hi i’m holly
There was a sign on the front door of the rest stop that WARNING. SEX TRAFFICKING HAPPENS HERE. She stared at that sign, and imagined as if seeing a movie scene being swiped by a masked stranger and thrown in a white van. Being sex trafficked sounded more appealing to her than her current situation, which was being in the car with her family. She imagined herself in a cage, attached to it by handcuffs that were latched to one of her ankles, so drugged up and out of her mind that she could barely keep her eyes open. Being that high sounded kind of appealing, in a way. Wow, these thoughts are super fucked up. But like, are they really that fucked up? I know real people are real victims of sex trafficking and that’s tragic and really fucking sad, but like, if I’m being honest, it doesn’t really sound that bad to me. Anything sounded better than getting back in the car with her mother and her father and her sister and then being stuck in her hometown for a few days fulfilling her mother’s family fantasy, exchanging gifts, being sober (or just drinking alcohol, which is basically being sober).
Maybe sex trafficking is considered such a bad situation because they pick the wrong girls, she thought. Her life was drugs and sex, so it almost sounded like a relief to have a life of drugs and sex where the drugs were free and the sex was your only responsibility. If only I could have been so lucky. I guess in a way I am a part of a soft sex trafficking ring which is called modeling and nightlife, except I have to pay rent.
A new set of headlights approached the rest stop. She fantasized about approaching the random car and running off with a stranger. It was the only other car in the parking lot. Even though it was Christmas Eve, there were practically no other cars on route 80. There was a winter storm, and only crazy people were driving through it. Even the bus Annie was supposed to take was canceled because of the winter storm warnings. But her mother wouldn’t accept Annie’s absence at Christmas, so everybody had to threaten their lives to drive across the state of Pennsylvania in a blizzard and pick her up.
She trudged through the snow back toward the car in her thigh high leather Stuart Weitzman boots that she really didn’t want to ruin but would probably ruin. She was vaping outside the car now trying to load her brain up on nicotine for the next chunk of the ride. Everybody in the car had already cried at least once and the six hours the navigation system said it would take to get from New York City to her hometown had barely shifted because the weather made it impossible to break 30 miles per hour. She, of course, had The Nutcracker soundtrack on repeat, so the scene was set as a ballet of self-torment.
She heard her parents coming out of the rest stop bickering. Something about how many pounds of smelts they ordered for Christmas Eve last year. She couldn’t imagine living a life that mundane. She hated herself a little bit, for how superior she felt to “normal” people, but she truly couldn’t help it. She thought about how much she hated her ex-boyfriend. She thought about how she would show up to his shoots strung out after 48 hours of no sleep and how he would scream at her but how at least their arguments had substance and they weren’t arguing about pounds of fish that taste like shitty bread. All of the sudden her feet were walking her towards the mystery car at the other end of the parking lot. I hope it’s a strange man, and I hope he’s alone. It was. He was. A Christmas miracle. She knocked on the passenger door window, and he rolled it down. “Hi, I’m Holly, and I’d like to be kidnapped.”
The pair drove in silence a bit. She turned on her phone and googled ‘do they put out Amber Alerts on 23-year-olds’ because she didn’t really want this to turn into a big thing. She learned that Amber Alerts are only for children under the age of 18, which was technically the answer she wanted, but once she got it she was actually quite disappointed. She checked to see how many missed calls she had (17 from Dad, 6 from Mom, 2 from Marie, also a text from Marie that said “dude what the fuck”). She turned her phone off. “Have you ever kidnapped anybody before?” “No,” he replied. “Have you ever been kidnapped before?” “No,” she replied, as if worried she would disappoint him with her answer. “I haven’t. I guess I wasn’t cute enough.”
She looked at the man. His face was like a deflated balloon and his belly was like an inflated balloon and the rest of him was scrawny. He was kind of cute in a pathetic way — not hot in a silver-fox way, which really would have been a Christmas miracle, but he looked sad enough to be driving alone on route 80 through a blizzard, and he wasn’t ugly. While she stared at his face she thought about how, in a way, she kidnapped him.
