Riding in cars with boys

His arm grips the headrest on the passenger seat when he turns to back out of your driveway, the one that you should really call to have re-surfaced, and which runs alongside the house you bought together more than ten years ago. You like that feeling of his arm on the headrest, of being protected, of being his, even if the gesture isn’t mostly about you. He doesn’t do it so often anymore, because he has a back-up camera in his car. You refused to trust that camera for months whenever you drove his car, because you heard your father’s words echoing from that school parking lot in Connecticut where he taught you how to drive nearly thirty years ago — “Check your mirrors twice. Then turn all the way around and check everything twice. ”

You don’t tell your husband that you like it when he does that, because you only realize now, in its occurrence, that you’ve missed it. And then the moment passes. But then you think that he must have missed it, too, because he places the warm square of his palm on the back of your neck, once he’s turned around and shifted the car out of reverse. Maybe he likes that feeling of knowing you’re his, too. That he’s yours. That this is all still ours.

You tell him that you still want to drive a restored Volkswagen bug someday. You describe the green Bug that your uncle used to own in the seventies, and how you’d balance on the grooved running boards while he rolled it down your grandparents’ driveway in Queens Village, with the driver’s side door open and his arm around your waist. You thought you were the four year-old shit. Your husband laughs and tells you that he’ll buy you one, someday, when the kids are gone, so you can tool around town like the crazy old woman he knows you’ll be, and he squeezes the sides of your neck between the heel of his hand and his two middle fingers, in just a slight shift of pressure that says so many things that you already know, but still need to be told — repeatedly, forever, in small ways just like this.

You think of all the makes and models that you’ve traveled in together. The forest-green Subaru hatchback with the tan leather interior that he inherited from his parents while you were in college. The one he picked you up in when you were still friends then, and not yet dating. You fell in love with him in that front seat before you’d ever even kissed him. That’s what that feeling was, before you could really understand it.

You think of how the transmission finally gave out on that car, on his drive up to Syracuse a few days before the start of senior year, somewhere near Roscoe, New York, and that he’d called you to come and pick him up from the gas station where he’d been towed. Your heart squeezed a little tighter because he called you to come and get him. You had been dating for several months by then, so it was logical, but it still felt so good to know that you were the one he thought to call first from the pay phone.

There were many drives between your parents’ home in Ridgefield and his in Stamford, on the Connecticut/New York border between Fairfield and Westchester Counties, when you were both home that year on school breaks. You drove your silver Subaru Justy then, the one with the three-cylinder engine and manual transmission. You’d pass Revolutionary War-era hillside cemeteries as you drove through Pound Ridge and Bedford — everywhere, really — and you’d feel a slight pang of mortality and gratitude. You shifted in time to the radio, because you were the twenty year-old shit, and you felt your heart beating faster when you passed certain markers and houses, knowing that you’d be with him in just a few minutes. Even less than a few, if you depressed the gas pedal a little bit harder. (Your father taught you to drive stick. You always shifted into third. Even on windy back roads in Connecticut.)

You think of drives you took together when you were dating. The freedom of being together on warm, windows-down nights, when you didn’t care about the destination. His hand on your thigh. The placement. The resting. The hem of your skirt and the way it fell. Your bony, Irish-white knee. The cool air on your bare skin as the fabric shifted.

You remember the parking. Outside your house or a few streets away, in places where there wasn’t any traffic. The cul de sac. The dead ends. The open area near Shippan Point. The shudder of the engine turning off and cooling down. The promising darkness that surrounded when the headlights clicked off. The radio. The cassette tapes. The mix that you made for him when he was still in London, after you’d started dating there, and you had to be the one to fly home first. The one he kept and played, repeatedly.

You don’t always think of these things when you’re riding in the car with him now. You can’t. There are too many trips filled with bad directions and snippy arguments about being late and spilled cheese crackers and pleas for bathroom stops and water and earphones and requests to close the window and open the window and just open the window a little more, Ma, and license plate games and I Spy games and entire childhoods flying by in the blur of parkways and treelines and open spaces. There aren’t even booster seats in the back seat anymore. You can’t even remember who you gave them to.

But sometimes, you reach over and place your hand on his right thigh while he drives. You run your fingers along the inseam of his jeans, back and forth. You remember. And so does he. And he takes your hand with his left hand while he steadies the wheel with his right. And he holds it, in that way that makes you feel protected, that you are his. And he lifts your hand to his lips and kisses it once. And puts it back on his thigh. And keeps holding it in the warm square of his palm. And you say he needs both hands to drive, so you try to pull your hand away, but he keeps it there, in that small shift of pressure, and says, “No. I don’t.”

This is what you’d rather have, even more than the feeling of the first time you got into his car. This is what you’ve always wanted.

 

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Comments

  1. Love! I think I might have to ‘borrow’ this idea. I’ve really never thought to write about a history in cars but it seems super fun!

  2. There was more that I could have written — including having to buy a new car two days before I gave birth to Ben, because we realized that two infant/toddler car seats would not safely fit in the back of our Subaru Forester. (We have a real history with Subarus, don’t we?) I have a strong connection to cars, dating back to phone calls that familly members placed to each other when cars were purchased. It was an event, like a wedding or a birth. Write about it!

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