Riding in Cars

I am marking a line in the middle of the car seat, karate chopping it saying “Here. Here. Here,” down the blue naugahyde. This is my side and that is yours. When my younger brother John’s toe illegally crosses the border I karate chop again and alert the National Guard.

 “Mom! John’s on my side!” 

My mother turns her head to regard my father’s profile without removing her sunglasses. She grabs a loose strand of hair twisting in the breeze from the open window and guides it behind her ear. Her shoulders slump. My father flicks the butt of a burnt out cigarette through the open window and performs a karate chop to the blinker.  For the rest of our annual drive to the outer banks of North Carolina, I sit alone facing backwards with the brown paper grocery bags crowding me on both sides in the way back seat of the wood paneled station wagon. I watch the world recede, rows of tobacco plants flickering by.

He WAS on my side.

The week after that vacation my parents marked an imaginary line down the middle of our lives.  “Here. Here. Here.” This is my side and that is yours. My father claimed the pretty young blonde and my haggard mother got four rambunctious boys. 

We all shifted positions.  My older brother Chuck moved to the front seat with a red haired boy’s determination, occasionally firing warning shots in the form of a stuck out tongue or middle finger. The battle would escalate until my mother would glance in the rear view mirror and catch me retaliating by attempting to flip my brother the bird, holding all of the fingers on my right hand down, except the middle one with my other hand. I learned to watch the road pass behind me without ever knowing what was coming up ahead of me.

On the rare occasion when I am in the driver’s seat now I am filled with anxiety about what COULD be down the road.  What if there is no parking?  What if the traffic is bad?  Oh, I hate turning left on the Harvard bridge. 

We are driving down Mile Road, the marsh sparkling on either side of us.  I am in the front passenger seat, Paul as always is in the driver’s seat and a fresh set of troops are in the back.

“Dad, let’s go to the beach closest to the restrooms.  I’m on my period,” a command comes from the back seat.

“Your father is on his exclamation point,” Paul shouts back, referring to my constant issue of warnings.  Watch out for this car! That person isn’t looking! There’s a parking spot!  Everything around us a clear and present danger.

When I issue one more piece of advice Paul turns to look at me without removing his sunglasses.

“What’s your job?”

“To sit here and look pretty,” I say staring ahead.

Isak Dinesen said “God made the world round, so we would never see too far down the road.”  It’s a quote that appeals to me, even if I cannot seem to embrace its full meaning. Paul angles the car into an impossibly narrow parking spot.

“Have I crunched you yet?” He says.

“Not yet,” I say and I know he never will.

But that doesn't stop me from worrying about it.

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