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Pen Your Pride

Brandon and I didn’t talk for a long time while I drove down towards Florida. The Eastern United States passed by in a blur of cold grey and differing shades of brown and red. It seemed that a rain storm had just hit Maryland before we drove through it, making everything drip in precipitation and giving the atmosphere a fresh, clean—though mildly depressing—feel.

The radio playing quietly served as pleasant background noise, and Brandon, who was writing frantically in one of his many notebooks, was dead to everything but the words forming on the pages in front of him. The scratching of the dulling lead on the notebook paper mixed with the beat of every song, speeding up or slowing down according to each rhythm. Every once in a while, he would let out a frustrated grunting sound, and tear the scribbled-on page out of the book, wad it up, and throw it to the floor. A few minutes in which he calmed down would pass before he would resume his writing. This process repeated itself several times before he finally gave up the whole institution and shoved both the notebook and his pencil into the backpack he had tossed into the backseat.

I had a cigarette placed firmly between my middle and forefingers and took a long draw from it every now and again. The window was unrolled a little bit so that the smoke and smell of it could escape. Once in a while, Brandon would glance over at me through what he thought was his peripheral vision—in reality he was half-turning his head towards me—and would wrinkle his nose in distaste. The first time he did that, I was so surprised at the disgusted look on his face that I coughed.

“Are you okay?” He asked worriedly, reaching one hand over and settling it on my shoulder.

I nodded my head but continued to hack a lung out. Removing one hand from the steering wheel, I covered my mouth quickly. As soon as the coughing fit was over, I threw the cigarette out the window and onto the highway; I was done for now.

“You sounded like you were trying to dislodge a lung,” Brandon joked weakly, mouth twisted downwards with concern as he looked at me from behind his glasses.

“It felt like I was going to,” I replied. My voice was raspy from the coughing fit and if the process to get this tone hadn’t been so painful, I would have liked the sound of it.

“Why don’t you take a break from the smokes? Just for a little while.” One side of his face caved in slightly as he chewed on the inside of his cheek, “You’ve already gone through two in the past hour.”

“After that spasm, I think I’m done for the day.” The relief on my nerdy acquaintance’s face was evident as I rolled up the driver’s side window and tossed the small cardboard package of cigarettes into the backseat.

“Just in case I’m tempted,” I explained quietly; more to myself than to him.

Time rolled by slowly as the cars and lines in front of and behind us blended together into a never-ending stretch of boredom. Brandon tried to resume his writing, but was unable to and his notebook and pencil quickly joined my cigarettes in the back. We tried playing twenty questions again, but the game died down when I was on question thirty-two.

Half past noon, we stopped briefly at a McDonalds to get something to eat but it didn’t serve as a distraction for long—the food only lasted us a half an hour and neither of us were very excited about eating it.

The sun rolled lower in the sky, but still we drove on. Occasionally, Brandon would offer to take over driving, but I declined his offer and we pressed onwards.

“What’s your family like?” I murmured, glancing at my passenger briefly. It was a few minutes past three and we had been driving almost non-stop, stopping only for gas twice so far.

A contented smile flitted over his face and he leaned back luxuriously into his seat, “Home.” Slowly, his eyes closed behind the thick lenses of his glasses and his shoulders slumped into a relaxed position. “My family is amazing, loving, warm, insane, fantastic, comforting, teasing, welcoming, threatening…” he trailed off and heaved a sigh. “They’re just… family.”

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