This post is a part of the Little Victories series.
I love to drive.
I mean, obviously. I grew up in the suburbs where everything was a half an hour away, and there was no way in the world to get to your boyfriend’s house unless your mom drove you there or you walked all night alongside the road and almost stepped on a lot of bloody possums and risked your life at the hands of the men who your parents were pretty sure drove around late at night in NJ suburbs, waiting to steal a girl.
I got my license on my seventeenth birthday. It was sleeting and I had already aced the written exam. I drove around the course with a very serious gentleman who I hoped desperately to impress with my ability to brake fully at the stop sign. I passed. The parallel parking gods smiled upon me. Just that once (later that year, in the minivan I borrowed constantly from my mom, they would cruelly punish me again and again).
(this was the car my mom had. A Toyota Previa. Amazingly ugly. Incredibly difficult to parallel park. source)
And then I was free! I was blaring Smashmouth, or whatever I listened to back then, and swinging around breathtaking corners and tearing off into the openness of the world.
I still remember that feeling. Before, New Jersey had felt like a yard with a very tall fence around it. Now it was just a little state, connected by roads to other states, which were all connected to each other, making a whole country, which was connected to other countries, which were surrounded by the fantastic expanse of the ocean, which was filled with migrating pods of mysterious whales and other magical things. I could go anywhere. Even if I only chose to drive to the Shop Rite for the sugary cereal my mom wouldn’t ever buy or meet a friend at the coffee shop in town, there was that huge potential. Maybe I’d just take off. Maybe I’d end up in Montana.
(who knew it was just a couple of exits off the NJ Turnpike! source)
But I didn’t. I ended up in New York City, where it seems a little ridiculous to have a car.
Suddenly, I had friends who had grown up here, who had never even driven. Who didn’t have a license. Who were pretty sure they’d never even need one.
One of my friends started dating a guy with a car recently, and it’s like this exotic thing. This incredibly powerful thing. A car! He could take you anywhere! How sexy!
I was hanging out with four women friends the other day and one of them was talking about how her boyfriends have always driven her places because she can’t drive. Someone else said, “I got my license but I’m a terrible driver! I’m dangerous behind the wheel. I hope I never have to drive again.” Everyone was agreeing, and I was thinking, “I love to drive!” but the conversation moved on before I could say anything and it would’ve been weird to go back.
I don’t get many chances to drive these days. I haven’t driven regularly since before college, really. That was eight years ago.
(I walk everywhere, which is also great. source)
It’s been even longer for Bear, but something happened when we rented a car on vacation or returned home to one set of parents and borrowed a car to go somewhere. He would automatically get in the driver’s seat. Sometimes he’d say, “You want to drive?” and I’d say no. Automatically.
I guess my dad always drove when my parents were in a car together. I guess the man usually drives when there’s a man and a woman. I don’t know. He’s a confident driver, and after all, I hadn’t done it in a long time.
So I never drove.
There is something about Bear. About marriage. About having a competent partner. It makes me feel safe. It makes me thankful, so thankful, when we are in a place where we don’t speak the language and he can still figure out what the signs say enough to get us home. It makes me so relieved when I can’t understand what exactly the terms of this lease are, and have never learned how to calculate all of my finances on a spreadsheet and don’t care about enough details to manage the practical minutia of my own life sometimes and I just don’t have the patience to deal with Time Warner Cable for another hour on the phone and it’s OK, because he’s got it, he’s doing it, he has some secret for making it happen, and then, like magic, it has happened and we’re doing something fun instead.
There is something about being married to a guy who seems to have memorized an endless list of rules that govern the complicated mechanics of the colossal clicking system underneath the world. I relax a little. I am free to occupy myself elsewhere. I am free to think bigger thoughts.
(things sometimes feel unnecessarily complicated. source)
It loosens me.
And I begin to think that maybe it’s not worth trying because I don’t have to be good with the Time Warner Cable rep and I don’t have to learn all of the intricacies of the lease. I would slow things down if I were the one to calculate the numbers on the spreadsheet or book the flight (he is so good at booking the cheapest flight! I am clumsier).
