Memories Of Long Drives And Falling In Love

by Kathleen Harris
Originally Published: 

You don’t tell your husband that you like it when he does that, because you only realize now, in its casual occurrence, that you’ve missed it. But then, you think that he must have missed that gesture as well, because he lets the warm square of his palm rest on the back of your neck, once he’s turned around and shifted the car out of reverse. Maybe he likes that feeling of knowing you’re his, too—and that he’s yours.

You tell him that you still want to drive a restored Volkswagen Beetle someday. You describe the green bug that your uncle used to own in the ’70s, and how you’d balance on the grooved running boards while he rolled it down your grandparents’ driveway in Queens with the driver’s side door open and his arm around your waist. You thought you were the 4-year-old shiznit. Your husband laughs and tells you that he’ll buy you one, someday, when the kids are grown, so you can tool around town like the wild-spirited old woman he knows that you’ll be. Your husband gently squeezes the sides of your neck between the heel of his hand and his two middle fingers, in a slight shift of pressure that says so many things that you already know, but still need to be told—repeatedly, forever, in small ways just like this.

You think of all the makes and models that you’ve traveled in together. The forest-green Subaru hatchback with the tan leather interior that he inherited from his parents while you were in college. The one he picked you up in when you were still friends then, and not yet dating. You fell in love with him in that front seat before you’d ever even kissed him. You recall the visceral feel of it—in your stomach and chest and in the delicious spin of your head—before you could fully understand what you were experiencing.

You remember when the transmission finally gave out on that car, on his drive up to college a few days before the start of senior year, somewhere near Roscoe, New York, and that he’d called you to retrieve him from the gas station where he’d been towed. You had been dating for several months by then, so it was logical, but it still felt so good to know that you were the one he thought to call first from the pay phone.

There were numerous drives between your parents’ house and his, when you were both living at home that year during school breaks. You drove your silver Subaru, Justy, then, the one with the three-cylinder engine and manual transmission. You’d pass Revolutionary War-era hillside cemeteries as you drove windy Connecticut roads—and you’d feel a dual-edged pang of mortality and gratitude. You shifted gears in time to the radio, because you were 20, and you still thought that was appropriate. You depressed the gas pedal harder and shifted into third, trying to tick minutes off your romance commute.

You think of the summer night drives you took together when you were dating, and the freedom of being together without concern for destination. His hand grazed your thigh. You recall the placement of it. The resting. The hem of your skirt and the way it fell. Your bony, Irish-white knee. The cool air on your bare skin as the fabric shifted.

You remember parking the car, outside your house or a few streets away, in places where there wasn’t any traffic. The cul-de-sac. The dead ends. The grove of juniper trees near Shippan Point. The promising darkness that surrounded when the headlights clicked off. The glow of the radio. The shudder of the engine cooling down.

You don’t often consider such things when you ride in the car with him now. You can’t. There are too many trips dominated by inaccurate GPS directions and snippy arguments about lateness and spilled cheese crackers and pleas for bathroom stops and water and earphones and requests to close the window and open the window and just open the window a little more, Ma, and license plate games and I Spy games and entire childhoods and marriages and lives flying by in a blur of parkways and tree lines and open spaces. There aren’t booster seats in the backseat of your car anymore. You try not to think about the fact that your children will soon be in the driver’s seat.

But sometimes, you reach over and place your hand on his right thigh while he drives. You run your fingers along the inseam of his jeans. You remember. And so does he. He takes your hand with his left hand while he steadies the wheel with his right. He curls his fingers around your hand in that way that makes you feel protected, and that you are his. He lifts your hand to his lips and kisses it once, returns it to his thigh, and continues to cup it in the warm square of his palm. You say he needs both hands to drive, so you try to pull your hand away, but he keeps it there, in that small shift of pressure, and says, “No. I don’t.”

This is what you’ve always wanted. To know that he is yours, and that you are his, and that you will travel together on life’s long, winding drive.

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