Inside a Honda Civic
It sat in my driveway every morning, 6:48 exactly. A small, compact, black mass of machinery and metal with an old dent in its right side. My backpack, lunch box, clarinet, gym bag, and various textbooks made their home on its back seat. I wonder if it ever silently called me a nerd, like you did. Each morning I crawled in slowly, eyes still heavy from my three hours of sleep, my neck sore from falling asleep with my back propped up against my headboard and my AP Calculus book on my lap. Mechanically, I would turn to my right and grab the seatbelt while you leaned over to kiss my cheek. I let the smell of you mixed with mint toothpaste mixed with my perfume swell inside of me. You drove it down Willow Lane before making the right onto Sauerkraut Road. Some days, when you played a song I liked or smiled at me between pauses in morning traffic, I felt strong enough to lift my head up from the notes I was studying and stare at the sun rising behind the cornfield, its light spilling over the roofs of Surburbia.
You never treated it well. You hurt it, always waiting too long to slow down before stop signs. At every red flash you tested it. Unlike me though, it had breaks to fight back. Every few months you had to take it in to get fixed, because one thing or another had stopped working. It could only take so much. Your mechanic would always fix it right up, send it back to you, and you would restart the destruction. I don’t know why you had to drive so fast all of the time. You never really seemed to care about anything, much less being late.
The first time I sat in it during my sophomore year of high school, we hadn’t started dating yet. An ice storm the day before had left the roads just slippery enough for the superintendent to issue a two-hour delay. When the delay announcement came the night before, we had already been texting, probably about your weekend and the party that you went to or about my weekend and the upcoming chemistry that I thought might be giving me a stomach ulcer. A permit-holding, car-less sophomore, I filtered through my options of getting a ride to school. Driving with you would be our first time alone together outside of school, outside of Journalism Room 551 where you put together sports pages and I oversaw the news section. I don’t know where the courage in me came from, but I know that I asked for a ride, and I know I didn’t focus on my physics problem set that night before I went to sleep.
Dirty lighters and rolling papers coated its floor like a blanket beneath my feet and its seats absorbed the scent of cologne-covered-marijuana into its fabric. I sat in it after the first time you got me high, over a year after it had taken me to school that morning after the ice storm. Minutes before, we huddled in the line of trees behind your row of townhomes while you rolled “the literal fattest blunt ever.” My eyes were glued to the yellow squares illuminating out of the houses only a few yards away from us. “Can you hurry up? I really don’t want anyone to see us. The trees aren’t really that thick and –“We’re fine, I do this all the time,” you said, turning off your phone flash light and shoving the hallowed out deodorant tube that you stored your weed in back in your pocket. I still remember the way the wraps tasted on my lips and the way you patted my back in a “atta-girl” style when I started coughing.
You finished the blunt on our drive to my friend’s after party. I know I asked you to roll the windows down, pulling my bobby-pins out of my prom up-do. I let the April wind part the knots in my hair while my eyes followed the double yellow lines on Cedar Crest road. I remember I said I felt like the lines were the only thing I could look at, like if I looked away they would still be there, glowing, parting my vision. You laughed with accomplishment, “you’re so high,” happy that I was finally becoming what you were slowly conditioning me to be. The girl who brought her flashcards to the homecoming dance felt miles away from me, and I was proud to feel wrong with you. I smiled while my lungs burned and you moved your hand from the steering wheel to my leg. I relaxed into the seat, slipping my fingers in between yours. You rubbed the top of my thumb with yours and I felt wanted. I allowed myself to forget who I was when you touched me, and become the girl you convinced me I was. With you, I wasn’t the girl who brought her flashcards to the homecoming dance, or who skipped lunch periods to study. With you, I was finally something, or maybe someone, better. I was your someone. It didn’t matter if that someone wasn’t really me. I was someone, and you liked her. And I liked you for that. We sat in it for a while, driving around with the windows down, the smell of wet grass in a Pennsylvania spring time filling my head. I wonder if it too was waiting for me to snap out of it, for my shrill voice to come back at the next turn, yelling at you to slow down.
