I was young when I fell in love for the first time. Back then, my sanity and happiness depended on the one thing the deepest aches within my bones told me I couldn’t live without.
I loved Brock Hamilton the way we all loved someone when we were young—when we were naïve. But our relationship was different; that’s what we told ourselves. That’s what we believed. We spent years together, living a life painted under a blinding tapestry of blissful ignorance. We never saw it coming, but there was one obstacle we could never overcome.
After college, we moved back to our hometown and everything fell apart.
What—and who—I once lived for became the shackles holding me under while I fought to kick my way to the surface, if only to scream. And as each Friday night faded into Saturday hangovers where the temporary high of winning unmasked our pain once more, I fell further down the rabbit hole of loathing and despair.
I was trapped in a loveless marriage, of which the man I had once loved transformed into a vision in my imagination of what a monster looks like. There was no discernible reason for our own disconnect, but I resented him for dragging back into that same small town I clawed myself away from.
I was supposed to be somebody, and instead I became just another typical nobody. There was no way out, and just when I thought of pulling the proverbial trigger, he appeared to me.
And he saved me.
He was the student…
And I was his teacher.
There’s fear in his eyes, because he’s seen a vision of his world crashing down. He’s only seventeen, but he sees this as the end. My heart races, punching against my chest in an escalating dance as his foot presses harder against the accelerator. He doesn’t say a word, but the gentle tears caressing his cheeks are deafening.
It’s when the lights flash behind us, illuminating our reflections in the rearview mirror in a red and blue disco, that I begin to understand the seriousness of the situation. All the warning signs were there, but I jumped into the car anyway. Because I care too much, some would say with the sharpest of sneers. To which, I’d reply, that’s the fucking point. But as the mile markers fly past us in a blur, the point becomes murkier and murkier, stained with no promise of absolution.
I turn to him with the presence of fear in my own eyes. I’m mournful for his crushed soul, and the thought of his life being cut short. I’m mournful not because I’m afraid of dying, but because I’m afraid this only ends one way—with the death of my child I haven’t yet told my husband we’re expecting.
I cradle my palm against my stomach, trying to shield my unborn child from the weight of this world, as if my hand alone would be enough to protect him or her.
I peer over to the dash of the car and take notice of the speedometer. Ninety miles per hour on a one-way highway, barreling straight toward nothing but pain and sorrow. Straight to hell we go, and the only recourse I have left is basic human reasoning. Emotion. It’s the reason he jumped into the driver’s seat intoxicated. Emotion. It’s the reason I couldn’t let him drive away on his own. Emotion. It’s always fucking emotion.
“Do you have a game plan?” I question. “Or are you going to let these cops chase you around this city until you either run out of gas, or they outplay you?”
“The only thing I know right now is that I’m not afraid of dying.” He shakes his head, with no intention of taking his eyes off the road ahead. His grip tightens around the wheel. “You shouldn’t have come with me.”
“You’re right.” I nod my head in agreement. “But I did, and that’s the end of that.” I crane my head to look behind us, and notice a string of police cars joining the first. “Do you care about me?”
“Yeah,” he mumbles under his breath, and without conviction one way or the other. “I guess.”
“That’s good enough then, to stop the car, right?”
“There’s nothing to go home to,” he says lowly, void of hope or promise. From the outside, he’s dead inside—a tragic loss of innocence. The world has ripped his heart from his chest before he’s even crossed the arbitrary threshold separating childhood from adulthood.
“I know it feels that way right now, and I know why it feels that way.” I close my eyes and swallow a nervous lump in my throat. I grow more and more nauseous with the passing of each mile. “It gets better, not because life is fair, but because you have the power to change the trajectory of your life.”
“Do you think I’m stupid?” he scoffs at me, with a quick look of disdain before his eyes are shifted back to the dark road ahead. “Naïve?”
I reach my hand across the gearshift, and place my palm on his thigh. We’re well past the point of teacher-student misconduct, and all he really needs is to know that someone in this world cares for him after he was betrayed by an educator, and his parents threw him out onto the streets—the ultimate betrayal. “I think you’re hurting, and I think nothing else matters.”
Up ahead, a sign on the side of the road signals a speed limit drop, from sixty to forty-five. Danger beyond that line is more imminent, where cars are lined up behind red lights, waiting to accelerate through intersections that are not safe from the speeding bullet I’ve found myself in.
“I’m pregnant,” I say deadpan, with no heft to my words. It’s an uneasy revelation that I’ve been too afraid to say out loud for fear of jinxing myself. In the back of my mind, I’ve been afraid that it was a cruel prank. The last time I was pregnant, I lost the baby in the first trimester before I ever had the chance to learn the gender. It’s hard to mourn the loss of someone who never even had a name. “So you need to stop this car, because like you, I can live with dying, but I can’t live with losing another child.”
Guilt sinks into his eyes like storm clouds rolling against oceanic skies. “Another child?”
“Yeah,” I nod and purse my lips, straining hard in an effort to hold it all inside. Fucking emotion, I told you. It’s always there, threatening to burst through the seams. “Stop the car,” I plead with him once more.
He twists his head to look at me and the tears flow, glimmering under the harsh glow of city lights. He nods a slight nod, and we reach a silent understanding as he lowers his foot against the brake.
My head is thrown back against the seat and I hold on tight to the handle bar as we begin to slow. I close my eyes and heave a short sigh of relief. I don’t know what comes next, but we’re alive.
This kid doesn’t deserve what’s about to happen to him, but at least he’ll have the chance to heal from the pain. Maybe they’ll go easy on him, considering the circumstances, and give him a few years of probation instead of throwing him in the slammer, and then throwing away the key. Maybe they won’t.
But he’ll be alive, all because I did what I know I shouldn’t have done. I never should have jumped into his car, knowing he had been drinking—knowing that he was one of my students.
But I did, and a burden is lifted from my soul. This is why I became a teacher. To matter. To change lives. To save them, the same way a teacher had once saved mine.
I look at him with adoration, silently praising his strength even after the rug was ripped out from under him. And then my eyes drift to the yellow light ahead of us, while we’re still speeding too fast to stop.
Metal torn like paper.
A painful scream. Not from injury, but from heartbreak.