Updated: Sep 25, 2019
November 17, 2016
"Have you ever wanted to be in two places at once?" Daniel asks me this with an annoying amount of excitement as I'm putting my shoes on to head to the dining hall. "Uh," I contemplate this. "Probably, I guess, I dunno. Why are you asking?" "Cause, we're goin' on a road trip tonight, so be ready by 12:50am." I give him the kind of benefit of the doubt that I know will lead to either enticing or illegal decisions, because Daniel's my friend and I like being invited on adventures. He tells me later, after we've eaten dinner and gone back to the dorm to decide which movie to watch, that since tonight is the start of Daylight Savings, we just have to do something kind of dumb. "Explain this to me again?" I say, confused and irritated that his idea of a fun time is always set in the two spheres of the world I hate: outdoors and after 7:00pm. I'm usually out of my bra and doing homework by 7:00, determined to be in for the night. I don't do late-night fast food runs or Jeep rides for marked-down Halloween candy. Daniel knows this. And yet somehow I get dragged into these situations anyway. "Okay, so when the clock turns to 1am, we'll take a photo of ourselves in Farmington, then we'll drive somewhere else for 2am, and when the clock goes backward to 1am again, we take a picture there. So it looks like we were in two places at once. Get it? Doesn't that sound awesome?" He gives me this look that's partway elated at his idea and partway expectant that I will agree that it's brilliant, and I don't want to let him down. "Is Collin going? What about Melissa?" I ask, sure that if the others in our group are going, they can distract from the fact that I'm asleep in the back of the Jeep, or otherwise in my own little world. "Yeah, they're going. But we're leaving late so stay awake," he commands me, and I want to tell him to say that to the part of my brain that's been revising my senior creative writing portfolio all day, but decide to keep my mouth shut--this could make for a great story, after all, he tells me. Hours later, there's a knock at my door, and just as I'm shutting my laptop, my eyes dry from staring at the tiny Time New Roman bullshit that is my writing portfolio, I hear chattering from the other side of it. I pull on my raincoat and grab my keys. "Ready?" Daniel asks after I greet Melissa and Collin. We swing by James's room, pulling him away from his video game, and we head to the Jeep. The ride to the Farmington Wal-Mart parking lot is short and warm, the heater in the Jeep turned on medium so my cheeks are thawed but my hands are cool enough to press against my sweaty neck. I'm shivering from tiredness and the jarring cold of fall at night. Halloween was a week ago, but now it feels like tundra-freezing; like black, black night, like a killer clown could jump out of an abandoned shopping cart and stab us through the windows. I am anxious and prepared for anything. My teeth crush one another. Daniel circles the lot, and we drive creepily past the entrance, where two employees are smoking and keeping an eye out for nighttime shopping stragglers, hoping to buy liquor or Oreos before bed. The lady stares at us as we careen around the median, and end up parked smack in the middle of the place. "Okay, everybody ready?" he asks us, preparing his phone to take a selfie of us all, leaning into the center of the Jeep, squeezing our faces into place before the camera. We smile; James gives himself a massive double chin, Collin grins with his molars showing, and Dan's face says he's just won the lottery for getting us to Wal-Mart before the stroke of 1am. The flash goes off at exactly 1:00, but when the picture loads, the time says it was taken at 1:02. "Dammit," Daniel says. "Well, off to Rumford for picture number two." "How far away is Rumford?" I ask, leaning into James, who is smushed between me and Melissa. "It's about an hour away," he replies, and I sit back, settling myself for the long ride and hoping he turns on some music so I can veg out. He doesn't. "Okay, I think we all need to play a game," comes Collin's voice from in front of me, and I want to kick his seat. He decides it would be a great idea to play a ranting game, where a person times you to rant for one minute about something that annoys you, starting with the phrase, "Don't even get me started about..." I really, really don't want to play, so when it's my turn and Collin prompts me, "Olivia, you should rant about Dan," I am entirely over it already. Since when does every fun excursion have to be an opportunity for Olivia to get angry at someone and rant about it just because it's funny to other people? Daniel and I don't always get along--we butt heads as co-workers and disagree as friends, as co-workers and friends do, but it's somehow amusing to hear me get upset about it. I'm not having this free-for-all bitch-and-moan game that's intended to piss me off, and I clench a fist, pounding it into the shoulder of Collin's seat. "Shut up, I will not do this." Collin and Daniel exchange a look and chuckle, and I know right then I definitely won't give them the satisfaction, so I tell them again. "I love Dan, but no, this is not the time or place. This is a lame excuse to get me to embarrass myself and I won't do it." Eventually, they give up on me and Collin rants about Daniel being the favorite, a joking one minute I apparently shouldn't have posted to my Snapchat story (who made them the boss of me?), and the game ends. My anxiety is rising as I bite down on a knuckle. I want to get to Boondock Rumfuck and quick. We know we've gotten into town as the roads become slick with rain, because the Jeep immediately fills with the smell of rotten trees and sewer--the pulpy, shitty smell from Rumford's massive working paper mill. Jets of steam streak the blue night sky from across the bridge as we take the curving high road into town. Puffs of bright white smoke are impossibly still, suspended in air, yellow industrial-powered lights making them glow from the street. We drive further, rounding a bend that spits us out into ghostly-dead downtown. Daniel