The sun had just broken over the crest of his unkempt bed of mountains, peeking his flaming head through his cloudy cumulonimbus blinds to gaze out over the Chicago skyline. The air was charged with the fresh scent of clean rain, and the pleasant ethereal mist that occasionally accompanies it. Spring was most certainly in the air, and on that otherworldly morn I sat contentedly outside a nice little java-joint, sipping on a well-blended Earl Grey and enjoying a “subtle use of vocal harmony” Pandora claimed I was listening to.
I’d arrived in town yesterday and traffic on I-96 was horrible. I hadn’t been to see my uncle since I was around five years old. When I’d arrived at Mal’s (short for Malachi – I know right, great name, very BCE) street-side apartment around five, no one was home – except for a bunch of guys in hazmat suits clearing the place out. When I angrily called my uncle to ask him what the heck was going on, he reluctantly informed me that he was having his apartment fumigated and was currently staying with my grandma… who lived a good hour away in the direction I had driven to get there. Hating to waste time and more gas, I fumed as I strode down the sidewalk, into my car, and back into traffic.
Slogging one’s way through rush-hour while irritated is a good way of guaranteeing that something bad will happen. So it wasn’t surprising that during my drive I cut someone off who had honked at me a few seconds before. Or that he then cut me off about a minute later. Or that we ended up side-by-side at a red light exchanging the sort of “pleasantries” that any self-important millennial would do in such a scenario. Or that said “pleasantries” cannot be re-printed here on the chance that they might cause blindness. Following the inevitable drag-race that made me wish my car had more than four cylinders, and the successive not-so-subtle attempts to ruin each other’s lives that made me wish I had rocket launchers strapped to the sides of my ’97 Geo Prizm, I got off the freeway wishing that I drove like my mother and the only thing I had to worry about was getting ticketed for driving too slowly.
But that wasn’t the end of it. After I had reentered suburbia, I looked back and realized that the nut-case was following me! The fact that he was tailgating let me get a real good look at his jerk-ish mug. What I saw was remarkably disappointing. I was hoping for some guy in a bloodied leather jacket who looked like he spent his days skinning squirrels and eating children. This guy looked to be a couple of years older than me, in nice (albeit a bit disheveled) business attire. His face actually sort of reminded me of my uncle Mal’s. That said, he was still seriously freaking me out. I circled through the neighborhood desperately trying to shake him, but the guy would not give up. Eventually I managed to lose him at a red light, and then I doubled back towards my grandmother’s.
I didn’t arrive until around eight, and by that point I was very much done with my day. I told my uncle and grandmother in no uncertain terms that I would be going to bed early and waking me would probably not be a good idea. Thankfully they respected my quest for quiet and I managed to get to sleep around nine after fretting and worrying about that crazy driver for an hour.
Not used to getting to bed so early I woke up the next morning before the crack of dawn and decided that I’d go for a jog and hit up that coffee place that I somehow managed to see while desperately weaving through the neighborhood. I left my grandmother a note on the table saying where I was going. As I came outside I noticed that the car parked across the street looked remarkably similar to the one that had tried running me off the road yesterday. Yup, a blue Civic, and little Martin the Martian hanging from the rearview mirror… then it hit me. It was the same freaking car. At that moment I decided that instead of having a needless panic attack I would write off the car as a figment of my imagination and enjoy my morning as I had originally intended too.
That’s how I ended up listening to Pandora and drinking tea. I was still kind of worried about the Civic, but I managed to forget it while I watched the sunrise. I probably would have forgotten about it completely had the car in question not pulled up a storefront away and its driver gotten out. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the same man’s face appear and look straight at me. I, of course, did what any sensible person would do under the circumstances: I dropped all of the cash in my pocket on the table to pay for my tea and started walking as fast as I reasonably could in the opposite direction.
Of course, the guy began following me.
“Joe, wait up!”
Yup, he knew my name. I don’t exactly remember when I started running, but I’m pretty sure that my fear of being killed by a road-raging maniac who knew or guessed my name is a justifiable excuse for my lapse of memory. Since I’d jogged out there that morning I had to run back to my grandmother’s. It was a good mile run, and I think to this day it is still my fastest time ever.
I was sprinting up to the door when I saw it. The Civic. That madman had beaten me back to the neighborhood. And his car was empty. At this point I felt a stark raving terror that more or less pushed all remaining rationality out of my mind. I flew up the steps to my grandmother’s front door and started hammering on it as hard and as fast as my fear-shrouded mind would let me.
After about thirty seconds of hammering my uncle opened the door and I stumbled over the threshold into the living room. With my heart racing like a horse in the final stretch of the Kentucky Derby, I tore down the hall and spun into the kitchen where I was confronted by none other than…
You guessed it. The raving lunatic who’d tried to run me off the road the day before.
It was at this point that everything went black. When I came to, I was laying on my grandmother’s aged yellow couch with some ice to my head. After reassuring my grandmother that I felt alright and that I’d survived my “nasty fall,” Mal said, “Well, Joseph, I see you and Eddy have been reacquainted.”
Eddy? my befuddled brain wondered. Eddy who? Wait. Eddy. As in Edward. My older cousin. Who I haven’t seen since I was five and he was eight. I looked over at the other couch and lay eyes on the nutcase who’d tried to run me off the road yesterday. Dark brown eyes. My cousin Edward’s eyes.
“Well crap. Sorry I scared ya so bad cuz.” Edward said, grinning sheepishly.
I felt like I was in shock. As I slowly started to realize what had happened, my grandmother explained to me that Edward had showed up yesterday in a pseudo-surprise visit to her after I’d already gone to bed. They were going to surprise me this morning, but of course I had already left for my jog. Edward explained that they’d tried calling me but I’d left my phone at the house, and then when they got my note on the table he’d driven down to try and catch me before I left the coffee shop. He also apologized for his insane driving the other day and explained that he’d been in the same crappy traffic for at least as long as I had that day. He also told me that he originally wasn’t following me, but when he realized I was driving toward his grandmother’s house he wanted to make sure I didn’t stop there; when I did he called my grandmother to warn her and she told him who I was, then he stopped by a little later with his surprise visit no longer a surprise and me in bed. It was all a huge cinema-worthy misunderstanding.
After I apologized for my own deplorable driving, Edward, Mal, my grandmother and I all went out for lunch at a local Big Boy, and spent the rest of the day catching up. What started out as one of the scariest days of my life ended up being one of the most enjoyable, and my visit solo visit to my uncle Mal’s is a visit I shan’t soon forget.