Back seat of the shit-brown Datsun pickup, squeezed in where groceries, chainsaws, or dogs should go, not children, tiny fingers wrapped tight around the steel rods holding the headrest upfront, glimpses of the road from either above a sister’s head too small in the front only a ponytail tied with hard plastic marble-sized fasteners, reaching above the back of the seat, or perhaps, I’d be bumping and weaving, a bobblehead bobbing left and right trying to see the road ahead from either side of my mom’s neck – like shutting one eye, then the other, the scene above jumping from left to right, that’s if and only if mom was in the front seat, rare, but not never, and me and my sisters, peeking from the sliver beneath the hard pleather headrest and above the dog and horse hair covered upholstered seats, fighting for a view of the road ahead, from jumper seats where leftover kids like us were forced to ride.
71 Plymouth Duster. My first car, shit-brown in color too, but my very own, by way of my grandmother from the double-wide upstate New York, who upgraded to a fancy, silver K-car, allowing me to have my very own vehicle. I was SPOILED. My own car at 16 years old, I had a license, my own wheels, and a brand new boyfriend from the private school in town. Biiiiigggggg back seat, of which I took full advantage, and when the police officer knocked on the fogged up windows in the back of the closed-for-the-season apple orchard, he didn’t make us get out, naked as we were, but did tell us to get home. Now.
A driver’s license, boyfriend, and big back seat
Yellow Jeep Cherokee. Not sure of the year, but old body style. Lots of room, so I could move myself back and forth to college. Outfitted with cassette deck, upgraded from the 8-track it came with, a perfect party car, load ‘em up, drive ’em to the lake, drink all day. Sober up, come home to the apartment at 11 John Street. Oswego New York – where it snowed so much I thought my car was towed, but the snow was smooth over the top of my car and all the cars with on-street parking, not even a hump of an outline. But upstate, that ain’t nothin’, and the roads still got plowed, classes never canceled. Had sex in that car. I sure it happened, state school and all, but I don’t recall the details, but the off-roading was epic. It was a great car.
Off-roading education with PBR, Matt’s Beer Ball, and OV splits
Baby blue ford maverick. No heat, no trunk, brakes need pumping, hole in the floorboard beneath the gas pedal so big I could stick my foot through if not careful. Floor mats soaked through, water level inside the car sloshing like the tides while driving up and down the hills of the southern tier. Duffle bags, backpacks, and gifts tucked up on the seats, never on the floor or in the trunk (what trunk?) or they’d be ruined, sopping wet like your shoes and jeans by the time you arrive.
Rainy trips upstate were a disaster, tried to outrace rain if in the forecast, over the Triboro, up 684 to 84 then farther and farther between exits, as towns died off and route 17 led farther and farther away, to a part of New York New Yorkers don’t know exists. Not called Rte 17 anymore but numbered something entirely different for people who no longer make the drive, nothing but college kids, moms and dads heading home, alone, fly fisherman, fancy Jewish resorts, like in Dirty Dancing, and so many bloated deer and mammals of undetermined origin, killed on the desolate highway to nowhere, it must have been suicide.
Holes in the floor boards, brakes broke, trunk stuck, headlights iffy.
The baby blue maverick was magic, though, a means to an end, that end being weekend door-to-door visits with the boy I loved, who’d grow to the man I’d marry. It was a hand-me-down, or hand-me-up in this case (the vehicle not the guy), a universal family winter beater that kept getting passed on to whichever of the Mayer girls needed a car that (usually) started.
She could exit off the highway with no hands on the wheel, just a tap on the barely-there brakes, I’d lean on the brakes and the car bears right, right off the exit toward the three church, no-cop, no traffic light town. If I slam on the brakes at the end of the ramp, then it’s a hard right — great party trick, look, mom, no hands, I say to no one. I’m alone, driving from my apartment in Queens, first job in Manhattan, back and forth to Binghamton every weekend just about, because I couldn’t go that long without seeing him, once upon a time. We couldn’t stand to be apart, and we’d escape his parent’s home and take that car out to Dilly Road and practice what I thought we’d do forever, but instead, the cars got nicer, the back seat lonely. Then lonelier.
Happened so slowly I didn’t realize it at the time, or maybe I did and didn’t want to. Regardless, cars aren’t magic and if you take your hands off the wheel long enough, you eventually crash.
I hate car shopping, really I do, but the holes are massive and I’m tired of driving alone.
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Jen Sage-Robison Westport Writers Workshop prompt: marriage is like driving a car [or] you’ll never know the things I could tell you