Carrie and I hadn't even been on the highway for an hour when the fighting started. We were in my little Honda Civic hatchback, puttering along I-76 East, en route to Baltimore. She'd been giving me a stone-faced version of the silent treatment, and even though I'd tried everything to get her to open up – begging, pleading, cajoling – I wasn't having any luck whatsoever. Occasionally I would get a sarcastic comment in response, or a mean-spirited laugh.
I almost blame myself for what happened at the rest stop. I was opening the Honda's hatch to look for a sweater, and as I leaned deep inside the car, Carrie caught a quick glimpse of my boxers – specifically the elastic waistband that was peeking out from underneath my jeans.
She told me later that the underwear was what really set her off. It was underwear we'd gone shopping for a week or so earlier, and I'd only worn it once or twice before. When she noticed I was wearing it, as opposed to one of the stretched-out, ripped up pairs I'd been wearing almost every day for years, that was apparently all the evidence she needed.
Once we were back on the highway, she told me that as far as she was concerned, the fact that I was wearing new underwear was a clear and obvious sign that I planned on having sex with my friend Nancy later on that evening.
I rolled my eyes, and let out a long, exaggerated sigh, as if to suggest that Carrie was being completely insane. But of course she was right: I was planning on having sex with Nancy, and I figured a fresh pair of underwear wouldn't be the worst place to start. How incredibly wrong I was.
The trip had been entirely my idea. I had hatched the plan a few months earlier, when, completely out of the blue, a brief note from Nancy appeared in my email inbox. The note was something of a surprise, because although Nancy and I had done freelance work for the same music magazine in Seattle four years earlier, the truth was that we weren't actually friends. We barely knew each other, in fact. We were introduced by the magazine's editor, and we talked a bit once, at a party. But eventually we both left town and moved to separate cities, and I don't think we had exchanged so much as one word in the years since.
Which isn't to say she hadn't been on my mind from time to time. In fact, here's an embarrassing yet entirely true confession: To this day, I do a Google image search for Nancy about once a week, just so I can stare slack-jawed at the passport-photo sized image of her that appears on my monitor. Yes, I realize that sounds frighteningly near to stalker behavior. My pulse always quickens when her photo pops up, and eventually I have to force myself to look away. Usually I feel horribly guilty afterwards, because my fiancée is often in the next room over, watching television in our bed, and waiting for me to turn off the computer, and to join her under the covers for the night.