Sometimes I leaned over the dash to rest my head on Paul’s shoulder. Pennsylvania was as flat and rocky as I remembered and we had to roll down the car’s tinted windows to see the sunset. I’d be falling asleep to the lull of music and conversation when suddenly he’d turn the stereo off and make everything go quiet. He’d hush me and slow down until the sound of the road, the hum of the heater, the clicking of CDs in the door became audible—each was part of the noise of travel. I never thought I’d be with a man like this—one who could flip his car almost sideways on a turn and name each fast car that passed by.
It was a nine-hour drive. When we stopped at a little BBQ joint where he liked to eat and refuel, he told me how a friend of his had made this drive with him before. She kept trying to get into the wrong car. In the end, all white cars were like every other white car to most of us. So she rapped on some guy’s window until he opened the door and let her in. Paul watched her from the window of the restaurant and laughed.
What he didn’t know was that for months I had lagged behind him as we headed back to his white Subaru; I was afraid he’d see me waiting at the wrong door for him to unlock it. Once he’d tried to teach me how to drive his car. I was an excellent driver if the vehicle was an automatic and hopeless otherwise. I once broke the transmission on my stepfather’s vintage Datsun roadster when he tried to teach me; that was the first and last time anyone tried until now. My feet felt unnatural as though I was trying to run on top of ice. This time, at least, nothing was broken. I pretended that I got the idea of driving enough that he’d stop trying to teach me. Or maybe to keep from seeing his disappointment when I couldn’t learn.
To Paul, a car wasn’t just a way to keep warm. It wasn’t just a way to get from one place to another. He heard noises—whirs and whispers—that I had to take on faith. It was like a sixth sense for the road. Whenever we got lost, I pulled out my phone to check our route with Google Maps and GPS. I could feel him cringing on my left; he never let me finish loading the map.
Faith was the word that I’d never associated with cars. Never trusted that when someone took the car at 100 mph through Michigan farmland that I might survive. I felt the rush of adrenaline and kept silent. I let him drive. I let the car keep humming even when I didn’t know why it did the things it did.