Something about the sight of her sleeping peacefully in the back with long, aimless stretches of highway in the front both terrifies and calms me tremendously. I can hear her soft breathing over the lull of the engine, her chest heaving up and down ever so slightly as if in rhythm to the Red Hot Chili Peppers crooning faintly in the background. She clutches her pink teddy bear tightly to her chest and I know that she’s protecting the bear more than it is protecting her – cause that’s just the type of girl she is.
Watching her sleep in my rear-view mirror instantly takes me back to humid July nights in the backseat of my father’s minivan, my three younger brothers sleeping soundly alongside me and my mother in the front beside my father who was always behind the wheel. Sometimes I slept too but mostly I liked to inhale the last of the intoxicating country air and watch the blackness of the trees slowly give way to the twinkling lights of New York City.
Those late-night drives back to Brooklyn after weekends spent in upstate New York comforted me more than anything else could. Maybe it was the air or the stillness of the night, or perhaps it was the sight of my parents so together, so connected, hands intertwined in the only display of affection they’ve ever allowed themselves in front of us, that made me trust them so completely to get us all home safe.
Till today, though the absolute darkness of suburbia does, to some extent, frighten me, long trips down endless highways also manage to provide a sense of calm and comfort in a way that nothing else could. When I am in my own car with a man I trust (and wow is that rare but it does, on occasion, happen), I ask him to drive, not because I’m lazy, but because suddenly I’m 10 years old again, curled up in a ball with my shoes kicked off and the window blowing in hot summer air, knowing that the one man I trust will get me home safe.
Tonight, there is nobody beside me in the front seat of my Camry. But I am struck at the sense of peace I feel watching my child sleep tranquilly, blonde curls framing her face in the loveliest of ways and her lips turned upward in the faintest hint of a smile. And I realize that it no longer has to be a man behind the wheel, or me trusting him to keep me safe. Somehow, my own child’s unconditional faith in me creates the same sense of comfort, though I am the one in the driver’s seat.
The heavy darkness enveloping us both slowly gives way to the twinkling lights of breathtaking skyscrapers and a city that never sleeps. It’s been a decade and a half since I’ve seen my parents hold hands and fell asleep to the sounds of faint murmurings in the front, whispers I would never be privy to but that made me feel more protected and safe than anything could. I know that when my daughter opens her eyes and I’m the first thing she sees, she will feel the endless, endless love in this car and the tranquility that comes from knowing that the person you trust so very completely is sitting behind the wheel, leading you safely home.