Renee was assisted into my front passenger seat by a man who seemed genuinely concerned for her. He was patient and attentive.
“You’re taking her home, okay?” He said to me before shutting the door.
I assumed his name was Keith–that was the name of the passenger on the app. He probably called for an Uber to take Renee home. It was definitely time for her to go home.
“You be good. I love you,” Keith said to Renee.
“Hell, no. No. You all are dicks,” was her reply. Keith grinned, shook his head, and shut the door.
“They all are dicks,” she said to me.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “I’m gonna take you home, but first you have to buckle your seat belt.”
Some people can be really drunk and still surprisingly capable. Renee was not one of those people. She was long gone. She was able to pull the belt across, but couldn’t find the latch, which was hidden under her jacket.
“You don’t have a thingy,” she said.
“Yes, I do. It’s right here,” I said, moving the jacket two inches. She was unable to aim the buckle into the latch, so I did it for her.
“How are you feeling? Are you going to get sick?” I take some precautions these days if vomit looks imminent. She didn’t reply, but something told me she was going to hold it down okay, so I took the chance and headed out.
Renee looked to be about thirty. She had straight, dark hair. Her right arm had a sleeve of tattoos, but otherwise she was conservatively dressed. I couldn’t tell the color of her eyes, but they were definitely having a hard time focusing.
“So, what’s your name?” I asked.
No reply. She was out of it.
Her house was a good twenty minutes away, so I prepared for a long, quiet ride. I turned on the radio. It was tuned to a top 40 station. A song called “Sucker for Pain” was playing. I don’t like the song, but Renee perked up.
She reached for the volume knob, but couldn’t quite close her fingers on it. I helped her out and turned it up. She tried to sing along, but clearly didn’t know the words. Or knew them and couldn’t enunciate them.
Then she decided to engage me in conversation.
“What do you think of all this?”
I was taken aback. A second ago she couldn’t tell me her name. Now she wants to have a deep philosophical discussion? This was going to be interesting.
“What do I think about what? The election?” Lots of people have been talking about the recent presidential election.
She looked confused. Like I’d asked something really stupid.
“No. What do you think about this…song? It makes me feel like I’m a sucker.”
“Oh. Right. Sucker for pain. Yeah, I don’ think–”
“I’m not a sucker. Nobody should think they’re a sucker.”
“No. Good point.”
“Everybody should just f–ing do whatever the hell they want to do. They should just be whatever the hell they want to be.”
There was another long pause. I wondered if I’d lost her again. I thought I’d give introductions another try.
“So, what’s your name?”
“Renee. Great. I’m Brian. Nice to meet you.”
“So, Renee, what do you want to be?”
“What do I want to be? What the f– does it matter what I want to be?”
“Well, you just said everyone should be whatever they want to be. So what do you want to be?”
This was a tough one.
“I just. I don’t. I’m a personal fitness trainer.”
“Oh. That’s cool. So your job is to help people become who they want to be, I guess.”
“Yeah. They should be whatever the hell they want to be. Some of them hate themselves. But they should love themselves. I hate myself.”
“You hate yourself? Why do you hate yourself?”
“I don’t. I just. People should just do whatever the hell they want. I don’t give a sh–. I feel like you’re putting me on the spot.”
“Sorry. I don’t want to put you on the spot. I’m just trying to get to know you.”
A new song came on the radio. It was a ballad of some kind. A female singer. I didn’t recognize it. But Renee did. Her mouth fell open and she put her hand on my forearm. Then she reached for the volume knob again.
“I just bought this car, and I don’t even know how to work the f–ing radio,” she said.
“You just bought this car?”
“Wow. It’s nice. In fact, I just bought one exactly like it…”
She pulled my hand off the steering wheel and held it. She tried to sing along with the new song, failing the same way. Then she got emotional. She interlaced her fingers with mine and squeezed. She leaned across and put her head on my chest. With her other hand, she reached across and grabbed a fistful of my shirt.
I didn’t know what to do. She seemed to be crying. I kept my left hand on the wheel and my eyes on the road. We drove like this for about three minutes. Until the song ended. Then she sat up, still holding my hand.
“Are you okay, Renee?”
Oddly, she seemed fine. No evidence of tears.
“Before we go to my house, we have stop at a bar, okay?” she said.
“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“We have to. I want to you to come to this bar with me.”
“No, Renee. You need to go home…”
“Shut the f– up. Don’t be a dick. It’s hoity-toity.”
“The bar is hoity-toity. Promise me. Promise me you’ll come to the bar with me.”
“No, Renee. You should not do any more drinking tonight. I’m taking you home.”
“Turn here!” she yelled suddenly.
“I don’t think that’s the right way–”
“Turn here! It’s the way. Turn, turn, turn!”
I turned. The GPS started rerouting me.
“Take your next left. Turn here.”
“That’s not a street, Renee. It’s a shopping center. I have to turn around.”
I headed back to the original route.
“That’s it right there. Turn left. I just want to see if the bar is still open.”
I knew it was a mistake, but I turned.
“There’s no bar here, Renee. It’s just offices.”
“I thought it was here. Maybe it’s closed.”
“Yeah. I’m sure it’s closed. Let’s go home.” I started to exit the parking lot.
“You have to go left here.”
“I can’t go left here. It’s one way.”
“Just go left. Don’t be a p–y.”
“I’m not going left. I’ll just make a U-turn up ahead.”
“The pussification of America.”
I was able to pry my hand loose during the U-turn and we made it to her house. As we pulled up, the front door opened and a tall guy with a buzz cut and inked arms came toward us.
“Someone’s been waiting for you,” I said.
“Yeah, that’s my husband.”
He opened the door. She gave me a big, awkward hug and thanked me for the ride.
“Thanks, bud. I appreciate it,” her husband said. He held her by both shoulders and steered her toward the house.
I wondered if maybe his name was Keith.