They stopped for gas about an hour later.
“I’m going to get a pack of cigarettes,” he said, “do you want anything?”
“A black coffee?”
“Aren’t you going to lock the doors so that I can’t escape?”
She heard the car doors unlocking before she saw him returning. He came back into the car with a pack of Newports and a little cup of coffee.
“You smoke Newports?”
“I only smoke Newports when that’s the only option and I’m super desperate.”
“There’s a bodega by my dealer’s apartment that sells loosies for 75 cents and they have Marlboros and Newports but sometimes they run out of Marlboros.”
“Why did you want to be kidnapped?” She imagined her family in the car. She fantasized about them digging around thinking maybe she passed out and died in the snow. Either way she assumed they were bickering and that each conversation about her disappearance was swallowed up by some meaningless argument about their own pathetic little lives. Her whole family resented her for not having a pathetic little life. “When I lost a lot of weight and my mother visited the city and saw me for the first time she said to me, ‘wow, I don’t know whether to be worried about you or jealous of you.’ I’ll never forget that moment because it really helped me understand my relationship with my family, especially my mother – concern, care, the desire for time together, love, all of it is intertwined with selfishness, and above all, jealousy.” He didn’t respond.
“Why did you agree to kidnap me?”
“Well, you kind of just got in my car…”
“Oh, come on, it takes a certain kind of weirdo to let a strange girl get in his car and just drive off with her.”
He gave her a look she couldn’t identify, unable to fix his gaze on her as he watched the road. “Are you attracted to me?” She imagined that he must have been, at least in a way. She was probably the most physically attractive woman he had ever been alone with for an extended period of time. Yet she couldn’t help but feel that he was repulsed by her. She imagined herself as he saw her – her big eyes, her long hair, her full lips – maybe he was unable to feel aroused by her, despite her objectively attractive physical qualities. She followed his gaze to the windshield and caught a glimpse of herself the way he saw her.
“Stop the car.”
“I’m attracted to you, I am–”
“I said stop the car.”
They were off route 80, they had been for a few minutes now, and when he slammed the brakes the car slid about seven feet into a heap of snow.
“Sorry. I get angry sometimes. Are we stuck?”
“This car has four wheel drive.”
“Okay. I’m sorry.”
“No, like, I’m really sorry.”
“My name isn’t even
She began to cry. “God, this is so embarrassing. I’m so embarrassing. It’s funny, I used to be so scared of being kidnapped when I was younger. I used to say that I would act really annoying until the kidnapper brought me back to my parents. But now I’m kidnapped, and I don’t want to annoy you, and I don’t want to be taken back to my parents. It’s strange, isn’t it? How as we grow older, our fears become our desires? I used to stay up for hours worrying about being kidnapped, but now freedom terrifies me so much more. I used to have an intense fear of being taken by somebody because that meant my life would be owned by them and not by me, but now there is nothing more terrifying than the fact that my life is my own.” He began to drive again.
He had made a pathetic little attempt to decorate his house for Christmas. There was a small nativity set and a tree that wasn’t decorated, not even with lights.
“How’s the tea?”
“It’s good, thank you.”
“How are you going to get home?”
“I’m not going home.”
“I meant back to New York.”
She thought for a moment. “I have friends in Philly I can call, I guess. Where am I?”
“Oh, like in It’s A Wonderful Life?”
“No, that’s in New York.”
“Oh. I love that movie.”
“I haven’t seen it in years.”
“South of Altoona.”
“Middle of the state.”
“Are you trying to get rid of me?”
He took a cigarette from the pack of Newports that was now on the coffee table and offered one to her and they smoked in silence for a bit.
“I’m not trying to get rid of you. I’m actually very happy to not be alone. My wife used to decorate the tree.”
“You were married?”
“She left me.”
“Then she died.”
“Were you happy she died?”
“Not even a little bit?”
