Reflections While Driving on the New Jersey Turnpike

by Erica Hoffmeister

 

New Jersey—it’s is a dirty word, isn’t it? I asked him with genuine caution. When I was young, New York was the center of the world, of the universe, of everything. I was taught this in history books, in the falsified way sunshine curved and sought refuge between structures in movies, low light, quixotic. Tall buildings literally scraping the sky, shaving inches from the atmosphere, minding the gap between you and infinite space. It was some sort of Mecca—after all, nothing interesting happens in New Jersey, he answered. Reflective moments hinged on stained porcelain mugs, routinely filled by a walking apron. The waitress’ orthopedic wedges stomped linoleum as if she just woke up here one day without a reason to ever leave. The coffee was cold, the air was colder. Colder than I expected, colder than Carrie Bradshaw had me believe when she convinced me to wear stilettos on frozen sidewalks my first time. I rode the bus in, and I took the bus out, a bruised ass and a new friend chaperoning me across the bridge, across stateliness, as if I’d never hit the turnpike alone. I hadn’t, yet. The grease from the griddle sat in the creases behind his dimples, guiding jawlines to sharp places I was sure to get lost in. Nobody escapes Jersey, I said, stirring until I’d turn water into wine, the waitress in my hindsight, my foresight, the spoon hitting the sides of my heavy-bottomed mug—the kind you can only find in roadside diners—a turntable of repeating sound, the needle digging into the small of my back. My mother was a waitress; I was too, I added. An expression more forlorn than intended, a whispering thought misplaced in my inability to keep some things to myself. It was my biggest fear, truth be told. A running caveat driving that seven-generational curse, a running reason to run and run and run, the apron a heavyweight of chain, the linoleum floor smelling of seraphim, of formaldehyde, my entire life dependent on whether or not I stayed in that diner one moment too long.

Erica Hoffmeister was born and raised in Southern California and earned her MA in English and MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University's dual degree program. She has both poetry and fiction published or forthcoming in FreezeRay Magazine, So To Speak, Rag Queen Periodical, Toasted Cheese, Rat's Ass Review, and Literary Mama, among others. She has been shortlisted for the Kingdoms in the Wild Chapbook Prize, was a runner-up for the Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize, received an honorable mention for the Lorian Hemingway Award for Short Fiction and has been nominated for Best of the Net. She currently lives in Denver, with her husband and daughter, Scout, and perpetually misses home--wherever that feels at the time.

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August 2018

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