Sunday, 15 April 2007

Road warrior.

When I was a child I endured very long car drives. I traveled hundreds of miles every few months and just about every major holiday to visit one set of grandparents or the other, both sets living in a different province from my third to my seventh year.

I have vivid memories, not of the visits themselves but of the backseat of the 1972 Olds Vista Cruiser that we drove in. I was the typical youngest, mostly ignored until I was howling, running after everyone to catch up. Whatever part of my life up until age seven that I didn't spend on the beach or in the ocean was spent sitting in the backseat of this station wagon that was the sickliest shade of green ever. Avocado. The only shade of green I don't enjoy to the fullest. The inside was tan vinyl.

I would be sunburned and overtired, keyed-up and wide-eyed, hanging over the front headrest looking at my dad's balding spot or my mom's perfectly sprayed twiggy haircut and chewing on the stick from a lollipop long-finished. My hair was in an unruly ponytail, my white t-shirt and red shorts stained from grass and chocolate and coca cola. I stood and watched the glint of cars as they appeared on the opposite hill and marveled at the mirage made when the sun broiled the pavement on the flat straightaways. I talked nonstop but no one listened until at some point my father would yell at me to be quiet.

Soon I would become dizzy and nauseous and my mother would pass back a chewable motion sickness tablet and tell me to sit down. This was long before seatbelt laws. I would sit back down and poke my fingers out the top of my window, left open a crack for fresh air. The wind rushing past the window would freeze my fingers into tiny icicles, and then I would put them against my hot forehead and relish the cold. The car always smelled like stale Easter candy and potato chips and eventually I would panic and ask my father to pull over. Once I had been sick I would usually sleep for the rest of the trip, only to be rudely awakened by Bailey pulling on my arms and yelling at me to Bridgie, get up, we're here! Bailey never got car sick. I hated her for that.

For some reason the drives back home were always magical in comparison. There was something special about being out in the dark, up past my bedtime, far from home. Wrapped in a too-big handmedown sweatshirt and more sunburned I would take my place in the car behind my father and sit watching closely between the seats as headlights appeared on the road in front of us, drivers blinking their highbeams off when they saw our lights approaching. I would have a sticky face, a sore belly from all the extra treats that long-distance grandparents ply on their grandchildren, and be clutching Blythe, the doll that I dragged around for most of the seventies. My hair would be a wild halo of tangles around my face, in my eyes, in my mouth, with very little left in the ponytail. I smelled like sweat and candy.

I would just watch the lights and listen to the songs on the radio. Deep Purple, Journey, Kansas, The Eagles, Heart, Elton John, Creedence, Gordon Lightfoot, Fleetwood Mac, and I would sing along in my tiny little voice that I couldn't hear but no one else could either. Somewhere around the bay I would nod off at last and then wake up only as my father would miscalculate when he carried me into the house and bump his head on my doorframe as he tried to put me to bed without waking me up.

Those nights I would dream of floating lights set to music, a never-ending trip home.

I still don't like very long drives but I sit up front now and play all those same songs. That helps, at least a little.