Back Seat Drive

By Abrahim Harb

I was a kid. About 17. My mother had been on edge lately. She would sit on her couch endlessly staring at the TV. Or past it, I could never tell. Her eyes bulging out her eyes, puffy—tissues nearby soaked in tears. Two more days passed and then the weekend came. That weekend, we wouldn’t go to the movies, spend quality time at the mall, or even leave that couch, just a quick stop to the store for tissues.

That famous couch—with its oversized, comfortable pillows—that until this point in my story—and on occasion after that—served as perfect pillow fight pillows and easily stacked, doubling as a fort wall. The sun beaming in through the window, giving metaphorical light, to these instantly gloomy few days.

My mother sat me and my siblings on the formal living room couches. Not the ones with the big pillows, but that ugly one that would hurt my butt—stiff with seriousness—we were arranged in a way that forced us to look at each other with nowhere to stare, now that the shades are closed. She stood up and closed the dining room lights. Suddenly, the light from the porch light lite up one window and shone through the glass door. My mother sighed—tissues still near, as I rose to open the door.

“Sit!” she said.

My worry grew.

“It’s open,” she said to whoever was on the other side of the door.

My dad entered, promptly sat down, next to my brother, without greeting my mother or removing his shoes. My mother began to weep.

From there, that night was a blur. My brother would later recall sitting on that unwelcoming couch, staring out the window, watching my father get into his car—and drive away. We all remembered the door closing softly, his distinguishable footsteps gliding down the stairs, with the noise of his car unlocking confirming his presence in our lives disappearing—it was drawn out, but inevitable. 

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Days passed, then weeks and months. My mother would stare endlessly at the window, until she would see or hear us. Soon, the rides in the back seat of my father’s car came less and less. Sometimes, I would have to shove over the cloths and his laptop bag, just to get in.

My mother began cracking a smile, that slowly turned into a smirk—slowly growing into a full smile. The back seat rides began to come even less—and my father’s couch, still untouched. My mother didn’t even fix it, as a part of her Saturday morning cleaning routine.

One day, she even walked past it, stopping, as if it was an unwanted shrine. I was watching her through the kitchen partitions. Her stare implied some hatred, as if she was spitting on it in a (not-so-private) moment of release to let go of any anger she still held on to—and then bursting into tears.

 Later that night, our planned, back seat drive never happened; ironically, later that same night, my mother after gathering all her strength, sat all three of us down. Sitting opposite her, she gave us a speech, the first of many using cars as a metaphor.

“You can’t be a backseat driver or sit in the backseat forever.
You have to take risks—”

I was a late bloomer—unmotivated about driving.

Something about driving and cars scared me. Perhaps it was the anxiety from an accident two years earlier or the view I had, as I stuck my head between both front seats. The cars, zooming by at lightening speeding, the radio bass booming from the car on the left and the man talking on his phone, unaware of the light change as we drive by him.

Within the next year, the unstable back seat rides, in my father’s car, were replaced. He would sit in the passenger’s seat, and hold on for dear life. My driving was and still is erratic. Many changes happened: my mother began to use tissues less often; I started to sit on my dad’s couch; and the car metaphor my mother used in her talks, started to come from a place of sincerity, not spite—most importantly, I began to sit in the passenger’s seat!

My dad rolled down the window, as we ran towards the car, saying, “sit up here,” patting the passenger seat, as if it was a throne, only the royal say on.

That marked my eighteenth birthday.

In reality, that seat was nothing more, than a seat—except in my mother’s metaphors. It was hot the same way the back seat was in the summer, when my dad couldn’t find a parking spot in the shade. He would soon get a new car and it had heaters for your butt. Too bad, it didn’t have a cooler for the summer, so I wouldn’t have to peel my skin off the seat.
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I would come home from school, watch TV and eat an apple, accompanied with some sort of bigger snack. I would finish my homework each evening, dreading the phone call from my father, right before he left work.

“Do you want to practice tonight?”

“Ummm……Not really!” I would reply most days, not even allowing him to properly greet me. He worked nearby and would drive by our house for the mail before going to his new home.

Eventually, my stubborn attitude would succumb and I reluctantly practiced. My fear soon subsided, turning to a comfortable fear. Soon I took the last step, adding music into the mix. I could clearly remember how quickly my father reached over and lowered the music, ruining the moment and scolding me for putting it on. Now I had to control the gas and brake, watch the space between me and the car in front of me, staying in the lines, along with all the other driving duties and manage to not get lost in the song playing.

Shortly thereafter, that fear was in the back seat, next to my sweater and the empty water bottles. My hair blowing in the air and my father’s had sticking out of the passenger seat window. I felt like such an adult, but I was not.

I don’t even know how I put the car in park; I hopped out of the car, dashed into the house holding the piece of paper that would bring tears of joy to my house.

“I got it!….I got!” I yelled, scaring my mother as I searched the house for her.

“You got the yogurt?” my mother said, from the back of the house, as I charged towards her direction like a bull stampeding.

“No…I mean yes…and I got this,” I said, holding out a plastic card, “—my license!”

Her first born was on his way to adulthood. I felt a car metaphor coming, but instead, a gush of tears came out—tears out of happiness, tears of excitement, and tears of shock. My dad and I were out running a few errands and I decided to ask if I could go to the DMV and take the license test. We had the discussion before about me officially completing my hours, but I never wanted to do it. That uncomfortable fear would recede back to simply fear and when I said, “dad hand me the hour sheet,” which was wedged between the cup holders in the back seat—I officially no longer took the back seat drive that I had been taking for so long.

I could now, take the car to work, run errands and just go on a ride. But my mother would hesitate, not wanting to shelter me—she was a witness to my driving habits—the same habits she had—and at best, I was a mediocre driver. In comparison to those who thought that the roads were a NASCAR race track, zig-zagging from lane to lane and carelessly, blowing stop signs—I was more than mediocre. Yet, her hesitation still existed as I sat on the comfortable couch talking to her, this time she didn’t stare endlessly out of the window.

Life had somehow come full circle in a full year.

Different things made her cry and not tears of a broken woman—tears of a mother who knew her kids were growing up.

*This short story was published in SEEDS Literary & Visual Arts Journal in Spring 2014