Lessons from the Driver's Seat
We’re in the car and she’s not talking, even though I can see through cloudy eyes a mind that’s working faster than I could ever think. She’s looking out the window, but only to avoid looking at me. I know there’s nothing worthwhile to look at in this town.
“I love you,” I say, and I say it softly, but it feels like I’m screaming because I know that she can’t hear me. She’s in her different world, where they speak a language no one knows.
But I say it just to say it as we drive down empty streets. She’s quiet for the rest of the night and this is the moment I realize I may never be able to save her.
We’re in the car and she’s crying.
I listen to her speak, but I’m not really listening, because my mind shuts down when she cries. I cannot hear her saying my name, I cannot hear her asking for my help. All I hear is her whimpers, her sobs, and it’s more deafening than her silence.
I’m in love with a tragedy and it’s the most helpless I’ve ever felt.
We’re in the car in the daylight, eating ice cream and driving aimlessly, looking for trouble.
I look at her and see nothing else. Only her, a wandering gaze, and the endless view with its endless possibilities behind her through the window. I can still find beauty in the story buried in her sadness.
We’re in the car and I realize that I don’t know how to make her happy.
I know how to make her sad until she looks down at her lap and cries. I know how to make her angry until she screams, not with her mouth, but with silence. I know how to make her satisfied enough to be quiet, contemplative, and sleepy-eyed. But I do not know enough to make her happy.
I realize that I don’t think I have ever even tried.
We’re in the car. I’m driving too fast, and then too slow. She is talking too fast, and then too soft, using fighting words. She turns into a whirlwind when she’s mad, and her anger flies so quickly past my face that I blink and I’m standing in rubble.
She opens the door and leaps onto the sidewalk before I can even register the sound of a car door slamming shut.
“Get back in the car, baby,” I beg as she gets back up, brushing off skinned knees. She marches away, the most hard-headed soldier. I follow her at snail’s pace anyway, only to make sure she walks the half-mile back to her house safely, before I drive away alone.
We’re in the car and it’s a rare day. She is reaching over the center console to hold my hand. She is leaning over to kiss my cheek at red lights. She is turning to look and smile at me, instead of getting lost star-gazing in the bleak view outside.
I should be happy, ecstatic, to see a glimpse of the girl I haven’t seen in so long, hidden behind a stubborn cage. But instead I am sad, confused, and angry that I do not know how to make her this way— happy.
I say something that I do not mean, and the smile slips away as slowly as it came. She looks away again, and it’s so quiet that I turn the radio on to a station I hate.
We’re in the car and she’s barely even breathing. I would rather she cry. I would rather she scream.
“I’m sorry,” I tell her. She fidgets with the bracelet I got her for last year’s birthday.
“It was a mistake,” I tell her.
She sighs in defeat. I can see nothing behind her opaque eyes, and I don’t stand tall enough to peek over the walls. “Take me home, please,” she says. So I do.
We’re in the car and her favorite song comes on from a mix CD she made me a long time ago.
“I miss you,” she admits.
“I’m right here,” I tell her, but she shakes her head.
“You don’t understand,” she says, and she’s right. I don’t. But I can try harder.
We’re in the car and a song I kind of know starts playing on the radio. I sing along and mess up the lyrics so bad that she laughs out loud, so giggly that I start laughing too.
I look at her, and she looks at me. She doesn’t say it out loud, but I hear her “I love you”, loud and clear.
We’re in the car and it’s been a long day for the both of us.
She looks down at her lap, and I can feel it coming. Her trembling hands, her sped-up breathing. I know what’s coming. It starts raining outside, like God knows what’s coming too. A single tear slides down her face and splashes onto her skirt.
I do not keep driving. I slow down. I stop the car, unbuckle my seatbelt, reach over and hold her as she begins to cry.
We’re in the car and it’s a three-hour drive to the ocean. The window is rolled all the way down, and the wind mutes the playlist I spent days on to get just right.
It doesn’t bother me, though, because she turns and smiles, and it’s like the first hint of sunshine after a winter-long storm. She mouths along with the wrong words to songs she barely knows. Her hair is all over the place, a tornado around her face. I can smell the beginning of a salty beach spring. It’s going to be alright.
We’re in the car and we both know better now.
She finds a place to park under a shady tree. I pause for a second. We look at each other, and she leans over to kiss me gently.
We get out of the car.