In towns small enough, a reasonable answer to “what are you doing right now?” is “driving.”
Anita and I would just drive. We’d put on the new Ani DiFranco record, mock it (“oh, I forgot my salsa-dancing shoes!”), and sail on past the big greenhouse just outside of town, headed for nothing because there was nothing to head for.
I’m not talking about a road trip. Road trips have stops and visuals and Cheetos crumbs stuck to dashboards under some spilt sweetened ice tea with lemon. Road trips have goals and meanderings and adventures and pictures. They normally involve shitty hotels or curling up in the back of a VW van.
We weren’t even going to Wal-Mart, which was in the next town over, although technically the minute town she lived in was even between us and “the next town over.” We were just driving.
I wasn’t even old enough to drive when we started hanging out. She had her master’s and sometimes came back to town to help in her mom’s math classroom. That’s how we met; her mom coached an academic team I was on, and sometimes she subbed for her mom. She was so fucking mean to us, but I wouldn’t back down. Fuck, when I was a kid, I wanted people to be mean to me. If she was trying to shake us off or create some distance, she was totally going about it the wrong way. Eventually, a ride home (to another “next town over”) turned into just driving.
We both had things we didn’t want to talk to other people about. She ripped my poetry apart, and I told her what to do about her conservative mom. I read her poems and got a murky feeling of the desert she lived in and all the Shakespeare she had ever read. She told me the word piping positively could not be used to describe the ambient temperature. She got me a big book of Horace’s odes, because I might have overstated the degree to which I understood Latin. (By a lot.) I mentioned her obliquely in a poem about funny plant names and smoking pot, which was not something I did yet.
One day, sitting behind the wheel of her not-quite classic BMW, she told me she would teach me to drive stick. So far, she’s the only person who ever offered to teach me to drive stick. I found the whole process horrifying – the extra pedal, the shifting – I could barely climb into my stepdad’s truck for lessons on an automatic, much less think about working a clutch.
It never happened, like you probably guessed. I think there would have been something wrong about me getting in the driver’s seat of that old BMW. She was the captain of that ship, and I was just along for the ride. I’m kind of glad it stayed that way. Driving could stay this thing she did, so I could look up to her for it. I know that, later, when I started driving, my friends who couldn’t drive thought I was some kind of demigod. At some point I just never saw Anita again, but I’d let her take me for another ride in that old BMW.