“I’ll wait in the car”

My dad was a good sport. He always picked me up from swim practice. He always drove me to the mall. For life in suburbia, parental quality was measured in a parent’s willingness to get in the car and pick up their kids. My dad was always there.

He would bring a book, usually something on Japanese history or Buddhist philosophy. No matter what we were doing, he’d say, “okay, I’ll wait in the car.” Sometimes he’d be sitting there for hours, he claimed. When he forgot his book, he’d admonish himself, shaking his head, “I should have known better” as I finished a three hour goodbye to my latest best friend at swim practice.

In typical dad fashion, he also saw it as his responsibility to fill all our vehicles with gas. As a collector of old beat up cars and with two daughters who “knew” how to drive, he would often spend the whole afternoon taking different cars from our driveway to the gas station and back. When he got sick and couldn’t drive anymore on his medicine, it was so important for him to fill the car for us that my sister and I risked our lives in one of the most harrowing journeys to the gas station I think we’ll ever experience. With him behind the wheel and his oxygen tank in the back seat, he pulled out of the driveway straight into a bush, unsuccessfully tried to swipe his grocery store rewards card into the machine, and then forgot his credit card twice at the pump before collapsing back into the car. The drive back was as scary as the drive there.

But we knew how much these things meant to him. He had been doing them all our lives. Even at his most sick, he still wanted to care for us the way he knew how. He still wanted to drive us around. He still wanted to wait in the car.

“Wanna drive around?”

Last night, I had a nightmare about driving. These aren’t uncommon and always seem to involve me losing control of the car, or forgetting how to drive.

I was never a good driver. When I got my license, it was so surprising to my parents that my mom refused to get in the car with me for a full year and a half after I passed. My dad used to joke that my sense of direction was so bad that I had to drive to the mall to orient myself before driving anywhere else. It acted as my North Star. Even then, in the earlier days of my driving life, on a rainy day with poor visibility, I accidentally turned left out of the mall parking area into a two lane highway of oncoming traffic. Sometimes I think back on some of my driving adventures and am indeed surprised I made it through. When others got “prettiest eyes” or “most likely to succeed” as senior superlatives in the high school yearbook, I was nominated by my peers for a new category, complete with picture: worst driver.

I received the award with a certain amount of honor, and I will add: I have never been in or been responsible for a car accident. Just an occasional bump into a parked car (always leaving a note!) or a curb.

Nowadays, I don’t drive, and my biking abilities have vastly improved in Corona times since I don’t use public transit anymore either. But at the start of this pandemic, I missed driving more than anything else. I grew up in a town where that was the main past-time, driving around in circles, stopping at the convenience store, listening to music, breathing in teenage second-hand cigarette smoke. There is nothing that relaxes me more than a 90s soft rock song blasting on the radio as I wiz by trees on an empty suburban road.

But perhaps, at least for now, the world is better off without me behind the wheel. Now I listen to these songs at home, and think back nostalgically on my younger years. It’s strange what people idealize from their youth. I suppose my dreams remind me of a reality I choose to forget.