The Passenger – from the Gallery of the Mind
Traveling down a long, lonely stretch of highway, I-10 East to be precise. Nothing much to look at. Scenery is all the same and the next trip won’t make any difference.
O God, I’m bored! Nothing worth listening to on the radio nor in my CD case. In a way, it’s rather peaceful. Quiet, very quiet except for the lull of the air conditioning.
Just a few miles to go before I hit Beaumont. Oh, what thrills await me! I still resent Bennigan’s going out of business. That used to be my regular sto . . .
“Penny for your thoughts,” said this voice out of nowhere.
Huh? What the . . ., I mumbled.
“I said, penny for your thoughts, Joe,” intoned the voice again.
Sensing the voice was coming from my right or the passenger side of the car, I instinctively turned to look. And I froze.
“What’s the matter, Joe? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost,” said the voice, which now, it appeared, has a body to go along with it.
“I, uh, I, uh . . . how the hell did you get in here”? “Who are you?,” I sort of blurted out.
“You mean you don’t remember me?,” she queried.
“It hasn’t been that long!,” she deadpanned.
“But you can’t be, I mean, that’s impossible. You just appeared in the passenger side of my car as if by magic. I haven’t seen you in years, but you look the exact same way I remember you years ago. No, no, no . . . what’s going on here”?
As if I wasn’t stunned enough, the ensuing blast of a horn damn near gave me a cardiac right on the spot. As I quickly swerved back into my lane just barely avoiding a head-on collision with a semi, I managed to gradually maneuver the car off to the side of the highway and try and grasp what had happened.
After coming to a complete stop and putting my flashers on, I turned to the striking blonde female and, as calmly as I could, managed to eek out the words, “OK, you appear to be my 8th grade science teacher from Lake Charles, Ms. Collins. That can’t be. I mean, you look exactly the way I remember you when I was in your classroom. I’ve been out of college for more than 25 years. This is impossible. And, you just appear as my passenger? Geeez, c’mon lady, what really gives here”?
“I’m flattered that you remember me, Joe,” she purred. “I always hoped I’d make an impression on you. Look, I can’t explain this; all I know is that a few moments ago I got an overwhelming sense that I was to be in your passenger seat in this car. And here I am.
“‘Course, you must’ve been thinking of me for me to receive a signal, if you will. So, here I am,” she stated.
“Well, this is weird,” I blurted out. “It’s a nice sorta weird,” I inserted, “but weird nevertheless.”
“You’re saying that I must’ve been thinking of you for you to appear,? You appeared from my imagination”? I asked. “I suppose,” she said.
About all I could verbally muster at this point was “hmmmmmmmmm!”
“What were you doing before you appeared here, in my car,”? I asked. “I mean, have you appeared before anyone else in the class or anyone in my past? You remember BJ and Jane and Randy,” I asked somewhat in the way one would call roll except in saying the names my mind and stare became more affixed away from her and more outward toward the highway.
When I turned back toward her to get a reply, she was gone.
“Wha, what the . . .,” I stammered. Where the hell did she go, I thought. And what just happened, I questioned. She appeared and stayed a few minutes and then went poof.
Evidently, I was thinking about her when for some reason my memories went back to that time span of the late 60s and Ms. Collins. Yet, when I was speaking of other classmates, my mind was obviously on them, even in referencing them in a question. My memory and thoughts were not of Ms. Collins, so is that why she disappeared?
My rough supposition would be that when I have a clear thought of someone from my memory or imagination, it results in that person’s appearing in real time in my present day but as I remember them. Ms. Collins, in this instance, was real to the touch. However, I evidently have to focus on her and can’t be talking or focusing on someone else in order for her to remain present, lest she disappear.
“Yeah, right!,” I thought.
I don’t know if this is my ability or what but it’s new to me and it’s new to the folks whom I remember and appear.
“But what,” I thought, “does it take for someone out of my memory to actually appear? How long must I be thinking of them? Can it be just a few moments? What if I remember several folks at once; does the entire group appear wherever I am? I don’t know, but I’m tempted to find out.”
Getting back on the road now, headed into Beaumont. Let’s see, where was I going . . . oh, Lake Charles, that’s right. The way I’m feeling now, I ought to drive straight for New Orleans, right after I spend a little time in my hometown.
Memories. What will happen next, I mutter to myself. If this is a real, true new ability I have, I need to be careful with it. Yet, how the hell can I do that. One can’t exactly control what one thinks about, can one?
Funny, I find myself trying not to think of anyone in particular while driving. Here I am passing what used to be the Beaumont Hilton where Debbie and I stayed that weekend after I met her following my rather harried flight from Dallas and my job interview. That was years ago.
“I see its changed hands, got a new name,” says this voice, again to my right. Startled, I look over toward the passenger seat and, lo and behold, sits Debbie, looking exactly the same as she did that weekend . . . over 20 years ago!
“D . . . Debbie,?” I asked. “Uh, what happened? Where did you come from? Wait, I think I know. I was just thinking of our rendevous years ago when I met you at the airport here following my job interview in Dallas. This is where we stayed.”
“Yes, I remember Joe. You’re right. Funny, I just felt a calling to be here and, poof, here I am,” she stated flatly if not pleasantly.
“But, where were you, what were you doing,?” I asked as I turned the car in the direction of the hotel. “I don’t remember. Hmmm, funny that. I just felt drawn to here from wherever I was,” she said.
As I drove the car into a convenient parking spot in the hotel’s lot, I was able to put my concentration onto Debbie so that I could maybe learn a few more nuances about what’s going on with me and these memories.
It seems Debbie’s story was pretty much the same as Ms. Collins’ version. I thought of them and, poof, they appeared as my passenger. They had not changed; only I had changed and grown older to present day. It’s as if they hadn’t aged a day; they were “realized” straight out of my memory, just as they were when I was thinking of them.
I had so many questions but, alas, my passengers didn’t have many, if any, answers. They were simply like a reincarnation out of my memory and were very real, not simply manifestations of my thoughts.
Funny, I could still smell the perfume Ms. Collins had been wearing. Don’t know if Debbie had picked up on that. That would make for some unwanted explaining.
As I tried to make small talk with Debbie, I was also wondering how long this newest episode would last before she would be gone. We chatted about her girls and other memories of Lake Charles and her family.
I wondered . . . what, if anything, would change if we got out of the car. Would that interrupt whatever is going on here? I decided not to chance it.
Debbie was starting to tell me about her pleasant memories of dining with me and my aunt and uncle on Saturday nights. That, naturally, turned my memories toward my aunt and uncle and, for a rather brief moment, away from Debbie. Even though I was still looking directly at her, my mind wondered . . .and . . .poof . . .she was gone.
The ending of one encounter, and story, and the beginning of another, unexpected as it may be . . .”What the . . .”
“Damn,! not again,” I blurted out loud.
A startled “What’s the matter, Joe?” beckoned from my aunt, my newest passenger.
We shall leave our two travelers, at this juncture of our story, to reconnect from the abstract space of one’s memory to the here and now, in that special and unique place imagined from the Gallery of the Mind.