I fell in love the moment I laid my eyes on her. She was beautiful, and it didn’t take long until she was spinning her wheels just for me. A Brand new 2003 Ford Explorer with a sunroof, killer stereo and towing package (why I thought I would ever need a towing package is beyond me!) Driving the car off the lot that day and had no idea the places we would go, the laughter that would prance right through that opened sunroof on sunny days. Nor could I have known the clarity, the confusion or redemption I would find with my hands firmly gripping the wheel at ten and two, leading me to all those gravel spun memories which have become part of my road-map wrapped life.
I bought the Explorer the year after my dad had passed away, and I remember feeling the sadness sinking in, reminding me that the man who had taught me to drive would in fact never sit beside me in the passenger’s seat of this new car. My love for the challenge of parallel parking is all because of him, “If you can’t park it, you shouldn’t be driving it” he would tell me and the fact that I learned to drive in a 1986 two toned Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme means that they should have given me my tug boat license the day I could squeeze that sucker in between two parked cars.
The Explorer had 27 miles on it when I bought it and last Sunday when I traded it in at the Hyundai dealership for a 2014 Santa Fe Sport, the odometer read 154,864 but for me the number meant little to nothing, oh but the miles, they have meant everything. Wrong turns, close calls, winding roads not to mention all the hazardous conditions I managed to make it through, those are where the stories live. Which is why turning over those keys was so difficult for me to do. Strangely enough, I bought the Explorer and just a few days later in the middle of the night I drove myself to the hospital in serious style with a severely infected gallbladder, one that would need to come out pronto. It would be almost a month before I could actually drive that car, talk about a cruel lesson in shiny, look but don’t touch patience. In the end the waiting was well worth it, I could not possibly have known what would happen in my life and subsequently in that car over the next thirteen years. I would find myself addicted to the trips that would take me to Toronto the quiet spinning of my tireless thoughts riding shotgun, chasing dreams that would never come to fruition and secret wants that somehow did. Early morning drives through the winding mountaintop roads of Knoxville, Tennessee with my heart leading the way to lazy, lavender days that have become the sweetest of southern soaked memories. It is also the place I would discover love in a tiny bundle of grey that wormed his way into my heart and lap. That grey bundle became the tender little soul known as Tully. Tully the dog whisperer for Tristan, ball fetching extraordinaire and constant reminder for me to live in the moment, play hard and try make friends with everyone you meet.
Oh the number of times I have been pulled over in that Explorer, blue light special served up to me time and time again. I have gotten tickets in 2 countries and 7 states…not too shabby in the lead foot realm of a speed racer. Many times I had a story, a tale, plea, or promise to change my ways. Other times the tickets were so well deserved I plucked them knowingly from the officer’s hand with a nod and forced smile, an unspoken admission of sorts. Breaking down just outside of Windsor on my way to Toronto, I learned that nice people sometimes just appear, save the day and simply drive away expecting nothing in return but seemed thrilled with a heartfelt thank you which consisted of a hug and a squished snickers bar from the glove box. Pulling over on a nameless stretch just outside of Austin, Texas to lie myself down in a sea of bluebonnets while staring up at the sun streaked sky, unsure if heaven could be any more glorious than that very moment. Tire tracks etched in the mud on the road just past my Dad’s grave site on a cool fall day when the rain appeared, and the thunder roared busting in like an old familiar friend to joining in, dancing with the tears that fell as I knelt beside his name in the ground, weeping simply because I missed the way his calloused hands felt in mine.
Botched lyrics, stolen kisses, crinkled up bags of drive thru regrets dangled from the rear view mirror as I left my hand print on the dusty back window. I said goodbye, walking away with my head down, thinking to myself the ride really had been lovely.