It had seen me in ways that I will never see myself. It saw my tights slide down my legs, getting caught on my knobby ankles, during those lets-just-get-this-over-with-nights spent in a dark parking lot. My five-foot-tall frame fit perfectly in its backseat. “I like that you’re short” you said, and I was glad I was convenient for you. The first time we went to Emmaus Community Park, I was wearing my polka dot dress that doesn’t do much for me but make me look about four years younger than I actually am. It heard you tell me not to take it off, as you pulled the skirt up over my hips. It would just be easier and we couldn’t take long, you were still only 18, you had a curfew to make. It listened to your whispers of “don’t worry, you’re fine, no one can see us” while my eyes tried to look around at anything but you. I wonder if it believed your whispers too, with us inside of it and you inside of me.
Whenever I got out, it said “good luck” in its high-pitched honk. Walking towards your front door, or a restaurant, a movie, school, it knew that nothing was guaranteed between the time that I left it and the time I returned. I could come back, my arms wrapped around your elbow patches, my cheek glued to your sweater as my strides crossed over yours. Or I could come back alone, pulling at its passenger door handle, as you stared at your phone a few paces behind me, reaching into your pocket for the keys. My head could be hanging, hair stuck to my lips and arms tucked under my armpits, or my eyes could be squinting, partially from a smile and partially from the sun, as they looked up at you. I wonder if it ever wished to record my different homecomings every day and put them all together into the most disjointed, pathetic movie ever.
Its mirrors knew how to paint my varying reflection perfectly. Its hanging sun visors showed me my puffy eyes and red nose after you told me you got into the school that was 11 hours away.
“But I won’t be able to visit you that far away.” “I wasn’t expecting to get in.”“But that’s not the plan. We had a plan. You told me I didn’t have to worry because we had a plan.”
My mistake was assuming that your plan included me. Its mirrors showed me the winged eyeliner that I spent too much time on because you said it was sexy, and the almost invisible freckles you said were cute. I hated when you pointed out my freckles, because your ex-girlfriend had freckles.
I wonder if it was frustrated, trying to show me something I couldn’t see. It was witness to every argument, or if not, at least the aftermaths. It took the “I love yous” and the “fuck yous” and the “I hate yous” followed by the “I didn’t mean thats” and locked them up. Our own four-door safe. Perhaps the best secret keeper between the two of us, it never told anyone what happened inside. It never told me that you sometimes gave other girls rides home, and that sometimes those rides probably weren’t just rides and that sometimes you put it in park for a long time. I wonder if it thought of me when it turned right instead of left from the school parking lot, or when it felt a taller, much curvier body than mine leave its imprint on the passenger seat.
The last time it felt my boney butt against its seat cushions, it heard you break me. The mid-afternoon sunlight poured in through its windshield, illuminating the dust speckling the dash board. It was the May before your graduation, and I had brought up what would happen when August came on the drive home from school. It heard your “There’s no point in prolonging the inevitable.” It heard my begging, the “pleases” and “whys” and “but the plan was” slipping through my lips in between hiccupped sobs. You sat there, your left hand gripping the wheel and your right palm resting on the radio that you had turned down. You didn’t bother to put it in park. This shouldn’t take long, you had graduation practice at 3:30. I gathered my books and my gym bag and my clarinet, but this time you didn’t walk me up to my door. I watched it back out of the driveway from my bedroom window, hand covering my mouth so my dad wouldn’t hear me crying. You blew through the stop sign at the end of my street, not bothering to break.
I still think of you when I see black Honda Civics, but it doesn’t hurt anymore. The summer that followed our last day in May is the Summer I Became Me Again. You didn’t reach out, you didn’t check in to see how I was doing. You didn’t answer my call when I tried to say congratulations on receiving the scholarship. In between ripping up the t-shirts you’d lent me after nights I’d spent at your house, hours spent scrolling through old text messages, nights spent curled in my bed with my mom silently sitting at the foot, I somehow came back to myself. Days grew warmer and school ended, and I no longer saw that Honda Civic in my driveway every day, at 6:48 a.m. exactly. Mornings were no longer tainted with a hangover of the fight we’d had the night before and my days no longer revolved around reading your eyes. I smoked and I drank, but with my friends. I studied and I applied for college and won awards. My clarinet and my lunchbox and my textbooks littered the back of my car now. I embodied all of the aspects of myself that I had abandoned because of you. I slept next to a boy in a 2002 Subaru Outback that accommodated my 5-foot-frame much more comfortably than your Honda Civic ever did. And I brought my flashcards to the homecoming dance.