In Cars With Boys

Liz Colville
Oct 26 · 7 min read
photo: adrian via unsplash

One bird on the lawn and just as quickly, two. Two for joy, as someone else must be there to witness or dream up the feeling. But this is not the whole story. It’s a rhyme gone so rote in our minds that we don’t question how it sounds there. The first recorded version was two for mirth, not joy. The superstition was about magpies, not crows. Mirth is a better thing to aim for. But there is bliss in unknowing, in solitude, maybe even in touching sorrow now and then. Two for joy sounds like an order. The wrong song, coughing out of too-small speakers.

He had books on the nightstand like Death & Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, or Heidegger’s Being and Time, books in torpor that probably encouraged more torpor. Or maybe that’s just how I felt in the house at that time. I like to forget that there was also a book about love. Anyway, the closer my father gets to death, the farther away such books seem to have gone. He has his own story about death now, having experienced a few, and collected extra lives of his own along the way. Now the nightstand is in my house, and the top drawer is full of loose photos of one particularly treasured cat of our past, like pictures of an old lover. This is in some ways how I always thought of her. We gave her a name, Tenga, fitting for a ’90s Pixar star. It would be a film about the reformation of a Greek-Cypriot street cat, though she was never really reformed, continuing to pull whole animal carcasses off the kitchen counter into her final weeks.

Victor Mete has broken his curse, two years without a goal. I think in certain parts of the world (south of this border), he would have been kicked off the team a long time ago. There is a happiness close to laughter in his teammates’ faces. They have to really slam into each other to feel the weight of a hug beneath their mummified forms. I want to say something lifted off me as well, then, or in the hours after or preceding the game. A lazy change like how the astrologers describe planetary shifts. Nothing instantaneous. But I had been waiting for the purgatory of early pregnancy to give way to something that felt more familiarly me. To return to my previous level of gratitude, a pleasant sense of urgency. I had to push things along by meditating even more than I used to. It’s a teeth-brushing of the soul, as much of a drag to remember to do as other acts of hygiene, but just as satisfying (no, much more so) to complete. On the subject of spiritual hygiene, a maxim beloved to us non-drinkers: Keep your side of the street clear. Inside the hormonal cauldron of pregnancy I realized that street-cleaning begins at the level of thought, not word or deed. And in order to succeed at that, the day must begin with some minutes of thinking about nothing. Afterward, a gauzy card in the deck: How can you mother yourself? The card knows, verbatim, how my mind has been working.

I learned to drive in Chinatown. I learned to drive in my friend’s car in the empty parking lot of Jacob Riis Beach, our third friend patched in from London via FaceTime as I practiced turning. White lines marked each of the hundred parking spaces, which seemed an absurd level of detail when the lot was empty. I used the lines as imaginary curbs and bike lanes. It was a late summer weekday. I can’t recall why we weren’t at work. I think of the friend who taught me to drive almost every time I’m in my car, a deity hanging over the dash. We were learning to want for nothing. It took us a couple of years.

I passed, I think because the instructor went easy on me. Because my friend’s car was somehow a protected area, even though, mechanically speaking, there was always something going wrong with it. The parallel park, in a Queens cul-de-sac filled with brand new-looking mansions, had not been perfect. The yellow tint of summer had left the light, but the light was hanging on. It was a cloudless October day. Proof of my abilities were printed on a tiny receipt, no bigger than what I’d get after buying candy from the corner store a long time ago.

I loved someone else once. No, it was a nothing, I think, when I am not thinking about changing lanes. But then I had a dream I was outside a gate waiting to be let in, a golden gate, or maybe that was just the lighting scheme of the dream, and he was telling me how much he’d changed. But I knew that already. I witnessed it. If he can change…I’d trail off to myself, many times in those final months, anyone can. Anyone meaning me. I was probably written off when I decided to throw in the towel in New York, and now I watch the work deteriorate, and I don’t blame him if he sees me as a bit of a traitor. We cared a great deal. Symbiotically, energizing each other. We spent a lot of time wishing people would be better at their jobs, so we didn’t have to double down so much on our own. This is not a way to live. It brings out the worst in you. It is a waste of a mind. And yet — caring that much, wasn’t that the point of going to impossible schools, of doing better than our parents? That had been our argument, but then it started to sound like interference in the more noble goal of simply having a nice life. Anyway, when my father asks about how work is going, he means writing. Not that job, or this one.

We watch the restored footage of the Apollo 11 landing. It is our last weekend at the beach without children, god willing — a concept that makes this life change sound more real than it has so far. I think that anyone who believes the moon landing was a hoax need only look at Neil Armstrong’s face before he got inside the van to head to the shuttle. He looks burdened by the expectations of every single American, but then, his comments after he returned to Earth make it sound like it might all have been more of an inconvenience than anything else. I don’t care for it, he told reporters, of the lifestyle of spending eight days in a confined space 207,600 nautical miles from home.

Here, check your blind spots and most of the time, you will find nobody there. Not like in New York, when an Escalade could envelope your space silently, like a whale, more threatening in size than demeanor, though the demeanors of New York drivers were a problem too. The worst social inconvenience one can have here is to feel repressed by one’s obligation to, and empathy for, other people, and this selflessness, however frustrated, translates into how one operates on the road. It is a certain daydreamy distraction that causes people to have their high beams on, on the highway, at seven in the morning, not a passive aggressive signal for you to speed up or get out of the way. There is enough room here for us to be always out of each other’s way.

Alone, briefly uncoupled, is where we indulge in our fixations, books on death or, in my case, while driving, the audiobook of Thinking Fast & Slow, where I try to accept Kahneman’s insistence that his theory of System 1 and System 2 can’t be tied to any particular regions of the brain. Where I also try to believe his theory that “cognitive dis-ease” inhibits creativity, even though I don’t, and plan to email him about it. (How can this be, when so much creativity has come from sadness, anger, or even just having the flu?) If I take away one thing from this book, it’s that Donald Trump doesn’t have a System 2—the system of rational thought, deep calculation and cognitive complexity that in many scenarios takes over from our more impulsive, emotional System 1, or is supposed to.

And when not driving, I’m watching an Israeli documentary about MDMA’s effects on sufferers of PTSD. It is odd how private self-discovery, or self-improvement, is, and how even two people who are relatively on the same page about things take different paths and walk at different speeds toward it. Your heart of hearts is your phone, hidden behind its locked screen. There is where, these days, everything that is to be known about a person can be found. As we are the expression of our genes (a beautiful way of describing it), we are also the expression of our apps. I can only imagine what he watches when alone on a boat, far away from my body, my eyes half-covered thinking about it. Curious, scared, but not enough not to look, to imagine, to make a mess out of what I have only imagined. People call relationships hard. I would say they are terrific, in the archaic sense of the word: frightening.

It is hunting season. I can help you find the animals, I would say, if I had to convince him why he should stick with me. I’ll be quiet and observant. I’ll know that the sound of the young porcupine in the tree is the sound of someone unexpected (her for us, and us for her). I’ll remind you that crow’s feathers are not black, but very dark blue. I will not talk much of the friend who taught me to drive, because even speaking of him seems to stretch my individual freedom beyond where you’d like it to go. I will not long for a place where a straight guy calls another a beautiful man, a place like Malibu, where the step meetings are always packed to the gills, where everyone is an athlete of some kind and travels everywhere by quietly whirring electric scooter, and where veganism is no longer debated, but just is. Because those people are not mine, and our sun is the same.

Writer, ad creative director & runner. Fiction currently in The Southampton Review and The Oddville Press. Previously: Peloton, VaynerMedia, SFGate, Pitchfork.

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