I am not stupid—I know I could do all of these things. But I don’t believe that people should do everything themselves just because it’s better or because what if your partner dies or because absolute self-sufficiency is the most important thing ever. I don’t think it is. I think it’s smart to do things that you’re good at and ask for help when you need it and as long as you can take care of basics, you can figure out the rest when you need to. And if Bear wants to book the flight I’m happy to let him, and to save some money that way.
But at the same time, I miss driving.
On our belated honeymoon, we took Highway 1 to Big Sur, and I was popping Bonine because Dramamine makes me fall instantly asleep and otherwise I will barf. Actually, I got sick even on the way to the bank or the ice cream parlor. I got sick between his dad and his mom’s houses, which are only twenty minutes apart. I was embarrassingly sick on the way back from the airport, with his stepdad driving and his mom asking us cheerful questions about life in New York. On a day trip to the coast they had to stop the car so that I could get out and sit miserably on the side of the road for a while, counting to one hundred over and over again and wondering if his family was wondering what kind of weak genes I might pass on to the offspring.
And I am a bad navigator. My mom used to yell at me on the way to the museum because I could never read the map and we were usually lost. Even my phone, with its clever aps, is always tricking me. So I yell at it.
I am a bad passenger. But for years, I didn’t even think to drive.
And then recently we were doing this two hour trip pretty frequently. On the highway in a rented car, Bear crammed into the driver’s seat which wouldn’t adjust enough to accommodate his frame, leaning forward, annoyed. He was miserable. Two hours of miserable Bear on the highway. Stuck in traffic, then suddenly flying by trucks, me trying to navigate, yelling at my phone. “What the hell is it trying to tell me? It’s lying to me. Seriously, this thing is making shit up right now. That is NOT WHERE I SAID TO TAKE US!”
Bear about to lose his mind. “I hate driving,” he said.
“Wait,” I said, finally. “Pull over.”
So he did. And I got behind the wheel. I drove for hours, tense with happiness.
(i’d be willing to give one of these a shot too, if someone would let me. source)
“You’re going too fast!” he said a couple times, grabbing onto something the way my mom used to do when I drove and she was in a perpetual state of almost having a heart attack from it.
That was maybe six months ago, and now, every time we’ve had to drive, it’s been me. Four hours—I’ve got it. Highways, I love them—I feel like I’m getting somewhere I want to be faster. Winding roads—whee! I’m not sick! I can’t get sick when I drive! I’m on the edge of the world! Even traffic doesn’t really upset me. Being behind the wheel is nothing like being in the passenger seat. The passenger seat is boring. There’s nothing to do with your feet. You notice how slowly time is moving on long trips.
Driving is being in control.
And after living in the city for four years, I am acutely aware of how delicate the car is, how fragile we are inside it, how brave and reckless and absurd it is to hurtle over the pavement like this, always a few blurred feet away from chaos and death, always just a little closer to where we need to go.
I think I always let Bear drive because I was afraid. I had forgotten how much I loved to drive. How good I am at it. How capable my hands are on the wheel. How quick my reflexes have always been. I thought that he should be the one entrusted with our safekeeping. He is so competent. I thought it was more sensible to let him be responsible. We were more likely to arrive unscathed.
Bear is happy in the passenger seat. He reads aloud to me from a historical biography that I never would’ve picked up on my own, then from my mystery novel. He flips through the radio, and we always agree on what constitutes good music (we both have relatively unrefined taste). He is a flawless navigator, so we are never lost. He is happy and relaxed.
And I—I love to drive.
(hell yeah! source)
* * *
Did everyone else’s dad always drive when your parents were in a car together? I’m curious.
Unroast: Today I love the way I feel when I turn on 30 Rock after a long day. My brother Gabe, Bear, and I line up on the couch and watch it together, laughing hysterically. How is it that funny?!
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she says: “Haha, i love how i look kind of surprised about my cake. That was really good cake! Chocolate, gooey. Yum!”
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