He didn’t respond. She thought about how if somebody left her and then died she would feel at least a little pleasure.
“I want to get married, but I don’t think I’d be a very good wife. I definitely wouldn’t be a good mother. I want a family in theory, but I can’t imagine taking a break from drugs for a whole nine months while I’m pregnant. Where’s the bathroom?” He pointed towards the hall.
She put the tea on the table and grabbed her bag. She opened the second door, closed it, locked it. She did a couple bumps of the cocaine she had carried from New York. Then she returned the vile to her bag and flushed the empty toilet. She fixed her hair and wiped mascara residue from under her eyes while running the sink.
She returned to the living room thinking about how even the feeling of putting something up her nose was addicting in itself. She made a joke to herself about how Freud failed to consider nasal fixation. She thought about the time she tried to explain oral fixation to a man and he responded by saying “you’re my oral fixation.” She sat back down and looked at her kidnapper.
“Are you going to rape me?”
“I asked if you were going to rape me.”
“I’m not going to rape you.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? Isn’t that, like, part of getting kidnapped? Getting raped? I thought you were attracted to me. Why aren’t you going to rape me? Does your dick not work? Is that why your wife left you? Because your dick doesn’t work?”
She started to cry again.
He looked at his watch. “I’m leaving for midnight mass soon. Would you like to join me?”
The last time Annie was in a church was exactly one year ago. She had tried to go to mass on Christmas Eve because she wanted so badly to believe in something, but when she walked into the church on Mulberry Street it didn’t feel magical at all. There wasn’t even a choir singing Christmas hymns. It was actually so depressing that she left in tears before mass even began. Instead she went to a movie theater and watched It’s a Wonderful Life for the first time.
This time around she didn’t have unrealistic expectations. She wasn’t seeking a revelation, she wasn’t searching for an epiphany. She wasn’t going to church to try to feel something. Every time anybody tries to feel something they end up feeling nothing anyways, because the search for meaning ruins meaning. She was simply going to church because he was going and he had kidnapped her. She was actually kind of dreading going to mass which made her feel like a little kid, the little kid she used to be who would hide under the bed and cry every Sunday morning because she didn’t want to go to mass. She finally felt properly kidnapped. Mass is an event you cannot really escape, just like a kidnapping.
They entered the ugliest church she had ever seen. She dipped her hand in the holy water and did the sign of the cross. She saw a little table of rosaries in the back of the church with a sign that said ‘Free Rosaries’. He watched as she took a pink rosary from the table and a trifold pamphlet that said ‘A Guide to Praying the Rosary’ and she wrapped the rosary around her wrist and he followed her into a pew.
In the movie playing in her head, God kissed her on the cheek. One of the Bible readings reminded her of herself. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” The Bible uses words in a really lovely way, but sermons are boring. “Today,” the priest started, “I was looking at a painting of a nativity scene just like the one we have right here. Except this painting was called In the Hands of the Father. Mary is asleep and Joseph is holding the baby.” She rolled her eyes. This is so… modern. She thought about her mother and she thought about her father and her sister. She thought about how happy she was to not be in her hometown, but she also thought about how happy she was to have disappeared. She was, for the first time, happy to not be in New York. She was happy to have received a kiss from God himself. She looked at her kidnapper. He looked back at her as she exhaled, “are you seriously hitting your vape in church?” She smiled. He held out his hand and she passed him the vape. He hit it too, and fell into a coughing fit and everyone stared. They passed the vape back and forth while they watched rows of people file into line for communion.
She thought again about oral fixation. She thought again about her father. She thought about George Bailey and his daughter Zu Zu who caught a cold because she didn’t want to button her jacket because she didn’t want to ruin her flower. She looked at the poinsettia flowers that were all throughout the church and thought about how maybe it wasn’t so ugly after all. “Now please rise and join us in singing our closing hymn,” announced the priest, “Joy to the World.”
Cassidy is an actor, dancer, and writer in New York City.