There have only been a very few times in my life that I've willfully broken the speed limit. Sure, we all have those moments when we run 75 miles an hour coming home because we've just worked a fourteen hour shift and that Taco Bell we grabbed on the way home is about to punch its way right out through our pants, but I'm talking about breaking the speed limit by at least forty miles an hour or more because you have to be somewhere like yesterday.
One of the times was when I was a teenager, on 9/11. I had already had a premonition of the attacks just before they happened, along with a few strains of ghostly gospel music in my skull, but the bitch of the thing was, my folks were out of town. My parents were traveling missionaries, driving all over the country and preaching to kids locked up in juvie hall. They had several supporting churches, but by that time I had already started distancing myself from them a bit.
My stepdad was not what I would term a warm or loving man; why my mom was attracted to him, I'll never know. Among the first things he said to me when he and my mom started dating was, "why don't you go play in the street," and "don't you dare talk back to me, boy, or I'll knock you through your watchpocket." When the neighborhood kids asked who he was, I told them he was a vagrant that mowed our lawns on the weekends for beer money.
Anyway, after they got married, he had gone from one enterprise to the next, first setting up an antique shop in a dilapidated building that should have been condemned, then running his own contracting company, where he would exploit his nephews and me and my sister into hard labor for no money in exchange ("I let you live in my house and eat my food, boy,") and finally, after failing at selling life insurance, settled on being a traveling preacher.
Now, at no point did he ever say that he wanted to bring me along. My sister had doubled down in her final year of high school, graduated early, and then gone to college three states away. When I asked her years later why she fled so far away, she only told me that he was a bad man and she wasn't going to stay around to see just how bad he could let himself be.
No, I was left behind while he and my mom drove all over the nation, preaching their impassioned message of Hell and punishment to kids in lockup (as if they didn't know what damnation was already…) while I stayed behind and went to school. When the recruiter called me up on the phone the day after I turned 18, I was more than happy to sign up for the Marine Corps, if only to have a reason to get the hell out of South Carolina.
I wonder how many kids are in coffins right now because of silly reasons like that.
Anyway, when the planes hit the towers six months later, my parents were in New York state. I had no idea where they were exactly in the state, but all I could see in my mind's eye was my mother being crushed under falling debris. I panicked and called up my recruiter, asking him what this would mean for me. He told me not to worry, that there was no way they'd take me until I graduated from high school, that it was all right, America would survive this. That was small comfort to me, since I had no idea where my folks were.
You have to remember, this was back in 2001; the Internet wasn't the ubiquitous thing that it is now. I couldn't just jump on my smartphone and pinpoint my parents or facebook message them. I dug through my bag, frantically looking for the trip itinerary they had left me.
Thank God, I thought when I finally found it. They were supposed to be in Pennsylvania today, not New York.
Naturally, a plane went down in Pennsylvania that day, too.
At that point, I said fuck it, hopped in my wheezing '85 Celebrity, and turned that sucker northward, red-lining the engine as hard as I could go, frantically trying to get to Pennsylvania.
I heard the sirens whooping in my ears thirty seconds before the cop car behind me clicked them on, but even psychic powers don't count for shit if the cop has already seen you. I pulled the car over obediently enough and got out my license and registration for him.
When he asked me why I was driving so fast, I told him and he took pity on me. He told me to turn the car around and go back home (at the speed limit) because I'd do nothing but cause my folks worry if they were trying to reach me. He actually drove with me for about ten miles before turning off.
Breaking the speed limit in a blind panic is one of those rare things that people do when their world just seems to be falling apart down around their ears.
When I hung up with my wife that day in the library, gravity was starting to pull the chunks of my world down.
Not my daughter, I prayed silently, please, God, whoever or whatever is up there, please not my daughter.
Luckily, there were no cops between me and the house that day. I got there in ten minutes.