It’s Monday night, and I’m riding in the passenger seat of his new metallic metal-gray (whatever that means) sedan. Virginia’s late-March promise of spring still nudges us to turn on the seat warmers and to keep the windows rolled up, but the slight chill is not enough to discourage him from opening the sunroof. I tilt my head and gaze at the stars above. We glide steadily on curving neighborhood streets to the nearby Irish pub, and John Mayer plays “Comfortable” on the radio. My hand reaches up and I touch the cool night whispering in over our heads. I laugh quietly because I remember this feeling.
It was summer of my senior year of college. My cousin came home and he’d finally purchased his new-to-him Dodge pickup truck, candy apple red. His eyes gleamed from beneath the brim of his John Deere hat as he invited me along for a drive after I got off work that evening.
11pm and we walked into the warm air of late August. I climbed into the passenger side and we rolled the windows down and we drove, out and further still, past the suburbs and onto the two-lane country roads where the only light came from the stars in the summer sky. Grinning, he turned the country music louder and pushed the gas pedal further until all I could do was smile and laugh into the wind as my heart beat in time to Brad Paisley. I watched the cornfields fly past and I remember that I wanted to drive forever because then I could stay this happy and safe and free for always.
I return to Virginia and this night is same same, but different.The cowboy boots on my feet are the nearest thing to the country of those cornfields. But it’s a boy with his new car. It’s a clear sky; we can see Orion’s Belt, maybe even the Big Dipper if we tried hard enough. It’s music and air painting smiles on our faces. It’s finding inexplicable joy in being carried faster than we could ever go on our own.
I settle into the warm leather and I soak in the world moving past me, collecting this moment for when I need to remember joy because the night is dark and I have to find the stars.