Here In My Car

I-I-I Need You.

by Cherri Ellis


I love to drive my car. I do not love to drive it when there are other people in it, as I find their jittery feedback annoying. But when I am alone, I am in my sanctuary, my office, my panic room, my carriage. Your car is where you transition from yourself to one of your representatives, your various selves, those moments of transportation changing who you are as well as where you are. Your car sees the real you. You might park at the office and send in a professional, but you are someone else completely turning into your mother’s driveway.

If your life has worked out that you get to pick up your kids from school, you know what an important sliver of the day that is. There seems to be a window where you can extract information from 12-year-olds somewhere between when they throw their backpacks in the backseat and illuminate their faces with a screen. Cherish the time that your kids are not able to drive. I once drove my daughter and her friends to a Halloween party when they did a group costume. A very urban song came on the radio and they all started rapping along, and I remember laughing out loud, so happy was I to be cruising down the road with a bunch of prepubescent girls rapping like gangsters, each one dressed as a different color Skittle. If I live to be 100, it’s memories like that one that I hope will be dancing across my mind.

Singing in the car is better than singing in the shower. You have a whole surround sound system at your disposal, so you can drown yourself out with Whitney Houston and pretend that it’s you that you’re hearing. If you ever need to check me for signs of life, play “Build Me Up Buttercup.”  If I have not joined in by “I-I-I need you,” pull the plug. I am gone.

Sometimes your car is the only time you’re alone. There have been several dark periods of my life that found me constantly driving to or from the hospital. While there, I was either a patient or a caregiver, and both situations mandated a certain set of behaviors. Once home, I was busy convincing myself and others that everything would be OK. In between, however, I was off the chain. I would free fall cry at stoplights or drive as if I were in a trance, startled to find myself already in my driveway. I can see now that those little cathartic breaks allowed me to keep going. My car was a mobile decompression chamber.

Contrast that with a car full of buddies on the way to the beach. While family beach trips are a steady weave in the fabric of my life, every now and again I will pull off a beach trip with only girlfriends. No husbands, kids, significant others, or pets. No work.  Try to work on your phone, and we will frat house disrespect you. The car is always packed to look like the opening credits of Samford and Son because females need a lot of stuff and nobody wants to take her own car. Women whom you have never seen order anything other than a salad will hang out the window yelling, “I want the no. 7, real Coke, and don’t forget the ketchup and salt.” During these trips, the car is visited a lot for us to look for things—keys, lip balm, a T-shirt someone just remembered buying two days ago. On the way home, the car is bereft of joy…not unlike the ride home from a funeral. Responsibility and the decorum of life await us. It. Is. Over.

With technology enabling us to go from call to call seamlessly, I have driven stretches of the workday with someone else always virtually with me. It is seductive to do too much, like jot down a phone number or read an invitation. Technical problems are solved by more technology, so my car now rides shotgun to itself, giving me directions and working the phone. Unfortunately, my voice recognition system has never really functioned correctly, and although I enthusiastically keyed in all my family and friends, when I tell it to call someone, it does one of two things: It dials a contact completely at random, or it verbally responds, “Rear temperature lowered.” We have argued about this for miles.

Maddox is an Acura MDX, successor to Baby D and third in a series of white SUVs. Despite him being a bad listener, we are in love. My cars have all had names. In college I owned the world’s ugliest Camaro. It was a rust bucket named Pisser, and after it was stolen and returned to me by the police, it magically no longer needed a key. All of my friends knew you just had to twist the ignition and it would crank right up, so it was frequently not where I had left it. The Mercedes 420 SEL was The Diplomat, and I refer to the pre-baby ragtop Jaguar XJS as simply, “The Mistake.” Seeing pictures of past rides transports me into that era. I see a shot of Pisser, and I am instantly exiting the library, looking at the empty parking place where Pisser had been, and yelling, “Oh, come on!”

I hope that later in life, when I see a photograph that has Maddox in the background, I will hearken back to this specific sliver of time and feel a flash of this beautiful now; challenging work, family, and loved ones, the differing weights of loss and laughter, and what it smells like when a new season peaks through in this glorious place I call home. I hope I can hear myself singing in the car.•

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