drives slowly past the run-down cinema with a built-in hotel, a barber shop with a broken glass front window, a five-and-dime convenience store, a small pizza place that looks like they probably mutilate the pigs for pepperoni right inside the kitchen. The mill casts shadows over trees as Daniel turns down a long drive that eventually stops at the mill's back gate, which is suspiciously open at 2am. The lamp posts surrounding the entrance building are straight fluorescent blinding, the smoke stacks still hum with the tinging of rain on rusted steel; the jack-hammer sound of some industrial machinery bleats into the night. I'm still shivering, this time with the thrill that we're most likely trespassing. "Let's not drive in there," James says, though I can feel that we all want to. So Daniel whirls us around, and we barrel out of the driveway, coasting down the road in the opposite direction we came from, and we end up at the proper entrance to the mill, the front drive that leads to the information center open to public visitors at decent hours. But we are not visiting and it is not a decent hour. Daniel parks beside a billboard of the mill with local advertisements for swap meets and church youth groups slapped over it. One flyer reads reads "Trust in God... Rumford Holy Baptist Church on Rt. 17, Rumford, Maine." We hop out and I walk to the board, tearing the flyer down and stuffing it inside a tightly-packed trash can while the others start for the the river. This town doesn't need God tonight. For a minute we stand in the lot, talking and laughing so our voices echo around us; we joke about the gas-station employee smoking a cigarette across the street thinking we must be drug dealers, or just really stupid high school kids. We follow the path to the back end of a rushing river, so invisible in the black night that it's hard to tell if a step forward would land you in cold wetness or face-first on a slippery rock. Daniel rushes down the grass and to the very edge of the water, while the rest of us stay on the marshy ground, hands fumbling for our cell phones by the light of the parking lot's lamp posts, and we watch him take a grand selfie in front of the water, trying to get the steel establishments of the mill in the distance behind him. I raise my phone and snap a photo of him, his back to us, looking into the black for some semblance of a horizon line where water meets sky. It is too dark to see anything, so he starts back to us. I snap another photo of the mill, orange-y in the weird light of night, and caption it "1:36am--College Hooligans." The bridge arcs above the river, and I listen to the rush of water pouring into a vault-like hole in the ground beside the embankment where we stand, not knowing where the water starts and ends and not able to see the ground there anyhow; the air is chillier than before. A church bell dings somewhere nearby, and Collin says, "It's 1:40, oh my gawd," and salaciously throws an arm around a one-dimensional steel silhouette cut-out of a person, sticking out of the ground on the bank. We look around and notice more of them, like creepy grave markers with flat arms and legs. "Take my picture," Collin says, and Melissa's flash goes off as he puckers up. We dick around for a few more minutes, shouting into the cold, still air, feeling like the only people alive. "We should go now, get ready to take the group photo," I say as I head up the bank and back to the Jeep. We stand by the billboard again, and since we have fifteen more minutes until we take a photo in the second place of "in two places at once," we find Rumford's famous larger-than life statue of Paul Bunyon beside the brush; at his large, boulder-sized feet, a bright blue statue of a friendly looking bull. "I bet I can climb on it to the top," Daniel says, and hands Melissa his keys and phone. With a few steps, he tosses himself with ungraceful agility atop the bull's back, and slides himself over the surface, wet with rain. He poses on his side, propping up his elbow, a hand on his cheek. He looks into our phone cameras with flirty eyes. "Dan, say, 'if you're a bull, I'm a bull," Collin screeches, and takes another picture. I manage to get one of Dan's butt as he struggles to slide from the statue, and he faces us again on two feet, the whole front of him soaked with rainwater. James laughs. "No one would know that on this night a bull was straddled, except that there are photos and Dan is wet." We can't help but get hysterical, and once 2:00 approaches, we rush to gather in front of Paul's feet and pose as best we can without good lighting or a good angle. "Three, two, one, aaaand..." Dan snaps two group selfies, and we file away from Paul while Daniel captions the Snapchat for his story, and the world shifts back one hour. By the time we pile back into the Jeep after buying the cheapest, stalest candy and pastries we could find from the gas station across the street, I feel like I have been in two places at once. James squeezes in between me and Melissa in the back seat; Daniel cranks the heat up and puts on some version of contemporary Pop music, though it sounds like auto-tuned, bubble-gum garble to me. I tune their chattering voices out after I've finished my cinnamon roll, and listen to the hum of the tires over gravel. We stop at the road sign just out of town that introduces motorists into the official town of Mexico, Maine. We made it to another country tonight, too. Daniel snaps another group selfie of the five of us, standing beside the sign, and back into the car we go. It's almost the second 1:30 of the night and I'm drained; my hands are cold and my glasses are fogged up. The rain has stopped, but the road is still alive with the constant sound of wet tires and mud slapping the windows. Rumford whirs past us again from the main road; Mexico's sign falls out of view, and we drive into another empty town, heading back to campus. I lean my head against the back window and try to rest my eyes, to sleep over the sound of everyone's voices. And maybe God is here, in the little way the sky begins to yellow-out, just faintly, over the mountains.