Christine & The Roads Traveled
On the evening of February 10th, 2016, John got into his black Cherokee Jeep and went to console an old friend. It seemed like the right decision at the time. He had received Sally’s email just after sundown, informing him of the news that her brother, Peter, had died of an overdose. Sally and Peter had been John’s friends in a time and place that seemed as far away as the memories of his early childhood, and yet it had only been four years ago. These had been his “party” friends. Four years had passed since John made the decision to get sober, and, as such decisions will do, it had created distance between himself and his old friends. He hadn’t told them he couldn’t hang out with them anymore. He wasn’t that kind of guy. He hadn’t even made any concerted effort to stay away from them, really. They just drifted, as friends sometimes do when the road of life they had once tread together diverged in separate directions.
Sally was distraught when he called her. She sobbed unapologetic wails for the loss of her brother, and it took only the sound of her voice, albeit thickly veiled through the sobs, to remind John of what good friends they once were. How much fun they’d had together. What good times.
She was still a friend, what’s more a friend in need, and so John drove to her. He was that kind of guy. When he arrived, she hugged him for what seemed like forever, and when they sat, she talked through her tears and he listened, holding back his own. He listened, though it felt to him that listening was not enough. Like most men, John wanted to fix it. He wanted to make Sally feel better, and he wanted to feel better too. For in this small apartment where the paint was starting to peel off the walls and the floor had not been vacuumed for what looked like months, Sally’s pain was starting to become his own. Her pain was deep and morbid in its nature.
John didn’t want to cry. He knew that isn’t what Peter would have wanted.
That was when Sally pulled out the gram of cocaine. “Want some?” she asked him.
“What the hell,” he agreed.
Soon they were laughing, sharing stories, recounting all the crazy times, all those wild nights they had stayed up laughing like hyenas until noon the next day. They talked about the friends that had come and gone, some of them now married with kids, a few of them now in jail. They talked about their favorite drug dealer who went to Promises for rehab and supposedly slept with a celebrity while he was there. John hadn’t heard that story before. They talked about their favorite club, which had recently closed its doors and was due to be demolished. They were going to build an apartment complex over it. A huge, towering, apartment complex, several stories high, right over the ground where John had once danced to Bowie, Peter had gotten in fist fights with bouncers, and Sally had fucked a stranger in one of the bathroom stalls. They talked about time, and how it has a way of pulling the wool over your eyes, making the moment seem permanent, making you think it’s all going to last forever.
They were happy memories for John, and yet he was happier that it was no longer his life. He had stability now. More money, too. He had a girlfriend more beautiful than any woman he’d ever dreamed would have given him the time of day. He was 46, and at last he thought, he had grown up.
The gram was almost gone. Sally had done most of it, John less than half. He asked Sally where the bathroom was, and after she pointed him in the general direction, she finished nearly all of what was left by herself. She was no longer crying. She felt, for the moment, fixed.
John returned from the bathroom.
He sat down on the couch. He slumped over, and he died.
I never got the opportunity to meet John, but I sure wish I had. His girlfriend and I have been friends for… oh, nearly a couple of decades now. We don’t see each other as much as we used to. We kept meaning to get together so that I could meet her boyfriend, and so that she could meet mine. We just never seemed to find the time.
The morning she called and told me about the death of her boyfriend was the same day I finished reading Stephen King’s novel, Christine.
Christine is a teenage love story of sorts. Arnie and Dennis have been best friends since childhood, but in their senior year of high school, Arnie falls in love and they start to grow apart. He doesn’t fall in love with a girl, though he does get his first real life girlfriend too (and Leigh is such a stunner that even a good looking guy like Dennis finds himself jealous). No, Arnie falls in love with a car. Her name is Christine.
When the nerdy pimple-faced Arnie first finds Christine, she is broken down with busted windows and torn up seat cushions, her grill falling off her front. Once a gorgeous 1958 Plymouth Fury, she’s now sad and worn, hardly a car at all. Still, Arnie is taken with her just the same. More than taken, in fact; he becomes obsessed with the thought of fixing her up. As it turns out, the car has a life of its own. All it needs is a little love from Arnie, and suddenly it is fixing itself, and fixing him too. It fixes his acne. It fixes his lack of confidence. It fixes his weakness. It fixes his enemies, the bullies who picked on him in school, by turning them into roadkill.
