Prius would need supernatural stopping power capable of dropping to a dead stop in zero-point-two seconds to keep us from passing beneath those glowing reds. I think, This is happening; there’s no stopping it. We are blowing this light. Me, Andy, Navdeep––we are in this, baby.
It’s incredible how easily I am able to accept this simple and unassailable fact. Even more incredible is my lack of concern over what’s likely to happen. Strangely, I’m a bit excited.
Andy screams, “Stop! Stop!”
I think, It’s too late to stop! Punch it! Goose this go-cart as hard as it’ll go and see what happens!
This isn’t like me. I’m afraid all the time, and nothing scares me more than feeling like I’m not in control. The current situation should have me scared out of my skin. Instead, I feel a peace welling up in me, rising with each microsecond of our advance. It is something I’ve felt before only in fleeting doses––an ambient calm, a warm, hopeful glow.
I’ve heard philosophers compare humanity to water in the ocean––comprised of billions of droplets, but if one of those droplets were to describe itself, it would not say, “I am water”; instead it would say, “We are water”.
We are Ocean.
In this rolling vessel of plastic and metal, We are Ocean. We are waves, poised to crash upon other waves. We have crossed the threshold now. From my vantage point in the rear, my forward view is obscured. If another car approaches from either side, I won’t see it until just before impact. The not knowing gives me a thrill.
A jet black SUV flashes in front of us, horn cranked to ten. We are close enough that I can make out the face of the driver through its side window, his eyes wide with shock and rage. Inside his mobile fortress, the man erupts with vengeful curses. I can’t know exactly what he’s saying, but I see by the shape of his mouth that fuck is a favored word, and I assume, amongst all the fucks, there are copious slurs leveled at our driver.
Beside me, Andy is firing a few f-bombs of his own.
The sudden and unexpected proximity of an oncoming vehicle has awakened Navdeep from his trance; his foot finds the brake just in time to keep us from t-boning Mister Fuck’s luxury SUV. This is too-small relief to Andy, as we are still in the middle of a busy twelve lane intersection, exposed to the potential impact of any other SUV driver or long haul trucker with the gumption to exercise his proper right-of-way. I grip my armrest in anticipation. To me, this Prius is a vessel to a different world, one unbound by the limitations of my small mind.
Squeal of brakes to my left, slipping tires. I sense, more than see, an object advancing toward my passenger window. I look to find another SUV, this one silver, skidding to a stop inches of my door.
Andy has resorted to barking specific instructions to our driver, smacking him on the shoulder in effort to get him to obey, but his commands are contradictory––“Stop! No, go! Faster! No wait…now go! No, stop!” Navdeep responds by alternating from accelerator to brake, back to accelerator, finally stopping completely and shifting into reverse. This elicits a sharp lashing from Andy––“Don’t back up, you moron!”
Navdeep doesn’t speak a word. In fact, the man’s been silent from the moment he picked us up. He remains in unlikely silence while shifting back into drive and accelerating forward. Navdeep may not be much of a talker, but what he doesn’t say with his mouth is easy to read in his eyes. I know his thoughts as well as I know my own because I see myself in him. I suppose it’s the same with all waves of the ocean––it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins, and in all those merging parts, the waves nearly become one another, feeling each other’s feelings. The wave of me knows that the wave of Navdeep is fearful, not of crashing, nor of dying. He is scared of disappointing someone. His family, perhaps.
I place a hand on Navdeep’s shoulder and say, “It’s okay. We’re here with you.”
“The fuck did you say?” says Andy.
I look at Andy. I feel his thoughts just as I feel those of our driver. He’s angry, not at Navdeep for being a terrible driver, not at me for trying to console him; he is angry at himself. He is angry and disappointed in himself because he was not born to be a salesman, yet here he is––a salesman. He had a different purpose, something he’s known in his bones since he was very young, but he never reached for it. I suppose I’m angry at myself for the same reason.
I touch Andy’s shoulder. “It’s okay. I understand how you feel.”
He raises a single brow in response. I’ve known Andy for years; this is his You’re fucking crazy expression. He opens his mouth to speak a variance of those words (I have no doubt), but his comment is squelched by my reaction to something I see over his shoulder––blue minivan, coming fast.
Just before the van hits us, I catch a look at its driver. She is beautiful, with skin like dusk; she is an ocean wave like the rest of us, and I feel her thoughts as well. When she was young, she dreamed of becoming a journalist and swore she’d never drive a minivan, but the profession of journalism has lost its way, and here is the woman––behind the wheel of a minivan, bracing to crash into our misguided Prius.
The would-be journalist has quick reflexes. She veers in time to avoid a direct impact with Andy’s passenger door and strikes our rear quarter panel instead; now we are spinning. This car, the ocean within it, is a whirlpool.
I see Andy––a force of will, determined, like a salmon swimming upstream––still fighting, barking orders as we spin. I see Navdeep, arms pressed to chest; he is a school of minnows frightened by the currents. We spin, and we spin. And there is me. I am the seahorse with no direction of its own, reliant on the power of the tides to carry me forth. We keep spinning.
Pressing against the force that pins me to my seat, I reach over the driver’s seat, grasp Navdeep’s hand. He takes my fingers in a sweaty grip, the way of a frightened child. I give my other hand to Andy. His palm is rough like sand. He’s quiet now.
The sounds from outside––engines revving and horns honking, tires scraping asphalt––are fading echoes now. I hear those sounds as though I’m imagining them, the way you hear the melody of an old song just by recalling it. A new song is playing, one that binds us, merges our hearts, a song of ocean waves. Such a strange miracle is music.
We’ve been spinning for hours. The world is a blur of perpetual movement. I think, This is what it’s like to see through the eyes of God and the angels, the world forever spinning––all our successes and failures, our creations and devastations, all our ballads and declarations of war, every suffering work of art and every thoughtless tweet––they appear as one simultaneous happening, a beautiful and tragic mess before the eyes of God.
I am not going to Vegas today. I may be dead soon. I may arrive in the hospital with my brains scrambled or my legs missing, or I may emerge from this car with nothing worse than a sore back. Whatever happens in the coming moments, I know my destination is true. The same is so for Andy and Navdeep, and for every other driver and passenger out there. Where exactly is our destination? It is here, on this road.
We are Ocean. We go where we go.