When I was about 15 years old my best friend became a Christian and because I did not also become Christian, she declared me to be “evil” and broke up with me. I was sad about this as I was pretty sure I was not evil. Some people may disagree about that but luckily no one else has told me so.
I wasn’t a popular teenager anyway. Basically I was all the things adolescents hope not to be: fat, poor, bookish, and lacking in confidence. I had a few other friends but I avoided them out of hurt and fear. I spent quite a lot of lunchtimes at high school waiting in the longest queue for the toilets, so that it wasn’t glaringly evident that I had no one to hang out with. It probably was obvious though. Teenagers suck at plenty of things, but they are savvy (and savage) as fuck when it comes to observing social relationships. I wasn’t even cool enough to go and smoke behind a tree or something, no – I hid in bathrooms.
Fifteen years later I’ve thankfully graduated from hiding in public toilets (mostly). Now my car is my safe place. It’s my freedom. It’s my breather between locations, between people. It’s the space between obligations. No one expects anything of me in my car.
(Except my kid. When he’s with me I’m not allowed to play sad music or happy music in the car. He demands emotionally neutral music, which it turns out is dubstep, and some rock. How is it that my kid likes dubstep. He makes me turn it up just before the beat drops.)
Sometimes I drive somewhere and then sit in my car for ten minutes before I enter wherever it is I’m supposed to be. I have more than once banked on the theory that the going somewhere is the hard part and once you’re there it’s fine… and got as far as a front door before turning around and getting back into my car.
Sometimes I even sit in my car outside my own house. (OK, mostly that’s because I live up a lot of stairs and I hate stairs.)
I feel most alive when I’m alone in my car, the sun is shining, I’m driving round the beautiful bays of Wellington, and I’m singing along to loud pop music. I like doing this with someone else in the car too, but they have to be down with car karaoke (caraoke??). I have a “nostalgia” playlist on Spotify and if you can belt out Backstreet Boys or Blink 182 or The Offspring then you’re my people. If you also request Vengaboys at the club when you’re drunk, you’re my people. The only reason we don’t request Mysterious Girl at the club is because they always play it anyway.
Once my car was an essential escape vehicle. I was staying over at a guy’s house after several dates and things were going well, and then when we went to bed he didn’t even kiss me. I said something like “are you shy, being gentlemanly, or do you just not want to kiss me?” and he said “no no, just shy I guess,” and still didn’t kiss me. I rolled over and prayed he would go to sleep quickly so I could sneak out. (Well I don’t really pray, but I thought really hard.) I didn’t want to have a conversation about leaving in the middle of the night, I wanted to just leave. After a while he seemed to be asleep, and by that point I didn’t care if he was or not anyway, so I scooped up my clothes, got dressed in his bathroom, used my phone light to see my way out of the house, and drove away.
The me of a few years earlier would have stayed, miserable and awkward, and left in the morning as per convention. The amount of times I’ve been polite in situations I’ve been unhappy with is a sad indictment on societal norms. Politeness is a curse for women sometimes. (Often.) But this time I didn’t stay, and I was so happy driving away in my car. It would have felt much worse if I’d sneaked out and had to stand on the street to wait for a taxi or a bus.
In a world where I’m constantly expected to be less or more but rarely true to myself, the transitional, private nature of a car means that I can shrug off those expectations. I don’t have to do anything, because I’m in motion. And being in motion in a car is way less effort than running which is something I hear people like doing. I guess this is an ode to my environmentally-noxious tin-can on wheels, for being a place where I can just be. One day I’ll replace the hub caps and fix that indicator light and fill up the tank with more than $20 at a time so the petrol light doesn’t come on so frequently. Maybe I’ll even empty the car and clean it more than once every three months. (Unlikely. Did I mention the stairs?)