The Drive

January 6, 2018

Day 6 Blog Post - New Year's Blogathon 2018

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When I couldn’t take it anymore I would borrow the car and just drive.

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It was the only way to really leave at night, for one thing. Sprawl-city, old-train-town-turned-car-paradise. And I was too invested in being a good kid to go out the window behind my desk (g_d it would have been easy, first floor right out into the backyard, down the path behind the backs of the houses, through the soccer field…but then you’re on a main thoroughfare with no people and few lights and cars, cars, cars, and you have to walk for miles to get anywhere, and do you really want to get anywhere anyway…). I didn’t even want to admit that anything ever got bad enough to justify taking off. But show me a life like that- can you? I don’t know that I know anyone who didn’t, doesn’t, at some point, literally or metaphorically, need to disappear into the night for a while.

Sometimes, they were small disappearances, negotiated spaces between the buildings full of people in the day, and the houses full of people at night, that were everywhere I ever was. There was nowhere, truly, to be alone, except the woods, and I got told too often what happened to girls who went alone into the woods at night to find that a particularly cathartic adventure. So I drove. There was something in the motion of it (still is), something in the lilt and speed, the shell bigger than my body hurtling, closer to the speed it felt like I was moving on the inside. I would loop the block three extra times to let a song finish, to let two songs finish, five songs, to scream or slam fists or get some salt water on the steering wheel, to speed up the hill just a little bit without killing any squirrels.

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Once, I drove to Borders bookstore by accident. It was, at the moment, the safest place I could think of in the world. It was bright and quiet and full of books, you know, books, those friends that demand nothing, not even sound, and offer whole other worlds. I left my parents’ house and drove without any destination or goal, just to move, just to drive, feeling that feeling of not being able to fit in my own skin, and of not being able to fit the world in through my skin. Implosion and explosion at the same time, intolerable. Kettle screaming and you can tell that when it boils dry the kitchen might catch fire but there’s no knob on the damn stove so what do you do.

I drove.

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I drove, apparently, to Borders. It was full of books and I didn’t want to read them, I just wanted to be surrounded by them. To know they were there. That I was neither alone, nor obligated to engage. No one in the aisles expected anything of me – they looked quietly at books, CDS, smiled when they found something that touched them. Simple. Slow. Quiet. No one needed anything from me, not even an explanation, not even a purchase. There was red carpet and warm lights and no raised voices and everything in the whole place was for imagining, imagining places, imagining space. I found an empty aisle and collapsed on the floor and, as silently as I could, leaning against the books, I cried.

I don’t remember why. I’m not sure I even knew at the time. Maybe that was part of the impossibility moving my body to the driver’s seat, the black night sky, the road. In the Borders bookstore on Ponce de Leon Avenue, years before it closed for good, before Atlanta ramped so far up into the momentum of gentrification that the peoples and communities and trees that the city truly belongs to and is made of started to get run out or over not in trickles but in droves, I opened my mouth, and I leaned my spine against the stained wooden shelving, against the spines of the books, and I silently screamed.

And then I got back in the car, and I drove again. I drove to a parking lot by a church, and got out, and looked up at the sky, and tried not to cease to exist. Tried to figure out how to make sound.

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I got back in the car, and I drove again. I looped and wound through the winding streets of a city that wouldn’t know a right angle if you hit it over the head with a T-square. That’s part of the magic, part of the motion. All foothills and bends, pulling me along, around the arc roads, the hip of a hill, and another. Music and silence, alternating on the stereo. Scorch scream and silence, alternating in the firepit in my throat. A city full of roads that move more like mountain highways, that move more like veins, in the off-traffic hours.

There is something about driving- soothe and power at once. Speed, sharp, the gentleness that comes from increasing the motion, not from trying to “calm down.” All my life I’ve been told to calm down, take a deep breath, ground, get still. Do you know what that does to a body that actually needs to move. Do you.

I knew, even back then, that environmentally I was not supposed to love the car. I knew, even back then, that in wanting to resist the myth of “American” individualism and isolation and independence at all costs, I was not supposed to love the car.

But I fucking loved the car. I still do. The place that is refuge and power both, that is a space with no one’s sound but your own. The thing that lets you move, meteor or molecule, hurtle, into night, into speed, into the safety of the bookstore aisle, into nothingness, into just a little more space, a little more silence and sound at your choosing and no one else’s. The dance, the disaster-turned-freedom. The drive.

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Cross posted at gatecitygardener.wordpress.com and patreon.com/racheleconomy