Driving The New Car
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
Just over a month ago, I celebrated the fact that my children got to experience “the wild” in New Mexico. I kept my distance while they explored the shores of Navajo Lake. I let them bait their own hooks and in general run amok and they became a little more independent, a little freer.
On the last day of that trip, as my children and I headed to the airport, my mother drove the winding road to her house and rolled her little car. It was while I was sitting outside the Southwest gate at the Albuquerque airport that I got the call from my brother: “Mom’s alright, but…”
Later a friend would wonder if that is the best way to begin that kind of phone call. Do you say instead, “There’s been an accident, but Mom’s all right?” I wonder if it’s the reassurance of “Mom’s all right,” followed by the “but” that opens imagination’s door. But she killed a family of four. But she’s blind. But…
Luckily, this time, Mom is all right. She doesn’t have a scratch and she didn’t kill anything but her little car.
In the days that followed, Mom got a tiny insurance settlement and started to look for a new car. Apparently, it’s hard to find a used Scion in New Mexico. It’s hard to find one in L.A. We looked every day and finally, on the day when it seemed certain that Mom would be stranded forever, I found one.
I bought the car here on a Thursday and drove it to New Mexico the next day. I bought the little midnight blue Scion (that Mom has christened Starry, Starry Night) from a surfer dude with an eight-year old son. They needed more space for their boards, but he was sad to part with his beloved wheels.
It’s a thirteen-hour drive from Los Angeles to Albuquerque. I made the drive in one long day, traveling through the desert outside of Barstow, up through the mountains into Flagstaff. The sky was cloudy, but masses of sunflowers brightened the road on both sides, as though the sun had landed on earth for the day. It rained and there were sudden bursts of lightning, there was wind. At one point, the temperature rose over one hundred and later, once I’d crossed into New Mexico, the night grew chilly and the sky sparkled with stars.
With no one to consult, I made my own decisions. I listened to Joni Mitchell and ate Fig Newtons. I looked out the window and talked out loud about the beauty in front of me.
The last time I made this drive it was in the company of my father. He was deep into his battle with Alzheimer’s. I drove the whole way and he made drawings of us in a little sketchbook. I’d taken him to Los Angeles to ride roller coasters and see the ocean for one last time. I felt like I was helping him as much as I was helping myself. We were making some sort of transition.
This most recent drive was a kind of transition, too. My mother needed my help and I was able to give it. I am grateful for my ability to do this, but I am aware, too of my place in the middle: children on one side, parents on the other – everyone needing a little help.