George Strait twangs on the radio, my mom beaming as she sings along. I dance in my seat only because, though I’d rather be listening to Michael Jackson or Madonna, the truth is that these types of nights are always my favorite.
Her window is cracked open an inch or two, though she flicks her cigarette in the center ashtray between us. The speed gives us just enough wind to send more ash swirling inside the car than landing in the tray. I press myself tighter to the door, while still dancing. I hate that she smokes. I hate that the other kids make fun of the way my clothes smell, I hate everything about her smoking at all. Bigger than hatred though, is the consuming joy for nights like this. More than my hatred of her habit is my need to make her happy.
The silhouette of New Mexico life stills all around us, frozen shadows beneath a billion stars. I know no other night sky than that of the desert, so I don’t understand how unspeakably beautiful it is, but one day soon I will. My eyes will find their home under different skies and I’ll etch these night drive memories into the crevices of my mind.
Mama turns the volume louder, pressing the pedal harder and the faster we go. As I squeal, she smiles to herself congratulatory. She moves her smile to me and I follow its trail all the way to her eyes. This is the mama who loves me, the one who wants me. Already a sliver of sadness creeps in at the thought that like a flash she’ll be gone and the other mom will be home.
I am six years old, and then I am seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven.
It ends there then, I’ll be off to new skies.
Happy mom, loving mom comes to wake me late into the night, when I least expect it. She whispers “let’s go for a drive!” all at once, I am filled with untameable joy.
The gift of nights like this includes the quiet world beyond our windows, the possibility coming to life in the beam of our headlights and this mother of mine. This version of her is my best friend, my life line, the person I love with every piece of my soul.
Tammy Wynette comes on the radio and mama’s angel-voice melts right in, mingling both voices so that I will never hear one without the other, no matter how old I grow.
Stretching on the asphalt before us, the bulbs guide us to eternity. Her eyes seldom leave my face. I can see it etched in her beautiful face that she is happy now, proud of herself. Perhaps she is proud that I’m her daughter.
Are you proud, Mama?
She croons, singing straight to the center of me. I want this night to last forever…