If I couldn't drive, I would be lost.
I didn't get my driver's license on my 16th birthday. There was no one available to drive me to the Department of Motor Vehicles that day so that I could take my test and get licensed, and I remember walking around my small hometown aimlessly, no destination, just walking and walking and raining self-pity down upon myself, thinking, "Oh woe is me! It's my birthday. It's my birthday and I'm sixteen and I'm all alone and I can't even drive. Woe is me." The funny thing is, I have no memory of the day I actually did get my driver's license. It couldn't have been long after my birthday, maybe a few days later, maybe the next week, but all I can remember is walking around on the 15th of June that year, eyes cast downward to the cracked and rolling sidewalk, and feeling powerless, restless, and shifty.
I guess I've always felt the need to get away. To me, driving means going, leaving, taking action, even if only in the smallest way. If I cannot drive, I am stuck. Even if I'm just circling around the block, driving makes me feel as though I'm doing something. At least I'm moving, and it doesn't have to be forward.
And maybe I inherited the need to drive from my old man. I don't remember he and my mom ever fighting or arguing during their thirteen year marriage. I remember being shocked when they divorced; I kept thinking, "But they don't ever fight!" Shortly after he moved out, though, I realized that I didn't ever witness fights or arguments between them because my dad would always leave before the tension could escalate to that point. As soon as there was friction, he'd head to the driveway. His little brown Nissan truck would rev and back up, and soon all we could see were red taillights and a grey cloud of gravel dust kicked up as his spinning tires propelled him the hell out of there.
I'm the very same way. And the leaving is not necessarily avoidance, but more...achieving the space and the quiet that I need in order to listen to what my heart is saying. When I need to figure things out, I take to the road. When I need to move, I drive.
Eliot has inherited this need, I think. From the very beginning, he has loved being in a moving vehicle. He was a very Jekyll and Hyde baby, one who stayed perfectly content for most of the day, but then morphed into a screaming, wailing, inconsolable banshee of pure evil every evening from twilight until dawn. Through trial and error, we eventually found the only two things that would keep him from screaming: the vacuum cleaner and car rides. (Not at the same time.) Eliot and I went for a LOT of car rides when he was an infant. As soon as the motor was running, he would conk out. As soon as I shut the car off, he would wake up and resume wailing. Over the course of a few particularly terrible weeks, I started driving him around in the afternoons, listening to books on CD while he napped. I remember soaring down endless county roads, listening to John Grisham's A Painted House with Eliot in the backseat, snoozing away, secure in his tiny five-point harness. Driving represented the calm, much-needed respite from real life.
Eliot still likes riding in the car. Sometimes he'll be the one to suggest we take a car ride, and we'll buckle up and head out to anywhere, both of us singing along to the radio and dancing as wildly as possible against our seat belts. Sometimes we'll just ride quietly, with only the sound of the wind and our tires rushing along pavement. It gives us time to think and space to feel grateful for just being alive. Or at least, that is what it gives me. I feel an unexplainable connection to the world as it rushes past the windows of my car. When I am driving, I feel tethered to my life, not in a restricting way, but in a reassuring, comforting way. I feel like no matter how far I may roam from it at any given moment, I do have a center, and a purpose. And when I look in the rear view mirror and see Eliot's little face, so like my own, reflected back at me... then I look forward to the road ahead, wherever it leads us.