It is always quiet there, in the car. I’ve done a lot of driving solo, since I was old enough to drive. I drove to my high school in my Audi Fox. It was loud and embarrassing in the beginning, while I learned the finer points of balancing the clutch against the gas. My best friend in those days, she was brave to ride with me even though I attracted all the wrong attention. Particularly that one day in front of the entire football team.
I drove that Audi to college two hours away, eventually trading it for a more reliable – if not less practical – car. I drove those highways to Selinsgrove, PA alone, listening to music and thinking about God-knows-what. Once or twice I had a passenger, a high school friend who attended the same college and rode home with me. I got my first speeding ticket in central PA, by an officer who didn’t find me cute or innocent enough to just issue a warning.
Once I could drive, I started driving to Nana’s house on weekends and holidays, meeting my dad there rather than him picking me up. My car was my freedom, my power, my independence. It was a people mover, a discotheque, a private concert hall, a think tank. My car was my private place.
Driving back roads to Todd’s house, or to friends, to Nana’s. Driving the highways from central PA to North Jersey to see a boyfriend. Cassette tapes saved me. So much music I associate with driving in a particular space in time. Bon Jovi to North Jersey, so much so that it became the music of heartbreak for a time.
And then to New York. I didn’t keep a car there while I was at NYU, but between semesters I drove up and parked my car at a garage off of Washington Square where I got discounts with my student ID. Like ridiculous discounts – like $7 for the entire DAY. I returned to that garage several years ago when I took V to New York for her birthday.
I’m just this side of crazy in that I loved driving in the city. My friend Larry didn’t enjoy the ride so much. Two years ago Todd didn’t enjoy it either. Twenty-seven years and I forgot the adrenaline rush and I live for that.
The handful of times in my previous marriage that I was allowed to leave the house in the car without a child in tow, I cranked up that music and sang as loud as my lungs could produce, windows down, the wind blowing my hair, and desperately trying to recapture the Tara of bygone days. Sometimes I’d just scream.
One of those rides was speeding to the hospital, tears streaming down my face, praying to all things holy that I wouldn’t be too late. I drove old roads of my youth, remembering and knowing those memories he could not deny me. I drove past my old house. I drove past Nana’s house so many times just to remember the hollow steps to the kitchen door and see the sidewalk where I sat with Billy rolling Matchbox cars back and forth. I drove to the cemetery in silence, thinking about all the things I never got to tell her – my heart in my throat.
I drove distances to see boyfriends – to Jersey and DC, New York during breaks, and Maryland. I drove to a friend’s house in a blizzard, still reeling from a breakup, so I didn’t have to be alone in our apartment. I drove to Ocean City, Maryland to join a boys’ week with long-time guy friends, my first time to OCMD and I took the wrong direction and – I’m fairly certain today – I ended up very near where I live now before turning around. I drove three hours to Annapolis during a torrential downpour to pick up my mother who was stranded there – long before cell phones and GPS – armed only with handwritten directions and a road map on the floor behind my seat.
Then there were the years of driving my children – the not-so-quiet car rides – to preschool with an eager and chatty Opac, who always made friends so easily, his little man voice echoing from the backseat all his deepest and frivolous thoughts and stories. The seemingly hundreds of silent car rides where V would fall asleep and I’d pull over to check her blood sugar, scared that she’d gone too low and passed out. More than a few suffocating rides with the two of them fighting. The later car rides where she would fill the air with, “I have a question,” and many more were answered. The early, silent rides at dawn to O’s football practice – watching the sun rise over hazy, sleeping farm fields, and birds drifting down to breakfast on them.
I drove to remember. I drove to forget. I drove to escape. I drove toward happy times and I drove away from pain.
I drove home from work a few days ago, listening to the “Music of the 80s” because it seems to ground and comfort me right now. Whatever it was that struck me in the gut at that particular moment, I turned the music off and rode in silence, contemplating it. Should I do it? Can I do it? I remember. I took a deep breath and threw out the loudest scream I could push from my lungs.