person_pin Freedom

by Andrle H. Ward

Published in Issue No. 283 ~ December, 2020

Oh, how they pound, raising the sound.

We are winding on a road in the mountains somewhere in southern California. I’m too young to know which mountains or what road, but I know where we just came from and where we are going. We ride these curves in the dark night, my father deftly handling the sharp turns, but taking the speed just high enough to engage my fear. I trust him, yes, but I fear the danger I’ve heard about mountain passes more. And so instead of falling asleep as I should be, it is late, I am looking out the window of the back seat, trying to track patterns in the rapidly-passing forest where trees go by as fast as flashes. When I squint my eyes each one becomes the bum bum-bum bum of notes and our car is the needle, bouncing along these etches in the groove and we are turning, turning. It is almost Christmas and those notes come together to become drummer boys and lords-a-leaping and silent nights and winter wonderlands. Songs we have sung together as a family before. I, the youngest, the most exuberant of singers, sing them loudest of all. But tonight, their melodies only exist between me and the trees.

 

Blue are the words I say and what I think. Blue are the feelings that live inside me.

I am a junior in high school. My mother sold our car before we moved to Boston. People at church become our friends and when they realize we are taking a long bus ride home they start to drive us home. Sometimes we spend hours together, a church-friend and I in the backseat of the car, singing lyrics and making up accents while our mothers chat in the front. Other times they are in a rush and drop us at home right away and my stomach hurts from the fact they felt they had to allow for us in their busy day.

 

I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more.

I’m trapped on campus with no car. It’s one of the questions asked during the visiting weekend at this remote college, but the rehearsed response is “everyone has at least one or two friends who have cars.” None of my friends have cars. When a friend-of-a-friend offers to take us to a store we jump at the chance. My best friend is more connected and unafraid to ask if we can borrow cars. When we get off campus, driving down the hill and along the Mississippi, she puts her music in the player and sometimes we sing, and sometimes we just sit and marvel at our escape.

 

When I want to run away, I drive off in my car.

I am alone, behind the wheel of my mother’s car, making my way home late at night. It’s college break and I’m filling my days with television and my evenings with working retail. I love these streets when they’re mostly empty, when all that can be seen of other cars are their headlights. There’s anonymity in the darkness, and as I drive I sing, unabashedly melding my voice with that of the singer’s playing through the strong speakers. If I don’t have a voice, the acoustics tell me otherwise. I feel waves of joy as I harmonize. The thrill of being here, owning this space if for a short while, knowing I could go anywhere makes up for the fact that I will probably just go back home. But I take the long way just to stay a little longer in this place that is, for now, all my own.

 

Even if we knew which way to head, still, we probably wouldn’t go.

I have moved to Boston again, this time on my own, and have rented a car for the first time. It felt too good to be true, to get out of the city, but it is real and I am driving on the highway with my city-dwelling roommates loaded in, listening to the mix CD I burned just for this event. I will fill many discs with music to honor the occasion of getting in a car. I move my head to the music as I navigate the lanes of the busy highway. We are going to IKEA and the next trip we will drive an hour to a grocery store just to say we made it to New Hampshire. We have nowhere to really go, but we get in anyway because we can.

 

Though we might fall, we’ll go out punching.

I’ve been married a year and a half and we argue our biggest marriage argument over whether or not we need a car. He says he’s never seen me so angry. I feel the power of my fury, and when he later reconsiders I’m worried it was because of this. But we are both excited when we settle on our first vehicle. We get a small red Fiat with white interior. It feels European and adventurous and drives like a toy. I can keep things in here, I realize. Darren Hayes and Regina Spektor slide into a disc organizer. It’s not long before the inside of the cup holders is adorned with splotches of dried coffee. The trunk starts out empty but slowly fills: an ice scraper, goodwill donations, grocery totes. Trips to stores where we don’t have to carry the weight of our purchases are elation.

 

With a moo-moo here and a moo-moo there.

My son is a year old and has always hated being in his car seat. My husband is out of town for work for a week and my sister has invited me and my son and our dog to stay with her while he’s gone. It’s a three-hour drive and my son cries the entire way – a desperate, end-of-his-wits cry that asks the mother-brain in charge of my anxiety why I’m not caring for him. I’m right here, I tell him. You’re not alone. I sing every children’s song I know to try to distract him from the fact he’s not being held. Every time the decibel of his anguish decreases I hold my breath. But his desperation continues, and I start another round of whatever I can think of. When we arrive I am hoarse and shattered.

 

I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it.

When we move to Seattle from the suburbs of Vancouver we decide it is a good time to go without a car. We discover that almost everywhere we want to go from our temporary apartment requires a transfer or two. Our son is teetering on the edge of needing and not needing a stroller for longer outings, and so we are either burdened with boarding a bus hauling a collapsed stroller, holding the hand of a child, and trying not to fall when the bus takes off – or having to carry a child who doesn’t want to walk our distances. When we are careless, everyone else has a car. They go everywhere we can’t go. After nine months we decide to get a car and I feel guilt and relief. The environmentalist in me objects, but the ease with which we take our child up the hill to preschool is a thrill. Our son’s car seat has a permanent home again and it feels like adulthood.

 

I’ve seen how it ends. And the joke’s on them.

On the highway, cars pass me and I pass cars. I am a beautiful chord or a thickly-sung note away from tears and I am also one state’s ballot tally away from tears. The music plays my emotions and I play the song that makes me feel them strongest, on repeat. I am thinking of a woman who voted the way I did not vote, and I marvel at how someone who felt so tied down in her marriage would vote for someone who would only tighten the strings on women. But they are not winning; our numbers are flying higher and higher, and for the first time in ages it is hope that makes me sing.