Stories From My Car Seat: a Personal Narrative by Nina Burik
I remember looking out my window, my eyes heavy, but refusing to close. It was raining.
Each individual raindrop hit the glass that separated my body from the street, each dot of water had a story. Stories that I would watch unfold, but always kept my window rolled up, watching from a sheltered distance. There was music, too. The kind that made listening easy - jazz, I think - and staying awake hard. I remember holding onto my seatbelt, like it was my own mother, letting my body recline into my zebra car seat with each intersection passed. Eventually, the rain blurred with the traffic lights and the embrace of my mom would hug me back. Just like that, I was asleep. Whenever I would wake up, I would be home.
As a child, this was a comforting notion to me; that I would always find my way back home. But ultimately, my home went to college, far away to New York. I’ll never forget that day. I helped her set up her dorm room, with each picture that I hung, my stomach knotted just a little bit more. The thought of getting into that taxi, waving a final goodbye to my sister through a dirty piece of glass, haunts me to this day. And of course, when it was time for me to leave, to go back to Chicago, my fourth grade self, thinking with her heart, wanted to stay. With teary eyes, I got into the car. This time my seatbelt held me down, it acted as a chain binding me to the seat. As I caught my reflection, I noticed raindrops. Only now, the raindrops were not on the windows of the car, but on my own face. I do not remember the music playing in that cab, but I
do remember falling asleep. Whenever I would wake up, I would be at the airport, my sister in Manhattan.
A few years later, I would be Bat Mitzvahed. It was a big day for me. Just as my sister had gone off to college, so did my other sister, and then my brother. My big day meant that all of my siblings were home, we were together again. Rather than taking two cars to my service, all four kids crammed together in the backseat. Even with my makeup done and high heels on, I sat on my brother’s lap. He draped his arm over me, using his own body as a makeshift seatbelt, maybe even acted as a car seat, to protect me. I guess, at my essence, I would always be a little sister. My dad turned on the radio, but he did not play music. Instead, he played an old radio show, just as he always did. Its familiar sound comforted me in the same way that his heart shaped face did. I would later realize the likeness of my own face to my father’s. My mom insisted on taking a picture of us all, contentment in her eyes, but I was distracted. I couldn’t help but look outside. Perhaps it was because I was practically pressed up against the glass, but the outside world was fascinating to me. I couldn’t believe there was a world beyond that car, a world outside of my family. Shortly after, we arrived at the synagogue. I stepped out of the car as a girl, but would return as a woman.
As time went on, I no longer wanted to sit in the backseat of the car. I wanted to drive. It was a cold day in February, Super Bowl Sunday actually, when I first got behind the wheel. We were in an empty parking lot. My dad, in the passenger seat, rested on the door as if it was a life float. He was nervous, but would never admit it. As I moved the clutch from park to drive, I thought about the car I was driving. It had been my brother’s, but when he left for college, he left the car behind. I realized that even as my hands were on the same steering wheel that my older
brother’s once were, I still felt like a child. I felt naked without my zebra’s embrace, longed for the innocence it gave me. I started to wonder if I would ever stop feeling as though my role in life was to be the baby. I put my foot on the gas, accelerated a little too much. I looked over at my dad. I often find myself glancing at my father, perhaps because in his almond eyes I see my own, or maybe because in his eyes, there is a silent reassurance. He has never been one to express his emotions, but I don’t need him to say anything. He smiles, winks at me to continue. After an hour of driving, my dad and I switched seats. I wasn’t quite ready to drive on the streets yet, and like he always did, my father came to save me.
Unlike my dad, my mom never wanted to teach me how to drive. I have a feeling that the anxiety she felt was not about me being behind the wheel, rather her youngest child gaining independence. To this day, whenever I go anywhere with my mom, I sit in the passenger’s seat. Her heart aches for my zebra car seat, so much so that it sits on a shelf in our garage, never to be thrown out. I would never tell her, but this soothes me. When in the car with my mother, I can finally let my eyes - which have gotten even heavier as I have grown - close. I notice the small sounds; a turn signal or cars honking in the distance. Perhaps I even hear a few raindrops, desperate to share their stories with me, hitting my window. Each one’s narrative is just as vivid as when I was younger. I start to remember the smooth jazz of my childhood, recline a little more into the warmth of my mom’s SUV. The car is big enough for my whole family, and although mostly empty, that makes me feel less lonely. My seatbelt reaches out to me, she has one hand on the wheel and one in my hand. Sometimes I think I inherited my father’s difficulty expressing his emotions; I hope my mom knows this. I hope she knows that by shutting my almond eyes, I am saying I love you...I am saying thank you. Thank you for driving me around life, showing
me the raindrops’ stories, but always keeping me dry. For always playing music. For picking me up after every hard day. But most of all, I say thank you for letting me doze away into my own world. It is only with you, in the car, that I am safe. Once enveloped in your soundess, I can think of sleep. I won’t need to stay awake anymore for I am already home.