I still don’t know how I got here. Actually, that is not entirely true; I know, but I can barely believe it. I look around me and this world is so foreign, so different from my life past. My entire existence has been reduced to this eight-foot by eight-foot cube of concrete, no window, and a door made of steel bars. Looking on the walls, I see not the pictures familiar to me, the poster of the tiger I someday wanted to own, the dedication of Mark McGwire’s 70 home runs, and the remembrances of my favorite movies, but rather crude, vulgar etchings of naked women made with the simplest of tools, and a tally of the consecutive days some guy named Butch masturbated into the sink.
Only the barest semblance of living space now exist in my world. The place where I sleep (I hesitate to call it a bed) has no springs and no shape, it feels like I am lying on the concrete itself. My toilet consists of a hole in the ground, and I do not always have toilet paper. The sink is covered in rust and encrusted with some sort of substance (I have been very hesitant to investigate). I have become used to the acrid smells that arise from both of these fixtures, but I long for the sweet smell of air on a spring day, the fresh smell that comes from an April rain shower.
The food here is edible, some of the time. I found myself refusing to eat the first few days, but eventually had to give in when I realized it was not going to get any better. Oftentimes I still cannot stomach a meal, and either I go without or come back to my cell and empty my stomach of the vile gruel.
When I try to think how I got here, I still have to struggle to realize that it actually happened, and not only that, but it happened to me. I have always been pretty laid back and accepting of life, never the guy who went out looking for a confrontation. My major in college was diplomacy for crying out loud! That is what makes this all the more difficult to accept. It was as if the person involved was not me but involved a whole other human being.
That day had begun pretty normally. I got up, had a light breakfast, kissed my wife goodbye, and drove to work in Beaverton. I had only been out of college for two years, but I seemed to be doing well for myself, working at this new business which had a need for people with proficiency in languages. They paid well, and I enjoyed the work, even though sometimes it was as tiresome as simple translation of documents.
Work went well that day. I finished the project I had been working on for the past few weeks and was able to knock off early. Unfortunately for me, that meant going home during the beginnings of rush hour. I usually worked from ten in the morning to six in the evening and was able to miss the rush hours, but I did not want to wait. I went out to the parking lot and got into my car.
I was so proud of that car, and I guess I still am, though there is nothing left of which to be proud. I had saved my money for the first six months of work so when I bought the car I would not have very high monthly payments. It was an Acura Integra GS-R, the sports version of the Integra. I had wanted one for years, and I babied her like my own child. She was a dark blue, the color of midnight in the desert, the deepest of sapphire hues. I had wanted all the options, and I had the windows tinted, bought the spoiler, and opted for the low profile tires and rims. When I was in that car, I was in a different world. The leather interior was so soft and plush, different from the 15-year-old Honda Accord I had driven for years. The transmission shifted so smoothly, and the engine let out a low, healthy roar, similar to the deep purring sound a person may hear from a happy feline.
I got in the car, turned on the engine, and headed out towards Interstate 5. I have always had a habit of driving a few miles over the speed limit, so I proceeded over to the left lane and pushed the car up to seventy miles an hour. The sun burned brightly on that fall day, and I put on my Oakleys, lowered the windows, and turned up the radio to my favorite radio station.
The guy on the late afternoon show I had not had the opportunity to listen to much, since this was a different time of day than usual for me to be on the road. Apparently he had just come on, and was going on and on about some crazy driver that had been moving through traffic like a maniac on his way to work. I grinned and nodded to myself, thinking, “Yeah, seen that guy a few times myself.” He wouldn’t let up though, and went on to describe the guy’s truck, a four by four Toyota, and telling all the listeners that guy needed to be stopped.
Again I laughed to myself, thinking how nice that would be, if there were a delete key on my dashboard, just move the maniacs out of my way.
After finishing his soliloquy, the DJ put on a song and dedicated to the guy who had cut him off, an angry song about road rage by the hard rock group The Offspring, “Bad Habit.” I smiled. For some reason I loved that song.
