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After several fits and starts, summer is finally moving in to stay. (Jupiterimages/Getty Images)
After several fits and starts, summer is finally moving in to stay. (Jupiterimages/Getty Images)

Drive, She Said

The Boy, his Plymouth Valiant and an unforgettable spring night Add to ...

After several fits and starts, summer is finally moving in to stay. If the weather didn’t tell me, the restless teenagers filtering in and out of my house certainly would. Clusters of boys kicking hacky sacks, pretending to ignore clusters of girls just as determined to pretend to ignore them. ’Tis the season.

They’re starting to drive, though few are actually able to venture out without a parent. It’s the precipice of full freedom; they can taste it, I can feel it and, after all these years, I realize it is still as good as it promises to be.

I try to still my heart as it clenches a little, the tightening of recognition that I’m watching a dangerous, tempting, brilliant time of their lives. You can only stand guard for so long, doling out warnings and rules that are tossed aside with an exasperated sigh. I don’t threaten, I don’t hover, but I do pull back words that might hang in the air for too long.

There’s magic in these moments. It took me years to recognize this, because you need a lifetime of experiences to make you recognize the ones that over time will become the diamonds, the pearls. Good things take time.

It was 1979, and I was heading out for the evening. This time of year, same teasing weather. The car was a 1964 Plymouth Valiant. A convertible. A big boat of a thing, but with a metal flake sky blue paint job, the top dropped in spite of the threat of a chillier evening. It was perfect.

The Boy owned it; my first real boy, his first real car. It didn't have to compete with the coveted Mustangs and Trans Ams most kids wanted. We called it a Classic, with a capital C, and that Classic had taken every nickel The Boy owned to keep it on the road.

We’d been dating long enough for my parents to smile as we pulled away from the curb, leaf springs sprung, and the rear end bobbing like a barge in the wake. We didn’t notice. We were in a Classic. We were in a Classic on a perfect spring evening without a penny between us.

I didn’t know where we were headed, and I didn’t care. As I futilely tried to keep my hair from whipping into knots, we headed down the highway, heater roaring full blast. Of course I was warm enough; unless I felt rain, that top was staying down.

North of the city, a right turn into nothing. Broken asphalt ending at a fence, tucked off the main road but still just – nothing. With darkness setting in, I was told to hop out. The Boy helped me up on the hood of the car, and then joined me. Reclining against the windshield, we waited.

The planes taking off flew right over us. We could count lights beneath wings, and feel the roar of the engines in our chests. In the spaces between, we were quiet. Parked at the end of the runway, lying on the hood of that Classic, holding hands and watching the show.

I don't know how long we remained lying there that night, only that it was probably the best date I’ve ever had. No flowers, no restaurants, no tickets, no plans. There was nothing complicated about it, only the desire to stretch this perfect night out for as long as we could. We lasted until we had to admit the cool night air was defeating us, put up the top and head home.

I watch the teenagers out front now, courting and flirting and instinctively seeking ways to extend this first blush of spring. They’re planning for proms and graduation weekends, envisioning a summer that won’t end. They’re on the edge of grown-up, and I wonder what they’ll remember when they look back. I wonder what the coming decades will teach them about important moments and cherished memories.

These moments are organic, and fleeting. I’ve learned to plan my spontaneity, I remark with a smile. But I’m not really joking, because nights like that one, on the hood of a car, can’t be recreated but should never be forgotten. I’ve never needed a movie stub or a wilted rose to remember it. It’s sewn into my heart as surely as The Boy was, and I hope those kids I’m watching through my front window will file away similar magic.

The Boy was killed in that car, his beloved metal flake sky blue Plymouth Valiant convertible. His young life was snuffed out by a drunk driver 18 months later.

I’ve never been back to see the planes. But I wouldn’t trade that perfect night for anything.


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