This summer I haven’t gone to see my dad as much as I’d like, and I miss him. I’ve got a clunker car with no AC; so, I’m waiting until it cools off. I tend to stay close to home anyway, but I hardly venture out at all these days.
Dad loves to keep moving. He’s a car person. He drives all over, adventuring and visiting friends on Galveston Island every summer in a rented beach house, visiting me and my dogs and my sis here in Austin, and seeing the sites and visiting friends and relatives in the surrounding Texas Hill Country. He also takes day trips closer to his place.
I’m a car person like this: I need a car; I have a car; I’m thankful for it. Sometimes I wash it. I get it repaired when I can. Dad’s the kind of car person who used to keep several different vehicles for different purposes, mainly making sure my sisters and I had back-up when we needed it. He takes great care of any car he owns; it always looks shiny and clean. When buying a new car Dad researches and gets great deals, and he helps other people get great deals. If you mention in passing that you’d like a new car, or even if it just crosses your mind, watch out, he’ll look up the blue book value and call you with information and ads he’s seen. He wants everyone to have a car. He once told his life-long friend, a wealthy man in Dallas, he should give a car to his long-time assistant. Why, the friend wanted to know. Dad told him, he needs it, and you should be the one to give it to him; you have so much, and he has served you so well.
Once when I was despondent from a break-up, Dad advised me to buy a new car.
“I don’t want a new car. I want my old boyfriend,” I said.
“All I’m saying is a new car makes you feel better,” he said.
“For, you, maybe,” I said.
But I was tired of being stuck, tired of wishing and lamenting. So, I decided to take Dad’s advice. He helped me find a fantastic deal on used 280ZX that had very low mileage and only one previous owner. What use do I have for a sports car? It had never occurred to me. The engine knocked and hesitated in my old truck, and I had gotten used to that. But, I was amazed at how the little Z car handled. Dad was right. The new car really did make me feel better. I felt safe and powerful. I could put that baby right where I needed it to go. When I pressed the gas, no hesitation, no moment of wondering if the car would make it.
I drove all over Austin every night at first, driving past my ex’s house and the restaurant where he worked. Yuck! What a crappy feeling for me and possibly for him if he ever saw me doing that. Soon, I forgot my ex-boyfriend for minutes at a time and began to feel the night air, the dark invisibility that comes from just driving around at night. The vice grip of the mind that I thought was love started to loosen into an awareness of space. In my night drives I experienced how each section of the city was connected to the others. They were not actually separate neighborhoods after all, but one continuous movement of a little brown and gold 280ZX whishing around town, freeing the one trapped inside.
In the same conversation my dad told me to buy a new car to forget my ex, he also told me he loved my mother. I’d been going on and on about my boyfriend and how much I loved him, how bummed I was over the break-up. The regrets, missed opportunities, even my other struggles within the web of my friendships. Then suddenly Dad and I were really conversing, not just the back and forth monologues that happened sometimes. I’d always known my mom loved my dad. That was part of the family story. It had been spoken aloud numerous times. And both my parents had told me and my sisters they loved us. But that piece, Dad loving Mom, I’d never heard it before. I was 29. They had divorced when I was 9. My dad had remarried when I was 12 and divorced again when I was 14. My mom had remarried when I was 15. She had divorced when I was 23, and she died very soon after that when she was only 46.
We also knew Mom had done some calling before she died. Settling old scores, telling the truth, making a general disturbance for which our culture likes to crazify women. I figure sometimes people talk too much about love and relationships, but the echo chamber is lonely, and maybe they just need to hear their own voices come back around to know there is love. Maybe Mom was making one last ditch effort to hear the words spoken, even if they were going to have to be hers alone, this time, not just words of love, but other words expressing anger and regret, the parts of her relationships with friends and family she struggled with.
I never wanted to be the one fishing for love, grabbing at at, trying to fashion it out of the thin air of a relationship that’s ending. I never wanted to be the one who talked so much about love it left no space for the other to speak. Or, the other felt compelled to speak, and his words of love were forced and fell flat, not love at all; or the other felt so judged for his love he chose to keep it quiet, lest that be judged, too.
I never wanted to be the one who drove by the ex’s house and had a tough time letting go. I identified so strongly with the parent who seemed the strongest and most in command of himself: Dad. But the truth was I ended up like Mom. I was lost after a break-up, feeling just invisible enough to drive by a few nights in a row, looking at the facades of a duplex and a restaurant for the spirit inside I couldn’t see or feel. Not realizing then that’s what that relationship had become. It had been a worthwhile experience. It was simply over. I just didn’t know it yet.
Sometimes I think I might not have chosen some men who pushed away my love if I had known earlier that my dad actually loved my mom. But it’s good news to find out when you’re 29. And it was extra nice, seeing it as their struggle, not mine. Dad says it often, now: they loved each other but were too immature to rise above their problems, and their break-up was devastating to him, as well. We just didn’t know it back then.
In those free, breezy nights driving around Austin in the Z car, literally moving through the grief of a break-up and its corresponding origin in my childhood, I realized I believed certain stories just because they were spoken. There are other stories not yet told. But they’re lived. They’re real. And the storyteller has to tell them when he’s ready. When the listener is relaxed and open. Defenses down. Judgment tucked away. I’m glad for that moment in the car, talking about cars and the way they can help us move through pain. And I’m glad my Dad told me he loved my Mom. It was a story I was ready to hear and believe. And it was true.
Did any of your family stories catch up to you at the light after driving around for a long time?