I find that I am most pensive in the car. Everywhere I drive, memories loom or linger. Every road matches up with the songs that fill my car and my heart beats to the sounds of loneliness and nostalgia.
Even the most mundane or ordinary drives are ingrained into my brain on autopilot, and yet they are laced with thoughts and memories of Rick. He lived in this area longer than I did. He showed me places. He told me stories about his childhood. Where he fell in the creek. Where he swam with his brother and friends. Where he climbed trees. Where his mom lived. Where his friends lived. Where his doctors' offices were. All the places he lived before he lived with me. Where he raced his car. Where he worked before he worked at the place where I met him.
I drive to the store and it reminds me of Rick. We went there together. I drive to work and it reminds me of Rick. We worked at the same place for 7 years and the place at which I work now is on the same street as my last place of employment. I drive to my parents' house and it reminds me of Rick. We spent so much time going there. I drive past restaurants where we ate together. Tons of them. Every day. I drive to Rick's mom and it reminds me of Rick...
Every place I go involves a drive. And on the drive, I travel the roads we travelled together. And my mind travels too. We lived here. We worked here. We spent so much time in the car.
If I drive the roads of Allentown, Bethlehem, Northampton, Catasauqua, Whitehall, and beyond, I am bombarded with memories of places we passed, we talked about, and we frequented. I remember so many conversations that happened in my car.
Recently, I drove the route I used to take to grad school. For three years, I drove there, the same way every time... and as I drove that familiar route, I remembered all those long nights. I remembered fondly the classes I had and the people I met. I remembered late night drives home through Center Valley, through Bethlehem, through Allentown, and home to Northampton. And I remembered that back then, I drove home to Rick. I remembered how on winter nights, I'd listen to Christmas music in my car all the way home, a smile on my face and happiness in my heart. It struck me that I will never listen to Christmas music again on my way home to Rick.
Thoughts like that hurt so much.
I drive here and there and everywhere, and I remember times when I would stress out about finding my way to a new place. I would tell Rick how anxious I was, because of my fears of getting lost and my poor sense of direction. He'd reassure me, but I'd still worry about whatever the upcoming event/situation/commitment was that meant I had to use directions or a GPS to find my way to an unknown destination. I'd come home from a work day to find that Rick had set off on his own to find the place for me, armed with a pen and paper. He'd present me with a hand-drawn map of the route he took and walk me through it so when I had to do it without him, I'd feel better.
One time, I came home from grad school upset because the main road I usually took had been closed down in both directions and I had to find an alternate way home that was less direct. My GPS hadn't been working and I was panicked. On his next day off, while I was working (I used to work Saturdays), Rick found me a backroads-alternate-route to grad school and drew me a diagram complete with street names...just to keep in my glove compartment should circumstances ever arise that caused me not to be able to drive home directly due to emergency.
I remembered this today while I was driving somewhere that was nowhere near the place I attended grad school. In my driveway, I sifted through papers and manuals in my glove compartment to find the little Rick map. I pictured my husband driving around Center Valley, pretending Route 378 was closed and pulling over on every back road to write down the names of the streets to add to the map for his directionally-challenged wife. He even calculated the approximate distance using the car odometer as he went.
He preferred to do it this way for me...no GPS. No internet. Just pure masculine reassurance coupled with love, time, and effort.
I miss him as I prepare to drive. As I drive. And when I return home from a drive. But mostly, I miss him when I reach a destination that worried me. When I find my way somewhere with my GPS or with my own common sense. I want to tell him that I did it. That I made it.
On these unfamiliar roads of grief, both figuratively and literally, I am making my way without a personalized map.