"Can you come get me? I've just been a wreck."

It was just after two in the morning, I had a final exam at eight, and the ring
of the phone had awakened the whole house. College is a lot of things, but
mostly it's real life minus the sharp edges. Sometimes however, you catch a
corner and you've just got to deal.

For quite possibly the first time all semester, I was in bed to sleep at eleven.
My roommates and I had served as the stewards at an apartment that
invoked shades of a kind of Grand Central Station, with classmates and
friends dropping by at all hours of the day and night. Our parties lasted all
night and our cookouts legendary. But this was the week that would make or
break a semester, so all was quiet until that phone call.

I sprang from the bed, fully awake in seconds. I asked her where she was
and nothing else. I told her I was on my way and that everything would be
okay, the things you're supposed to say. I put on some shorts, grabbed a t-
shirt, grabbed my keys and my wallet and all but ran out of the house.

The night was warm, as nights in Florida are as summer approaches. I
broke into a sweat almost immediately, a combination of the high humidity
courtesy of the gulf and worry. My car started on first turn of the key and as
I weaved out of the parking lot I mentally plotted out the fastest route to
where she said she was, and how fast a young black male could drive
before the police took an interest. I went through town, the lights generous
as moved along at a good clip. Traffic at this hour was nearly non-existent in
this small southern town so I had time to think and so my mind played back
the sound of voice, the fear I heard.   

She didn't own a car.

I was halfway there when that occurred to me. I had just passed my favorite
Chinese restaurant, with it's buffet sixty items long and that little yellow cake
with the chocolate frosting for dessert. The road ahead sloped away on a
long hill that let the car almost glide effortlessly through the darkness.

I'd met her four months ago on my couch. She'd come with her friend who
was seeing one of my roommates and we'd clicked, so the next night she'd
shown up alone. On her fourth visit as one am rolled around I finally stood
up and said I had take it in for the night. She shrugged and casually asked
which one was my bedroom.

I got stopped by a red light at an empty intersection and was tempted to run
it. My engine purred in the dark for a few minutes until I finally pushed
through the long slow blink. I had the window open and my neck was starting
to hurt I was so tense. I sped down that empty stretch of pseudo highway
towards the perimeter road and the park beyond.

The park closed at sundown.

I made the turn onto the two lane blacktop, an even lonelier stretch of road
that the one I had turn off of, and somewhere out there in the darkness were
the state prison and another lonely road I needed to turn on to find her. I
knew she was out there wondering how this all was going to turn out. I got
nervous and leaned forward peering ahead desperate not to miss the turn.

I had bought a new bed. We spent many day on that bed, just talking. She
lovingly fed me broccoli and cheese as we lounged naked in the middle of
lazy afternoons on that bed, and I hated broccoli and I hated cheese. We
had fallen asleep many a night on that bed, her arms around me and
smooth feel of cocoa skin that hid beneath baggy jeans and oversized shirts
that would litter my bedroom floor. Without her I tossed and turned, but with
her there I slept like a stone.

The road into the vast expanse of parkland was narrow and twisting, a
series of deep curves with no illumination. She was around the second
curve.

I swear that for a second my heart stopped beating, even though this
thought had struck me back at the Chinese restaurant and again as I'd run
the light. A cool demeanor came over me, one whose origin I still wonder
about today. I stopped in the road and got out, she was already running
towards me. She clung to me in a way I'd never felt, even after all those
nights we'd spent.

The tow truck had the car righted already. The roof was collapsed in on one
corner, the windows shattered and the front fender was now in a wheel well
on one side. It was a gray car, not too old or too young, and oddly none of
the tires had flattened. I studied it for a moment, then looked at the tow truck
driver watching me, the lights on his white truck with the red trim and my
headlights the only illumination in this dark patch.

"Hey man, the ambulance has already been here." He spoke loudly but
didn't yell. He was more to middle aged fellow, a little unshaved but he'd
already figured out the situation and so his take on me was the expectation
of even more trouble. I stood there, her body pressed against me, shaking
and sobbing, looking for comfort. I nodded to no one, looked up and the sky
and even as I put my arms around her as if by reflex, I could feel the
numbness wash over me. "Can you get them to the hospital?"

"Sure."

I got her into the car first, then went back and got him. He didn't look good,
the paramedics had swaddled half his face in bandages so that he looked
like a mummy breaking out of fresh wrappings. He tried to introduce himself
but I didn't get the name he slurred through swollen lips, and he looked
scared. Not of what had happened but of me, the one eye as intent on my
actions as that of the tow truck driver who stood a mute guard.

I got back in the car and for the first time that night noticed the radio was
playing. Suddenly she was so small, a tiny frail figure in the passenger seat,
gazing at me for solace. I turned the car around.

She was a scholarship student, full ride complete, but she was nonchalant
about it. And I was hustling to get a few extra bucks in pocket each month
doing odd jobs, temping and selling blood plasma. One night out she
surprised me, her usual jeans and disguises gone, her hair done and
wearing a skirt. My mouth hung open at the transformation. She had taken
the time for me, and she was glorious. I would carry that vision of her
forever. And now we were here.

She started talking in the car, rambling on worried about the car and what
the owner would do when he found out, worried about her scholarship,
worried about everything. I glanced in the mirror at our silent passenger,
who stared right back with his single visible eye. I wasn't sure if he was
scared I was going to pull over and finish off what the accident had begun or
he was just dazed by the events of the evening. In either case he looked
alert, focused.

"I want to go to your house, take me home with you," she started chanting,
between fears of the scholarship loss and what the owner of the car might
do to her. I wondered briefly who was this yet third party on this affair. Or
was I the third party? My cool came back as I pulled into the emergency
room drive.

I pulled up to the doorway, trotted in and got help. It must have been a slow
night, as the room was empty and they clambered to get what they needed.
By the time I had gotten back and had my male passenger out of the car
they were there with the wheelchair. He looked up and thanked me and was
whisked away. That was the last time I ever saw him.

She didn’t want to leave my car. She begged for me to just take her to my
house, to let her sleep in my bed, and I begged her to stay and get checked
out.  I reassured her that everything would be okay, my mind on automatic.
Once she was in the room with the nurse she calmed down and after they
started taking her blood pressure I went out into the empty waiting room. I
called her girl, the one who had stopped seeing my roommate long ago and
let her know what happened. Her friend told me she was on the way, so I
went back to her.

The preliminaries done, the nurse sent us to the waiting area. There, this
woman whom I felt deeply for, with whom I shared my bed took my hand and
pleaded with me not to leave her. I sat there, so hurt, I couldn’t find the
warmth.  

She wanted to leave. For the first time since I known her I saw her in a state
of disrepair. I had seen her transformed, seen her playful, and had hoped to
one day be her comforter, but circumstances or fate had given me an ugly
turn.  We sat there together until her girl came in, sleepy eyed but there.
When she came over I told her that the patient needed to stay and get
checked out.

It was almost four now. And I did have a final in the morning. Her girlfriend
looked at me with sad eyes, as though she knew the story.  She clung to my
arm, and asked me not to leave once more. I don’t remember if I kissed her
goodbye, hugged her or just said I’ve got to go. Whatever I did was wrong. It
was all so surreal at that moment. At my car, I stood with the door open for a
few minutes looking back at the hospital, as though trying to freeze the
moments in my memory, then started the long slow drive back to my
apartment.