Somewhere We Shouldn’t Have Been

Somewhere We Shouldn't Have BeenThings we shouldn’t have been doing. “I swear to God I didn’t know she was married,” I said, afterward, when we had pulled to the side of the road and were trying to contain our hammering hearts.

“How could you not know?” Shawn said. “Jesus H. Christ.”

“She never told me,” I said, but I was talking into a funnel, my voice speeding away.

There were stars. There are always stars in stories like these, a man, a gun, a speeding car. Us too drunk to know we’re being followed.

Before we left the bar, under the lights strung from pole to pole, he had nodded at me, a slow raising of the chin, as if to mark me. It was cold that night. I remember that too. Colder still, and she had clung to his arm, not all that differently than she had clung to mine only a few nights before.

The cinderblock bar sold paper-wrapped packages of beer out the drive-through window just beside the cash register. Where the pulling up of passengers sent a bell-chime echoing off the unfinished walls as the vehicle drove over the pulley, and the clack of breaking balls was almost as loud as the shitty jukebox playing the same old country songs. Where we’d been coming since we turned sixteen some months before, though we usually lurked around the parking lot hoping for someone we knew to buy us beer at the window, until we learned no one checked IDs at the door and so decided we were men enough to enter.

This was where chalkboards with powder piling beneath them told who had the next pool table or who had won the last dart game. Where there were no doors on the bathroom stalls and only a long trough in which to piss. Where one night we’d seen a knife fight, blood trailed across the chipped cement floor, and on another hunks of hair ripped out when two women went at it. We came because we were always wanting something to happen, chasing it with bottled beer and cigarettes, and people just like us or worse filtered in and out, trailing the scent of cologne and drunkenness, and one night not long after the knife fight there came a woman I had fucked a few nights before, only now her husband was with her and I was not.

Fearing what he might do, I marshaled my friends to me and we stood laughing at him until he left, dragging her with him. Then the raised chin, the marking. We didn’t know he didn’t leave, that he lurked in the parking lot waiting for us. We came out under the thin street lights with the world spinning around us. We breathed on our hands. We climbed in the car and waited for it to warm.

On a long stretch of county highway under the cold stars, the car that had been following us came around. He flipped on the interior light when he pulled alongside, leaned over with the silver gun pointed our way. My way. And the only thing to do besides see eternity was slam on the brakes and swerve, hope the brief white light of forever never came.

We whipped off the road at the first dark branching and kept going for fear he’d find us, down smaller and smaller trails, hoping headlights didn’t bloom behind us, turning bottles up as we looked in the rearview mirror, until finally we stopped and stood under the stars, wondering whether we were safe.

Ten years later I’d remember all this the night a man stuck a gun to my head and moments of my life unraveled before me. How we had circled our little town all night like the stars circling overhead, laughing in the way men will when they think they have dodged death. How we tried to steady ourselves with booze, then settled down to really drink, going harder as the night grew older. How we threw our heads out the window to yell at the drunken world. How we woke the next morning in a ditch just outside town while a tractor raked the winter fields and birds called to one another some song of morning. My breath visible before me. My head hurting as if he had fired. Knowing I never should have been there. And that I’d go back again and again.


Paul Crenshaw’s stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Best American Essays, anthologies by W.W. Norton and Houghton Mifflin, Glimmer Train, Ecotone, North American Review and Brevity, among others. “Somewhere We Shouldn’t Have Been” is an excerpt from a memoir-in-progress.