When the cop pulled us over at close to 4 in the morning, my drunken uncle said to let him do the talking. The blue lights lit his face in the rearview mirror, and later it would occur to me how much time we spend looking behind us, but I was too drunk and sick with worry to wonder about anything then.
He had woken me at one by kicking the foot of my bed after he’d snuck into my mother’s house.
“Get up,” he whispered, “there’s beer to be drunk.”
In the dark room he was a greater darkness. I was 14 at the time, thin as the light through the open window. My voice was just deepening and here was my uncle wanting to take me out into the night because he had borrowed his boss’s car, a Turbo Z that would hit 120 on the long stretch of highway that took us toward town and somewhere close to 140 when we passed the police station on our way home.
I did let him do the talking, both when the cop leered outside the window and when he coaxed me out of the comfort of my bed. I got dressed in the dark while he stood in the hall hoping my mother didn’t hear, and we went out whispering, him telling me how fast the car would go and how much beer he had. He was 27, with a slim black mustache like the one I wished I could grow and black hair feathered back, my youngest uncle whom I adored because of times like these, because at that age I already had something swimming in my bloodstream like the alcohol I was soon to be sucking down, some predisposition for the dark hours. I knew where the night was headed.
My uncle folded himself into the small car and we screamed up to seventy before we cleared my street. Near the highway we hit a small hill so hard we came off the ground and spilled our already-opened beers when we landed, swerving, my uncle saying shit and fuck before he finally righted us. When he had the car under control he downshifted and popped the clutch and then we really began to fly. It was a movement toward who I would become, a man more like my uncle, driving fast and drinking hard and seeking sex in the small hours of the night before the woman who would eventually become my wife finally settled me down.
We went through town past the darkened houses and cruised through the parking lots of cinderblock bars. I didn’t know what we were looking for, only suspected there was something out there in the night we were drawn to. Already I knew there was something wrong with me, some hole I’d try to fill with booze or anger or disregard. I could tell you what it was now, for I’ve spent many nights looking for the same thing under the spinning stars and have more often than not found it, but I knew nothing then. We drove through nearby towns where the streets harbored yet a few teenagers and past yellow-lit bars where the glow of cigarettes in the parking lot looked like some pattern a person might parse to understand what it was that drew him out here. In the interior light of a Ford pickup a woman was going down on a man with his eyes rolled back in his head, and my uncle honked the horn to scare them before speeding off, but the woman never stopped what she was doing nor did the man look up. It was the first sex I had ever seen and I was already half-drunk from my half-beer and so told my uncle, talking tough, to get us some girls, man.
At a gas station in a deserted town we ran into two girls who invited us back to their house, where a bearded man a few years older than me and twice my size welcomed us in by downing a beer in one long drink then throwing the can at the wall. He offered his hand, squeezing hard. Later, when I was in the bedroom and awkwardly pushing inside the girl he had thought was his, he would scream at the locked door and tell me he was going to kill me, until my uncle told him to shut the fuck up. When we left he flexed his hands, deciding whether or not he could take my uncle and then me. The girl kissed me. She ran her tongue lightly over my lips and I thought I was dead or in heaven one. I didn’t want to go back home. I wanted to live in the Turbo Z and listen to REO Speedwagon unable to fight this feeling anymore, to stay drunk all my life, to never look in the rear view mirror. I wanted to stay inside the girl, her arching her back to my young quick thrusts before she spun me over and climbed on top and licked my left nipple. I was numb from booze and sex and when I came I told her I loved her but now I don’t even remember her name.
Nor do I remember the house. Or where we were or what town we were in or how long ago, really, that night has been. These are just the particulars of the case. The facts of the matter. They don’t really tell you anything. My 27 year old uncle, feeling his youth slipping away, got his 14 year old nephew drunk and laid and I loved him for it. Just as I would love him the moment when, after the cops finally caught up and blue lights bloomed behind us, how for just a second I thought we might go, and keep going.
Paul Crenshaw’s stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Best American Essays, Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Pushcart Prize, anthologies by W.W. Norton and Houghton Mifflin, Glimmer Train, Ecotone, North American Review and Brevity, among others. He teaches writing and literature at Elon University.