Bryan’s foot floors the gas. We’re sailing through the desolate two a.m. Turnpike, his Corolla packed to the brim with friendship and feeling. The five of us know we’re going too fast, that the 90 miles per hour lightning freedom could be extinguished with a simple pothole. I say “slow down” but really, I mean “don’t let this ever end.”
It’s Valentine’s Day.
I was falling asleep on a twin size mattress in Natalie and Nicole’s dorm room, the space where I spent the majority of my freshman year. I lay at the foot of Natalie’s bed; we were crumpled together from the weight of the day. Alexa, my roommate, hunched over at a desk, typing her way through assignments. Nicole played music from her bed across the room. We were all close enough that if we stretched out our arms, we could probably interlock fingers. A pinky promise was always only a reach away.
My phone rings. It’s Bryan, another part of our dorm family. He’s breathless, his voice muffled by the connection or his despair. I’m half-awake but I make out words that sound like “boyfriend” and “cheater” and “break up.” I sit straight up when I hear “Gainesville, RIGHT NOW.”
I don’t remember what my first thought was, probably something along the lines of it’s MIDNIGHT, Gainesville is two hours away, and oh God I have class tomorrow. But those thoughts weren’t important, because one rose above the rest, tore its way from brain to throat to mouth to phone:
“You’re not doing this alone.”
That’s how we end up strapped into Bryan’s college Corolla’s crumb-filled seats leading us to the demise of a two-year relationship. Co-pilots navigating our friend through heartbreak.
I’m sitting in the front seat diligently skipping any song that mentions love or happiness or commitment or feelings or boyfriends that cheat using dating apps, which is to say that mostly we listened to our own voices offering advice and promises that things will get better. I watch the speedometer needle move higher and higher and I want to say what we’re all thinking:
This probably isn’t worth dying for.
Just six months ago, we were all strangers to each other. Random roommates at the mercy of a university’s algorithm. But now I know that Alexa throws up when she eats too much at Chili’s, and I know that Natalie can’t go outside without socks on, and I know that Nicole has always wanted to dye her hair red, and I know that right now Bryan needs us.
I look around at the broken, beautiful group of people hurling through the highway with me and I choose not to say anything at all because the windows are rolled down, the wind slaps our cheeks, and the laughter at how ridiculous this all is bruises our ribcages. And in this brief, gloriously electrifying coming-of-age moment, I think, maybe, just maybe– this is worth dying for.
We wait outside a Gainesville apartment for a while, feeling the energy of the night in our chests. To pass the time, we tell jokes, yawn, kick through the empty water bottles at our feet. And then Bryan comes back, silently crawls into the backseat of the car; his body collapsing into the safety of friendship. It’s quiet for a second, and then he begins sobbing into my friends’ laps. There’s nothing left for us here. Natalie takes the wheel, Alexa rubs his back in careful circles, Nicole runs her fingers through his hair. This time, I do say the thing we’re all thinking: “Let’s go home.”
Camila Cal (she/her) was born in Montevideo, Uruguay and lives in the U.S. She attends the University of Central Florida where she studies creative writing and journalism. Her experience as an immigrant and first-generation student inspires her to write creative nonfiction that others may relate to. Her work has been published in UCF’s literary magazine The Cypress Dome, and Ghost Heart Literary Journal’s Chambers issue. Find her on Instagram at @camivcal and at Twitter at @camivcal!