When Dennis and Arnie first find the car looking like a big bucket of bolts, Dennis asks him what it is that attracts him to this particular car, and Arnie answers: “I don’t know, exactly. Maybe it’s because for the first time since I was eleven and started getting pimples, I’ve seen something even uglier than I am.”
It’s a tough line to read.
Tough because it’s true. Because that’s how it all begins, isn’t it?
When we are teenagers or young adults, we tend to make the decisions we make based solely on how we feel, and if we find something or someone that makes us feel better about ourselves, we think that’s a good thing. In Arnie’s case, it’s a car that makes him feel better about himself, makes him feel more attractive, stronger, more in control. The same way drugs might make you feel. Or belonging to a gang. Or dating the bad boy. Or the bad girl. All these things have a way of making you feel, for the first time, like you are truly somebody. The unfortunate thing, of course, is the side effects. And the people, like Dennis and Leigh, who you lose along the way because the path you choose to take diverges from theirs, and because time will have its way.
If a better life is one born of making better choices, one of the most important choices one can make in life is their environment – who and what they choose to surround themselves with. In ancient times, a high priest was not allowed to travel to certain areas where there was suffering, death or decay, because it was believed he should not enter into an energy field where evil dwelt. In the Jewish religion, if a rabbi visits a hospital to pray for the sickly, he will run to mikveh immediately after, dunking under water to be cleansed both physically and spiritually of the energy that has been encountered there. This is, in fact, why many people choose to go to church, instead of praying in their own home. In the home, there are worries, there are upsets, there are sometimes arguments, but in a house of worship, there are but prayers and sermons and rituals and pictures adorning the walls of righteous souls from times past, and these things combine to create an energy that feels to some like a sanctuary from the storm of life.
Of course, you don’t have to be religious, or even spiritually inclined, to believe in such things.
One of my favorite lines in Christine is:
I don’t believe in curses, you know. Not in ghosts, or anything precisely supernatural. But I do believe that emotions and events have a certain… lingering resonance. It may be that emotions can even communicate themselves in certain circumstances, if the circumstances are peculiar enough… the way a carton of milk will take the flavor of certain strongly spiced foods if it’s left open in the refrigerator.
We are not much different, I’m afraid, than an open carton of milk. We are living, breathing sponges, vulnerable to the energies that surround us, the energies of people, places and things. We do not exist in a vacuum, and we cannot help but be affected by all that surrounds us. The only difference between us and the open carton of milk is our free will, the ability to choose what surrounds us, the qualities of which we will unknowingly or not adopt as our own.
It’s easy to see Arnie’s car as a metaphor for drugs, but for me Christine is about a lot more than that.
It’s about how things affect other things. It’s about the sad loss of the people we lose to the environments that they choose. It’s about the dangerous truth that each moment is a road diverged, and how we must choose not only the kind of person we want to be in this life, but the kind of people we want to spend it with.
It’s about the understanding that even the most positive person can be dragged down by a negative environment.
As I hung up the phone with my friend that morning, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if John had never walked into that house on the evening of February 10th. I couldn’t help but wonder the story of what happened there, and so I decided to create my own. But more than that, I couldn’t help but cry.
I cried for the fragility of life, for the trickery of time, and for the many friendships lost to the roads diverged.
Dedicated to Susan Walker and John Storm
March 11, 2016 – Los Angeles
What I Learned from Stephen King” is a Cemetery Dance Online exclusive series of articles about the wisdom, spirituality and life lessons found within the works of Stephen King. Jason Sechrest began his career at 15 years old as a full-time staff writer for Femme Fatales magazine. His writing credits include LA Weekly,Frontiers, Entertainment Weekly and more. He tweets as @JasonSechrest and posts often on Facebook.