by Steph Sorensen
Driving home from Hartford to Pittsburgh. Until we get into the mountains, ours is the only car with snow, a bumpy sheet of ice over the hood, stretching melting hands up the windshield. The wipers don't quite touch the glass, and when we left, I scraped the snow off the windows with bare, mittenless fingers because we let ourselves be taken by surprise this winter.
On the radio, a man is saying we need to learn to treat ourselves right this year. It's an old broadcast, from 2002. The sun sits in the same spot, down and to the left all morning, all day.
I don't drive anymore at all because I am afraid of killing someone (me), but I can read the directions (76 West for the next 171 miles), I can lean forward and reset the odometer, watch the white numbers spin up and erase our progress. I can feed you crackers, one at a time, from my hand to your mouth, unfold your sunglasses and put them on your face, uncap my chapstick and rub it slowly across your lips, waxy yellow filling in the dry cracks and divots. I can keep you awake with talk of your new job (finally), something to be thankful for, and how now we'll maybe be okay. I can describe the little dollhouse towns (if you can call them towns) down the sides of mountains, and we can wonder what it must be like to live in a place like this, to drive fifty miles for groceries. You ask, What do people do around here? And I say, They watch the snow fall and melt and they post signs along the highway on the off chance the world has forgotten about Jesus.
I wrote this story during the Recession, when my partner and I had just finished graduate school and there were no jobs to be had but plenty of student debt coming due. Living precariously like that—paycheck to paycheck, without savings or the means to build it, underemployed and indebted to a near-incomprehensible degree—colored the next ten years of my life, as anxiety worsened (thus the twelve years it took me to revise this story!). Some combination of effort and luck occasionally nudges you toward a positive outcome, when it could have just as easily ended with a long fall toward a hard surface. The fear and the gratitude are both important.
Steph Sorensen (she/her) is a feminist writer mom living in Pittsburgh, PA. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from Barrelhouse, Mississippi Review and 3Elements Review, and she was named a Writer-In-Residence at Good Hart Artist Residency for 2021. She can be found @phenompen.