The hot wind flicks a few stray pieces of hair across my face. My arm out the window, I press my head against the headrest and stretch my fingers out to absorb the moving air. This passenger seat is my happy place.
I used to only like to drive with the windows up and the air conditioning on. In fact, that still is my preference when I’m alone. But there is something about being with him, watching the sun sink closer and closer to the horizon until it finally slips away. There is something about it. It makes me forget that I am semi-sticky with a thin layer of sweat. I forget that my hair is tangling in the wind. I forget about work, I forget about budgets, I forget about the technicalities of life. I want to reach out and grab handfuls of the sweet smelling summer air. I want to bottle it up and save it for those days you really need it. But I can’t do that. So I lean into it instead. Breathe it in. Hope it sinks deep into my skin.
Driving is sort of our thing. The first time he picked me up for a drive, we were sixteen. He played me his music and drove me to the outskirts of town and we talked. Since then we have shared all kinds of drives. We drove with his parents to visit his potential new college, the drive where I was too afraid to say anything when I ceased being able to feel my feet because the air conditioning was so cold, and the drive where Will and I walked around campus and I felt it, in my gut, how hard it was going to be. Where we sat on the benches at twilight and both tried not to cry because we both knew, I think, what was coming.
Even when we were apart, even when our lives had moved in different directions and we were no longer speaking, drives were still ours. The long stretches of highway always reminded me of him. Especially when I was driving alone, I really wasn’t. I was often thinking about him. If we are being honest, I can’t remember a long drive where he never crossed my mind, if only for a second. Sometimes in the form of ‘I wonder how he’s doing’, or ‘See, I’m happier now …. Right? Aren’t I? I am … Yeah for sure. Am I?’ or smiling when I heard a certain song that reminded me of him or crying when I heard a certain song that reminded me of him or changing the station because a song reminded me of him.
When I moved home after a famously rough year, and a random, fantastic chain of events resulted in us speaking again, we went on a drive. And I cried and told him everything that was wrong with my life and didn’t even try to make it pretty. And we just drove. And drove.
Then there was that evening we went on a drive where I told him to pull over in a church parking lot because I had to tell him right then and there that I loved him, for the second time.
There was the drive we took to our final appointment at our wedding venue when we had just found out minutes earlier that I was pregnant. Where we sat in shock and fear and excitement and disbelief and tried to make coherent sentences come out of our mouths and care about a wedding in just a few days when OH MY GOD WE ARE GOING TO HAVE A BABY. And I looked out the window as we drove by fields turning gold with the sunset glow and tried to find peace. And I found it, if only for a few moments at a time, but I did find it.
We shared that short, fast drive to the hospital for the last time just the two of us, and a day and some hours later shared a careful drive home as a family of three.
And one day I was sitting on the couch with our brand new baby in my arms, staring out the window and fighting back tears of being overwhelmed by EVERYTHING, when he softly told me to get in the car, because we were going on a drive. And as I looked out the windows of our car, I saw that the world still existed and everything was the same even though everything had changed, and I was okay again.
Every week we drive. We stop at the same gas station and buy tic-tacs for him, and strawberry Laffy Taffy for me. We drive past the house we have envisioned for our future and Will always honks as we pass it. Gia talks to us from her car seat and we log mile after mile, the three of us.
We just keep driving. We aren’t going anywhere in particular. We don’t have to be there at a certain time. This place, this several square feet on wheels that carries me and two of my greatest gifts in life, this is my little piece of heaven on earth.