Long before graduation, and jobs, and more school and more graduation, before wives, and kids, and moving away from each other and back and away again and then back for good—long before all of it, John and I were just two cocky teenagers realizing they were in trouble, and that it was too late to switch lanes.
We were returning to New England from a weekend of drinking in Canada, and as we listened to the bottle of schnapps—too precious to leave behind as we’d dumped the remaining cans of shitty beer down the sink that morning—rattling around the glove compartment of John’s car, we realized we’d picked the slow lane at border control, the one with a guard on a mission.
We should move over, John told me, but the words tumbled from his mouth a heartbeat too late. The cement barriers had appeared. Before we’d had the chance to understand what was happening, fate had drawn us into the lane with consequences.
The guard was a small man, grizzled and hunched, and we stewed as he prowled John’s car tapping every hollow and popping every latch. Our coiled guts began to loosen as he seemed ready to grudgingly wave us through, but then he turned back.
The schnapps rolled out like an arcade prize, and for a moment there was a sort of serenity as all eyes surveyed the exposed truth. But finally, that grizzled gaze turned our way, and he offered five words that fell on us like sandbags: It’s all downhill from here.
Inside, we stood silent and small as a customs officer ran us through the system. And when he’d finished, he asked the cold, simple question: why’d you do it? John began spinning a rationale off half-truths and obfuscation, but I couldn’t bear it. I shot from hip with the cold, simple truth: we thought we could get away with it.
John fired me a look of shock and rage, but the officer just nodded and then led my oldest friend outside to pour our contraband down a storm drain. And when they returned, he told us one more simple truth: I could call my buddies at the state police. I could make this all a lot worse. But I won’t. Because at least you were honest.
We were damned by the cavalier belief that there would be no consequences, but that same ignorance became our salvation. We were Icarus, kept aloft by the absurd belief that our wings could never melt. This is what I think about so often. We thought we could get away with it. And we were right.
And we’ve been right every time since. Through crisis and triumph, achievement and loss, joy and pain and both entwined so tightly it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other ends, if either even does.
But we creep inexorably towards that moment when we can get away with it no longer, and I feel the slope steepening just a bit more each day. But until the day comes when it all finally does go downhill at last, I have no choice but to wait, and wonder if it’s too late to shift lanes, and whether it would do any good even if we could.
Ethan Warren is a senior editor at the online film journal Bright Wall/Dark Room, as well as the writer/director of the independent feature film “West of Her.” A graduate of the MFA program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, his writing has been featured in New Limestone Review, New Plains Review, and the Stage-It! 10-minute play anthology. To learn more about his work, please visit http://www.ethanrawarren.com or find him on twitter @EthanRAWarren