I’m not even kidding. In retrospect, it makes some kind of demented sense, but at the time, me and Kara broke our protracted silence and looked at one another.
“No way,” she said to me, squinting in her seat, as though to hear the music better. We could hear it fine. The speakers in the arena were cranked to lawsuit levels.
“Way,” I said.
We had bought tickets to avoid breaking up, thought we could channel our rage by proxy, watching two hours of breathtaking destruction up close and personal. Maybe it was a way for us to see how ugly things could get if we let them accumulate.
It was a terrible idea from the jump. We got a late start leaving the apartment—we fought about which doggy bowl to leave out for Winnie—and missed the first bash up. Gridlock traffic meant we had to park in the spillover lot, which was a mile away on foot. Kara hugged herself against a gray February wind and didn’t look at me.
“This was your idea!” I said, but my words were swallowed up by the whirling gusts that spilled off the lake.
We found our seats in the upper deck and pissed off our whole row for making them stand just as the Soul Crusher launched thirty feet in the air, backlit by a glittering bomb of pyrotechnics in the smokey atmosphere of the arena. The lime green truck crunched down atop a decimated Oldsmobile station wagon and flipped on its roof like a mammoth turtle. The wheels spun in vain.
“Fucking hipsters,” a red-bearded man said as we shuffled past.
“Oh shut up, we’re just as broke as you,” Kara hissed, so I had to intervene.
“She doesn’t mean it,” I said. “I mean she does, but not about you.”
We took our seats and waited for the next spectacle. The emcee growled over the mic about how you could get your very own selfie with Thunder Buck, a recent Hall of Damage inductee, by the entrance to section sixty-nine.
“NICE,” the emcee cackled.
There was a dance crew. They skipped out of the tunnel onto the dirt floor wearing mechanic’s jumpsuits. The lights dimmed as an AC/DC b-side erupted from the PA. The dancers, all five of them, ripped off their jumpsuits in unison to reveal sequined bikinis that shimmered under the roving beams of light.
“Mega,” said the pre-teen boy next to me. His mother clamped her palms over his eyes and said, “Lord have mercy.”
“Indeed,” Kara said.
I sat there and wished we knew how to talk things through. Without taking offense, without shutting down. But we were both so stubborn and insecure that we felt the need to win no matter the cost. Kara telling me I’d inherited my mother’s meek obsequiousness. Me telling Kara she had a limitless selfish streak that sucked the oxygen out of any room she entered. Both were true, but we’d never admit it to the other.
We’d been engaged nine months. Deep down, I think we both knew that was as far as it would go. When our friends pressed us for a date, we told them we were taking our time, enjoying the engagement. The truth was we were snapping at each other, if we were talking to each other at all.
What do you do when you’ve grown apart? When the shift has happened slowly, day by day, like continental drift? I bought the ring hoping it might jolt us back to the way we’d been. When lightness came easy. When we would joke about how Kara once farted loudly in the Food Lion and blamed it on the poor pricing clerk. About how I was allergic to tree nuts, but loved chocolate covered almonds so much that I was willing to swallow glass and feel my face swell to twice its circumference. Those days seem like they happened to different people, like they never happened to begin with.
We sat there in the nosebleeds, tickets I had bought at Kara’s insistence for sixteen bucks a pop and watched as the batshit machines revved and hurtled and flipped, smashed into rusty old vans and the carcasses of dead washing machines. I wondered if they did this in other countries, or if we as Americans had such a thirst for destruction that we brought our children and got them corndog drunk as metal crumpled and glass exploded and choreographed flamethrowers roared to a blitzkrieg soundtrack.
Which is why the Enya tune was such a mindfuck. Kara reached over and touched my hand when the first notes emerged like smoke. I thought it must have been a reflex, an accident, but she didn’t take it away. “Boadicea,” one of the most beautiful songs humans have ever laid to tape, a fact we both agreed on when it played at Barcade on our first date. You know it, even if you don’t know it. The haunting hum, the dirge-like synth. It’s the one the Fugees sampled for “Ready or Not.” The first few notes sound like they were recorded in the bowls of a warship. Which I guess makes it strangely appropriate for the finale of the Backyard Bash VI.
The emcee introduced Clever Trevor who was behind the wheel of Rammunition, a hot pink cab sitting atop tires the size of our studio apartment. Enya crooned, as if in mourning, as if warning us that if we weren’t careful, we’d never be able to repair what was broken. Kara squeezed my hand. Clever Trevor revved his engine. It sounded like Godzilla clearing his throat. Rammunition’s wheels spun, kicking up a great wave of red dirt, and shot off toward the ramp. The emcee promised us not one, not two, but THREE backflips. I didn’t see how this was possible. Death and dismemberment were all but guaranteed.
Clever Trevor just about proved me right.
The hulking truck hit the ramp at top speed and launched into the air, somersaulting nose over ass—once, twice, three times—but Trevor must have mistimed his jump, because he didn’t quite get the ass all the way back around on the final rotation. Rammunition landed grill first with a sickening crunch then sprung forward, a hot pink cartwheel, metal debris and glittering guts spraying all over the place to a chorus of Oohhhhhs until the severity of the wreck dawned on us.
The arena went quiet. No Enya. No emcee. A squadron of medical personnel sprinted from the wings carrying fire extinguishers. The kid next to me was crying into his mother’s bosom. Kara was rapt.
“C’mon you asshole, live,” she said through her teeth.
And as though he heard her prayer, Clever Trevor managed to climb from the wreckage, pulling himself free and standing atop the side of his truck as smoke billowed from the undercarriage. He looked tiny. An insignificant assemblage of bones and blood zipped up in a silver fire suit. He raised his fists in a V above his head and the crowd exploded as though they’d just seen a magic trick that forestalled the apocalypse. In some ways, they had. Without consciously doing so, Kara and I had joined the teeming masses on our feet. Kara hooked her fingers to her lips and issued a piercing whistle.
“I didn’t know you could do that,” I said.
“There’s a lot I can do you don’t know about,” Kara said. Then she took my face in her hands and brought me in for the kind of sensuous kiss I never thought I’d experience again.
“Gross,” said the kid to my left.
“Miracles make people horny,” his mother said, and I felt Kara’s lips spread into a smile.
In the car ride home, we were quiet, either basking in exhilaration or afraid to disrupt the newfound spark. At a blinking yellow light, I deigned to break the silence.
“Does this mean—” I said, but Kara interrupted me.
“Don’t do that,” she said. “Just drive.”
She clicked on the radio and I prayed it might be another one of our songs. “This Must Be the Place.” “Age of Consent.” Hell, maybe even Enya again. Instead it was goddamn “White Wedding.” It felt like a curse.
“Oh my god, yes,” Kara said, and cranked the dial until I could barely hear myself think. She began to headbang in the seat next to me, her mop of black hair swirling about her face. Then she put her hand atop mine on the gearshift and flashed me a smile as I drove through the dark quiet streets that I knew so well, that I wished would unspool without end.