This nightmare has followed me for a long time.
The nightmare happens entirely in a car, and I’m the driver.
Sometimes I’m alone, sometimes there are others. Sometimes it’s my whole family, crammed and talkative in the back seats. Sometimes it’s a friend on the passenger side, telling me about his day. Sometimes it’s an old intimate, sitting right next to me, looking outside and thinking about what went wrong and what went right.
I am always driving. Driving fast to somewhere important. A dentist’s appointment that started ten minutes ago. Going to buy butter fifteen minutes before the supermarket closes. A meeting at work that can’t start without me.
I guess those things aren’t that important after all. I have other dreams about saving the world or meeting Her by chance at the beach. These destinations aren’t like that, not life-changing, just urgent. If I don’t get there in time, something bad will happen. So I’m driving fast.
I’m a terrible driver. In the dream and in reality. I got my license when I was 18, drove my dad’s old SUV to college and then didn’t touch a steering wheel again until I was in my mid-twenties. I just never got much practice, I guess.
I don’t see why anyone even likes cars: they’re ugly, expensive and bad for the environment. I don’t get the appeal. Besides, they’re dangerous. Did you know 37 thousand people die in car accidents every year? You know how many die on bikes? Barely half a thousand. For public transport? Less than a hundred.
So I’m in this car and I see a light coming up and I go to slow down, but I press the gas instead of the brake. The light stays green. No big deal, I think, just a little embarrassing. I try to brake a little bit just to make sure I’ve figured out where it is. I hit the gas again. Now we’re going even faster.
I’m starting to really move up on the car in front of me and it’s only a matter of time till we hit a red. I start sweating, panicking, my carmates usually start to say something, telling me to take it easy and slow down.
I chance taking my eyes off the road and look down. There they are: brake pedal and accelerator. I move my foot while looking this time and I make sure to hit the brake.
I hear the engine rev and we just go faster. I look back up, certain we’re about to crash into an intersection. Somehow it’s fine, it’s just another green and we keep picking up speed. I change lanes to get some distance on the nearest car.
By now, if someone is with me they’ve started to panic.
My mother starts asking me frantic questions. She doesn’t drive either, so she’s just as confused as I am.
My father barks orders at me to drive properly, demands to know why I keep speeding. He never responds when I ask him what to do; he just keeps yelling, asking how I could do such a thing.
My old lovers usually ignore me. One of them doesn’t. I think I met her when I first went to college, we lived together for a while, wrote some poetry together. I don’t remember her name. All she says is “Naturally.”
Anyway, I look back down to check to see if the brake pedal is damaged. It’s undamaged. The problem is my foot is still on the accelerator and now I’ve pushed it to the floor. I try to move it again, but every time I do the pedals just switch positions. I can’t figure out how, but I’m always pushing the gas, always increasing our speed.
Still, we haven’t crashed yet.
I think about using the parking brake, but I never do. I’ve read that in real life if you do that it just snaps or sends you into a skid. But that doesn’t occur to me in my dream. It just seems like a bad idea.
I start formulating other plans. I think about trying to slow down by rubbing against other cars, but I know I’m not skilled enough to do that without putting the other driver in danger. I try yelling for help, but everyone else is passing by too fast. I guess in the dream I don’t have a cell phone, not that I could control the vehicle and use it at the same time.
Sometimes one of my plans to get us to slow down goes so wrong it wakes me up. We go sailing through the air off of a raised highway and I wake up a few seconds before we impact. There’s just enough time for me to see the horrible distance we’re about to fall, to see the trees that will impale me, to hear my father asking “how could you?”
Mostly though I don’t try anything, I just keep my attention on the lights at the intersections. I keep looking forward, waiting for one to be red, waiting for the car to come to that metal-crunching, life-ending stop. I know it’s inevitable, it’s mathematically certain. We’re all going to die.
But it never comes.
Or, at least, the dream never gets that far.
I’m still pressing the accelerator. Still terrified knowing one of those lights will be red, still waiting for it to happen. The fear is total. Then I wake up.