Hey man you know, I’m really okay
Dexter Holland sang out of my speakers.
After about five or six miles, I took the exit for Interstate 205 and headed towards home in Oregon City.
The gun in my hand will tell you the same
I saw the car in my rearview about thirty carlengths back, a big, bright red Toyota Tacoma four by four, weaving in and out of traffic like a hot coal, and other cars were avoiding it and moving out of its way.
But when I’m in my car, don’t give me no crap, ‘cause the slightest thing and I just might snap!
The chorus started to roar through my little car.
The Toyota must have been going at least 80 and changing lanes on the two-lane freeway almost at will cutting cars off and disrupting traffic. I really hate people like that with a passion.
The smart thing to do would have been to just pull over to the right lane and scream obscenities at the top of my lungs like I usually do at people who are idiots and drive like an underage teenager with a stolen car. For some reason, the intelligent part of my brain decided to click off at that moment and the macho side took over.
If you flip me off, I’ll get in your face!
You drive on my ass, your foot’s on the gas, and the next breath is your last, ‘cause I got a bad habit!
Screaming guitars filled my head, all I could see was the red, both of the car behind me and the fire running through my veins.
I refused to change lanes. The Toyota screamed up behind me tailgating me not five feet off my bumper. He flashed his highbeams at me, and in my rearview mirror I could see him gesturing at me and probably yelling obscenities.
We reached a part of the highway where there was no one in the right lane, and it became apparent to the Toyota that I was not going to move. He yanked his steering wheel to the right to go around me. I should have let him go, but I jerked my wheel as well, cutting him off. I was not going to let a creep like that get around me! Just as quickly, he pulled back to the left and was beside me before I knew it.
It should have been over then. He would have continued on his path, menacing the other drivers on the road until he got to his unknown destination. I would have gone home, eventually calming down. I would tell my wife about the nerve of some people and relax with a cold bottle of MacTarnahan’s.
But he was not going to get off that easy. Not today, and not on my drive home. It was personal now. I slammed the gas pedal to the floor. My Integra had no trouble keeping up with the Tacoma, and I was quickly alongside the truck, screaming out my window.
“You crazy fuck! You are nothing but a goddamn menace to society the way you fuckin’ drive, you psycho sonofabitch!”
My only response was the man’s middle finger.
I looked back at the road in time to see that I was coming up quickly on a minivan, and I jerked the wheel in behind the Tacoma, less than a foot from the metallic bumper about eye level with my car. I backed off a bit, and started giving him a continuous blink of my highbeams. The second we passed the minivan, and the Chrysler in front of it, I jerked back into the right lane and pulled alongside of the Tacoma. Now it was his turn:
“Leave me the fuck alone! You and your little piece of shit car can got to hell, for all the fuck that I care!”
It was very personal now, as if it had not been before. He had insulted my baby. I glanced at the speedometer, and with some measure of shock saw that my car was going 95 miles an hour. The full impact of that did not really register, for the testosterone had reached dangerous levels. I looked at the road ahead again, and I noticed alarmingly that I was screaming up on a new Mercedes. I had no choice, so I yanked into the right hand emergency lane and passed the Mercedes in an instant.
Drivers are rude, such attitude…
The speed was over one hundred by now, and we were both passing in the emergency lanes, he in an effort to leave me behind, me determined there was no way this psycho was going to get away. I did not know what I was going to do. If he pulled over, was I going to get out of my car and kick his ass? I probably would not do that. If we were caught by the police, anything I said would not matter, and I would lose my license for excessive speeding and reckless endangerment, at the least. I do not know why I kept up this useless exercise, but I did.
When I show my piece, complaints cease, something’s odd, feel like I’m God…
We reached another break in traffic, and I pulled along even with the Tacoma again. This time when I looked up into the window of the larger vehicle, I saw the muzzle of a large weapon, probably a shotgun. Time stopped.
