We spend a lot of time in cars. We drive to the mall, we drive to school. We drive each other home from school, from field hockey practice, from parties, from 7-11. We make out with boys in cars parked in houseless cul-de-sacs. Always there is music. In the summer we open the windows, let humid air move our moussed and sprayed hair, the bangs that curl just so over our pimpled foreheads. We turn it up and yell the words to every song. We know all of the lyrics. No sleep til Brooklyn. Pour some sugar on me. I’m not internationally known/ but I’m known to rock the microphone.
Each of our cars has its own soundtrack. Michelle drives fast and it’s always the Beastie Boys. Loud. She squeals and screams about boys and Mike D. She plays New Kids on the Block, too, but the rest of us make her turn it off. We get in her car reluctantly sometimes – she can’t be trusted not to drink at parties and she’s always pushing curfews. Still, once we’ve clambered into the back seat, we scream together. Had a little horsy named Paul Revere/Just me and my horsy and a quart of beer. The suburban nights are dark and star-smattered. We cannot imagine anything else.
Kathy is a safer ride. There’s Poison or Guns N Roses in the background. Bon Jovi. We croon power ballads, swaying against each other. Never say goodbye. Never tear us apart. Every rose has its thorn. Sometimes tears come to my eyes as I scream don’t ask me what you know is true… I love your precious heart. It embarrasses me and I pretend I’m acting. We hold our breaths in the pauses, sing the strum of the guitar dun dun dun dun dun, laugh that we all did it at once.
Leah drives a sea-green car from the 60s her dad fixed up, and at night the old windshield glass takes in headlights and scatters them. Leah is always leaning forward, peering through the steering wheel, trying to see. Leah is Depeche Mode and U2. I’m taking a ride with my best friend. Leah is not usually driving a crowd; it’s just the two of us, talking about school, about Michelle’s latest crush, about a guy we both think is cute. We’re riding high watching the world pass us by. Leah is responsible, and I like to think I am not.
Me, I am all of them, a chameleon. I know all the words to Pour Some Sugar on Me, but I lean toward the Cure, the Smiths, 10,000 Maniacs. I think I have to change my music to please whoever is in the car with me. Maybe that’s why I like driving alone. I drive fast, even at night, delight in my power steering. In the winter I roll down the windows and turn up the heat. I like the rush of cold-hot. I like feeling anything. I sing out loud, badly; to whining Cure songs, to New Order, to whatever is British. Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before. I’m moody and my stalker boyfriend is moodier. We think the Cure is singing about us. Swimming in the same deep water as you is hard. We are a cliché and we don’t know it. Some nights I leave my part-time bookstore job and the whole way home I watch his headlights in my rearview. Watch him watching me. I translate my anger into music. You can all just kiss off into the air/Behind my back I can see them stare/They’ll hurt me bad but I wont mind/They’ll hurt me bad they do it all the time.
In my car we sing the Violent Femmes. In all of my friends’ cars we sing the Violent Femmes. In my friends’ friends’ cars we sing the Violent Femmes. It is music meant to be screamed with teenage angst and abandon with the windows down. Everyone knows the lyrics. There is anger and a raw, coming-unhinged quality to the vocals. You can all just kiss off into the air. We let it mix with the cool night air and unhinge us. Lemme go wild/like a blister in the sun. We love screaming out the forbidden, the scandalous, the truth: Why can’t I get just one f**k?! We love reciting the countdown to a downfall, as if it is our own: I take one one one cause you left me and/ two two two for my family and/ three three three for my heartache …
Our cars are little bubbles in which nothing happens; or maybe in which everything happens. We do not yet know that nothing has happened to us, or that it’s possible to really come unhinged. We count down, biding our time. Waiting. Seven seven for no tomorrow and/eight eight I forget what eight was for and/nine nine nine for a lost God and/ ten ten ten ten for everything/everything everything everything