No one is going to come and kill us with a knife, Amyn says. I haven’t ate my chicken nuggets.
Cho, Amyn, and I are driving around some neighborhood in Chattanooga. A neighborhood where we shouldn’t be. We are looking for a vegetarian restaurant/bar where the Chattanooga bout afterparty is taking place. Atrophied trees line the yards. Chain link fences scratch against one another. Enormous mixed breed dogs bark and cry like phantom soldiers. I look through the window, searching for the moon, but all I see is blackness. This dark, decrepit neighborhood does not look vegetarian friendly.
Maybe that’s why Amyn is convinced that when a potential killer sees her eating the chicken nuggets, he will drop the knife and set us free. Maybe she will even offer to share one with him.
That makes absolutely no sense, Amyn, Cho replies. There is no logic behind that. Chicken nuggets do not equal survival.
They could! Amyn insists.
I am sitting in the back seat, trying to listen to the GPS on my cell phone. Turn a slight left at the next stop sign, the lady repeats mechanically. Turn a slight left at the next stop sign. I am certain that Cho, the driver, has heard none of this. She’s punching Amyn in the arm, and she hasn’t even had a fourth of a beer yet. Usually a fourth of a beer is all that is required for Cho to start hitting.
Cho, turn a slight left at the next stop sign, I say.
Amyn, stop! You are going to give me another bruise, and I don’t even bruise easily. Obviously, Cho isn't listening to me.
I wonder if I should remind Cho that she beat Amyn like a punching bag through the entirety of Georgia. Good naturedly, of course.
Turn a slight left at the next stop sign. Turn a slight left at the next stop sign.
Cho! I yell.
Rerouting. We have angered the voice of the GPS. Rerouting. Rerouting. Turn right at the next fork in the road.
Wow. We were going to die. Not even the pissed GPS lady can save us from this post-bout horror movie.
To Amyn and Cho, I haven’t mentioned my familiarity with Chattanooga. Sure, I don’t know where we are at this second, but the trees, grass, and paint-chipped houses rewind my brain three years.
Three years ago when I was dating Keegan. Visiting him monthly. Me and my little Subaru, chugging hundreds of miles to find a love that never really loved back.
Most of mine and Keegan’s visits happened because I made them happen. I drove to Chattanooga, Tennessee, three times as much as he drove to Huntington, West Virginia. I should have known then that I was not the protagonist in that story.
I recognized the dirty white houses. I remembered the Tennessee River that smelled like a slightly decayed version of home. The mountain air that carried zephyrs of every conversation soul to soul. The reminder that once, someone pretended to love me here.
I knew him for ten years. We dated for four. He moved from Chattanooga to Auburn to be with me. To live in the same town. To see what it’s like to be a real couple. And we were a real couple—until, that is, he decided to knock up the fat waitress he worked with.
Today, the cherry blossoms in the medians of the main roads couldn’t help but grow through my ears and bloom out my nose with their sweet scent. A scent that reminded me of walking Keegan’s roommate’s dog in the spring. A scent that reminded me that Keegan loved Wilco as much as I did. (I hate them now, but that has nothing to do with him. Naturally.) A scent that reminds me how Keegan would slow down to walk beside me, even though he was a foot and two inches taller than I was.
I am thankful, I suppose, that the current conversation does not allow me to reminisce for long.
It just makes no sense for someone not to kill us because of your chicken nuggets, Cho repeats. It just makes no sense at all.
You’re wrong, Cho, Amyn says. You crazy vegetarians don’t know the power of this meat in my hand.
That’s what she said, I chime in. No one laughs. They expect this type of comment coming from the back seat.
Cho and Amyn, derby wives, have been picking at each other like little finches the entire ride from Auburn to Chattanooga. The paused briefly for the bout, but they started again when we got back in the car. Something about the way Amyn and I were shouting Cabs ahr heeere! T-shirt time! irritated Cho. I felt fortunate to be in the back, attempting to listen to the increasingly frustrated voice of the GPS.
Cho! I yell, louder this time. If you don’t turn right or left or something at the next fork in the road, we really are going to die. No chicken nugget will come even close to saving us, not even if we put them on chains and make them into necklaces. I don’t know what I meant by that.
It’s true, Amyn agrees.
Fork in the road? What is wrong with your GPS, 9? How am I supposed to know if it’s a fork in the road or just a little driveway or something? I mean, what the hell?
I sigh. Rerouting. Rerouting. Rerouting. Amyn takes a bite of her chicken nugget. Some fries fall to the floor like our jammers did earlier.
I was trying to tell you, but…you two were too busy beating the shit out of each other.
It’s Amyn’s fault, Cho accuses. Oh. My. God.
Turn left at Cherokee Boulevard, instructs the GPS. Unfortunately, instead of Cherokee, the GPS lady says Chair-oh-kee. This sends the car into giggles that fill the dark night with pleasant, if not slightly haunting, sounds. Our giggles grow leaves on those atrophied trees and sprinkle the blank sky with stars.
Oh my God! Cho exclaims. Chair-oh-kee Boulevard is where we are supposed to be!
It was the chicken nuggets, Amyn says.
When we pull into the restaurant, Cho’s car stalls. Someone’s phone buzzes with a text. For good measure, Amyn yells Cabs ahr here!
We are here. We are ready. We are here.