Is it not a little strange how time can seem to have slowed, sometimes ceased to exist at all? Like when you drop a glass of Kool-Aid. The glass seems to hang in midair, the liquid floating, and almost every colored droplet is visible to the human eye as it moves towards the carpet. That is how I felt when I saw the shotgun. The scenery ceased to fly by. In fact, it ceased to exist at all. My thinking became clearer, I could actually see what would happen if I waited for him to pull that trigger. My only clear thought that was separate from what I was going to do was this:
“Shit like this doesn’t happen here! Not in Oregon, not where I live! It’s crazy, just plain fuckin’ psycho! Shit like that doesn’t happen here! No, not here! Only in places where people have no regard for human life, places like southern California! Shit like this only happens in L.A.!”
So, I did the only rational thing I could. I stepped on the gas, yanked the wheel to the left, slamming into the front of the Toyota. I heard the roar of the shotgun. The blast from the gun tore through the car about a foot behind my head and shattered the passenger side window. I know shards of glass dug into my skin, but I could not feel it. The impact of my car into the Toyota sent both cars into a deadly spin. The truck whipped into the grass median, spinning and slamming into the rear of my car. The pure force involved kicked my little Integra into the air. Before the airbags came out, I could see the world spinning away from me. I saw the tops of trees in the distance, then I saw the sky with a few fluffy clouds, and then I saw the ground. It seemed to be flying towards me, at a speed I could not consciously fathom. I saw the ground touch the front of my Integra, and my world spiraled into blackness.
I woke up three days later, in the intensive care unit at Willamette Falls Hospital. My wife was there holding my hand. I tried to move my head, but a voice from somewhere warned me not to because my back was broken, along with about half the bones in body. My vision was blurry, like I was seeing everything through a glass of water. I saw my mother, my father, my sister, and a couple of friends from school. Then I saw something that did not click. A police officer was standing in the doorway. What the hell was he doing there? I heard another voice, I think it was my wife’s:
“Honey, can you hear me?” I nodded, almost imperceptibly. “You have a lot of broken bones, but no nerve damage. The doctor says you will walk again, in time. Oh honey, I have been so worried about you. When you didn’t wake up, I thought you were gone, and I never would have been able to say goodbye! Dammit, not yet, I don’t want to say goodbye! I love you so much sweetheart!” Her words trailed into tears and sobbing.
I tried to ask a question, but trying to move my mouth proved difficult. All I managed was, “Puhleeeess?” At that, my mother broke into a fresh batch of tears. I wanted to know why the officer was here. He came over to my bed.
“I know this is not the best time, but I am Officer Wilhelm. I have to tell you that you are being charged with vehicular manslaughter and you will be brought to trial as soon as the doctor says it is okay. The man in the Toyota, Jeffrey Leinham, died in the accident.”
I could not respond. Even if I physically could, I would not have known what to say. I blacked out again.
Though physical therapy I was able to bring myself to walk again, I can even play basketball if I want, though I am a shadow of my former self on the court. I went to trial, and was sentenced to five years in a minimum security prison without parole under a new measure that had been passed for dealing with people in a “road rage.” It has only been a year.
I miss my wife, I miss my parents, I miss my work, I miss my friends, I miss my cat, I miss my car, DAMMIT I MISS MY LIFE!
So what now? I wish I could say I was repentant, that I wish it had not happened. Actually, I do wish it had not happened, but repentant? I just do not know. Would I do it again? I would like to say no, to assure everyone something like this would not happen again, but I do not know if I can. Hard to tell, see where I am coming from? I mean, I did it once, and surprised the hell out of myself, so how can I say I would not do it again? If you had asked me two years ago, or told me this was going to happen in the future, I would have laughed. But now? I just do not know. I have more time to think about it though, and I hope that when my time is up in this hellhole, I will be able to look my family and friends in the eyes, tell them I am sorry, tell them it will not happen again, and mean it. In the meantime, I will try not to cry myself to sleep too many nights, wondering if I will be able to tell them that with an honest heart.