I love being in a car with a dude. Mostly. I made a single attempt at learning to drive when I was sixteen, rolling up on sidewalks with my stepfather shouting directions at me and learning that, under certain stress conditions, stop signs are completely invisible. And Bummer once let me drive his father’s car from Morristown to Teaneck, but when we reached our destination I couldn’t fit the car into the parking spot and, vexed with all the instructions I was being given and more than a little stoned, I plowed the car directly and purposefully into someone’s Cadillac. A summer’s worth of waitressing tips squandered on a deeply satisfying moment of oh fuck this shit.
I never planned on being a driver, sort of idly figuring that there would always be plenty of more adult adults with cars and a working knowledge of what an alternator is to ferry me around. As a teenager, cars were expensive-seeming but alluring, mobile bedrooms with cup holders, a place where you could listen to music and smoke pot and fuck people. Despite all the windows, cars always feel weirdly private, and that is probably why you can see so many people rooting around in their noses at red lights.
My junkie boyfriend Monster drove a red Volvo that we lived in for a while after paying rent started coming in a distant second to buying heroin. The landlord had changed the locks on our apartment one afternoon, and we were both too embarrassed to call anyone to let us in to get our things. That’s how I lost all these arty photographs I had of my sixteen-year-old self frolicking naked in the snow, but everything else in that apartment I didn’t care about. It’s kind of freeing, actually, taking only what you can fit in the backseat of a car. Of course the car was towed a few weeks later while it was parked illegally on Bowery and Monster and I were wandering around high, and that was the end of that. We never saw the Volvo again.
Since then, I’ve dated men with and without cars in New York, and while I will broadly purport to not to care about these big gassy symbols of American oil subsidies, secretly there is something enticing about a man who can give me a ride. I think about the fireman I dated, a big man who was into wearing women’s pantyhose, and who had heated leather seats that made my thighs prickle. I liked climbing into his behemoth of a truck, which he attached a plow to in the winter and had a permit to drive on the beach in Montauk in the summer, and I spun a lot of relationship fantasies around this truck, even if I ultimately wasn’t into the whole pantyhose thing. It’s interesting, really, how specific our kinks can be.
Living in New York, a bike and a metrocard are perfectly acceptable means of transportation. My bike is some kid’s discarded Huffy, slurry-green with bits of masking tape gumming up the frame and a little license plate with my name on it. I ride around at terrifyingly aggressive speeds listening to Tupac or Ministry, blowing off the red lights as suggestions. It’s a feral street bike so crappy that it lives out front chained to a pole and doesn’t get stolen; recently it was buried in a snowbank for about a month. That’s my ride.
So this driving thing might take a minute. A friend of mine, who shares a name with my stepfather but not his innate volatility, takes me to the cemetery to practice, trusting me with control of his car, and I’m all but of course. I slide behind the wheel on the driver’s side, adjusting the seat like I own the place, but under my sweater I am projectile sweating. I am pretty sure that after I fasten my seatbelt and carefully angle the mirrors, I will drive us directly into a pole and explode. Earlier I had texted him: Are you ready to go run people over? Why would anyone trust me with a giant rolling murder machine, ever?
The cemetery was a brilliant idea, though, because the people here are already dead, and no one laughs at me when I panic because there is an old holiday wreath lying in the middle of the lane and I’m not sure if you can run over it. Also cemeteries are just awesome. When I was a kid, a cemetery was a place to hang out where no responsible person could see you and you could just hide behind a mausoleum and finger another teenager. I love cemeteries. The dead are so nonjudgmental.
Today, practicing my three point turns amid the graves gives me a rush of pleasure, which I didn’t expect. I always tend to think that other people can do things I can not do—own a home, drive a car, fix a problem, learn things. But that’s changing. I can drive myself places, and if the people behind me honk, I can handle it.
After I totally parallel park the car like a regular person in front of Starbucks, I text Connecticut to let him know about this bit of magic I have just performed. We check in with each other a lot during the day, and it fills the gaping boyfriend-shaped hole I’ve been living with for these past couple of years since Sketch moved out. Connecticut and I make vague plans to road trip sometime soon (we’re talking Centralia, the mine-fire ghost town on both our bucket lists), but our plans are not about making out over the gearshift. It’s about driving with someone, that united feeling you get from having your eyeballs accelerate in the same direction as someone else’s. It’s about driving. It’s about finally getting a turn to fucking punch it.