I remember the long way there: the jacaranda trees, the dead and dying palms, the sun sinking and turning the sky orange and pink. I remember rolling down the window and breathing in and in and in and in. I remember your laugh as my head tilted back against the headrest, feeling the heated breeze on my skin. I remember opening my eyes when the car stopped, finding you watching me. I remember the car moving again, the heartbreak of you looking away. You’d been sent on an errand, more milk, more honey, more brown eggs. You didn’t really want me to go with you but I made some excuse about fresh air and experience and you said, “don’t chat,” and took me with you.
I remember your hands on the steering wheel (“Damn thing’s too skinny, ‘s for your mama’s hands.”), your wrinkled eyes in the rearview mirror, shifting to look at me at the red lights. I remember your soft jaw looking square as the shadows of the trees passed over your face. I remember you talking and me only half-way listening, too busy watching how the air jiggled in your cheeks. I remember not asking, later, what you’d said, afraid you might suck your lips in, quiet like, and add broccoli to the shopping list. It’s not that you were a mystery to me. It’s not that the tide snuck up on me; it wasn’t a sudden undertow dragging me down without warning. I stood on the shore and and chose to walk into the water, chose to not turn back.
You can’t be called a surprise; even if, in time, you closed over my head. There was always something visceral, physical about your presence—the way you moved, the strength and speed, the gaze—that drew my attention. There was something much too satisfying about having you within reach; facing up against you, matching you blow-for-blow—having watched you leave so many— You said, “have you got it?” “Fine,” I let myself smile. “I think I can take it.
” You raised an eyebrow and looked past me at the window. “I don’t know, kid.” Deliberate, toothy. “It might be above your weight class.
“”I never tap out,” I told you.(That was our joke but something in you changed right then, like a firework exploding in reverse.)”No,” you paused, “I don’t suppose you do.” You got the milk and the honey and lined it up on old news paper in the trunk and I held the eggs in their paper mache, on my lap. I remember you said “look at this one.
Doesn’t think I know what I’m doing, Just let them alone.” I clutched the carton harder with each turn and lurched like a wrong spun thought. You were making fun of me.
I liked it. You didn’t care to to sit in judgement, you were just genuinely amused, scolding me nicely. I envied the absence of equivocal muddiness in your talk. Your praise of people was so unhindered. I realized I would never be able to say anything in your manner. I would never be so dissimulated about voicing my admiration. You did admire me. You liked how careful I was, you’d pat my hair and tell me (“If you cannot be chaste, be cautious.
” I never knew what you meant. I think you must have thought me lewd and thought enough of me anyway).I remember the drive back: the radio turned off, the windows rolled up, your eyes looking straight ahead. I remember your hand, leaving the wheel and touching my face like a dedication, passing through my hair like a consolation. I remember turning to look out the window, the dark blue sky, the landscape turning familiar again as we got closer and closer, back to where we started.
I remember the last time I ever rode in a car with you. I remember you at the wheel and your foot on the gas and the road unfurling in front of us.