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Getaway Driver This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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I was 16, sitting in my biological father's car. He'd just taken me to get my permit, and now for my first drive. His sad attempts to be fatherly weren't working. He was impatient and cared more about his precious car than his daughter. “Take it easy there, kiddo. This is a really nice car,” he said. Yes. I'm sure it's very expensive. It's your third new car in two years. I guess your children aren't the only thing you have a short attention span for. I didn't say that out loud; I couldn't. So I just nodded and stepped on the gas. The car jerked forward, and my foot flew to the brake. “Jeez … I said easy!” Suddenly I remembered why we don't talk much. I also felt certain I was doomed to take public transportation for life.

When I first started driving I hated it. It was terrifying. One little mistake could kill someone. I didn't want that responsibility. But after a while I stopped thinking about it. I stopped thinking about the person in the seat next to me. I stopped thinking about anything except the movement of the car. Eyes focused on the road. I got used to it. And now driving is an escape. I can leave whenever I want. I can escape anything.

• • •

I made it to my car, turned it on, and slowly backed out of the driveway. Once I was free from the sight of my house, I gave in and cried. As the tears rolled down my cheeks and dropped to my chest I couldn't help but feel the weight of every single one. The yelling, the crying, more yelling. Accusations. Hate disguised as love. And with every tear, it was like I was pressing replay on the remote control of my life. But when I hit the highway, suddenly everything changed. It didn't matter that my parents were going to hate me for the next week. It didn't matter how sad I was about it. Nothing mattered. When the highway engulfs every sense in the body, all else just washes away, almost as if I'm driving on a clean slate.

When it's late, the highway's quiet. Empty. Peaceful. Open and continuous. The moon arching above creates a mystical glow over the scene. And the lights line the pitch black asphalt. It's quiet. Everyone else drives silently. No music. Just the sound of tires rumbling on, beating against the uneven road.

I was 17. My driving insecurities had melted away, only to reveal the shiny trophy of my love. I loved driving. My stepdad had taken me under his wing to teach me the art. We'd drive just to drive. And during those drives something amazing happened: we talked. A seemingly impossible task at home suddenly became so easy in the comfort of the car seats. We talked about school and other stuff, but mostly school, because that's all there really was. I'd like to think that our drives brought us closer, but part of me knows it's just another version of Highway Hypnosis.

Highway Hypnosis: When the highway takes over the body. All my senses are absorbed in this one thing, as if I'm in a trance. Something so plain and boring during the day reawakens to be exciting at night. All the lights glow as if a silver lining for the emptiness. Leading the way toward something beautiful, or maybe it's just beautiful itself. Being surrounded by the lights – engulfed in them – makes me feel as if I'm on the way to a place where happiness is real and infinite. As if I'm driving on a strip of hope. Moving, flying toward something epic, an adventure just waiting to happen. And in that moment everything is forgotten. Because all I want to do is sing along to that dumb song. And all I can do is watch as the streetlights tear apart the night sky. And all I can do is open my eyes to see the world flying past. And in that moment I forget. Because for that one moment I am flying and I am free.

I was 18, fidgeting in the seat of my car, waiting for my friend Caroline to come out of her house. Finally she appeared. We'd spent the summer apart, and now before she departed for college, we had one last drive. She got in and we left. Left the small town we lived in. Left the drama behind and just drove. When the happy songs came on we laughed and sang along if we knew the words. If we didn't, we laughed more and pretended we did anyways. But when the slow songs came on we got quiet and talked about life. Who made it like this? I don't know. We talked about the loss of summer, good friends, and that one little moment that changes your opinion of everything. Even just for a moment.

The highway stretched before us. Endless. Freeing. It made us feel like we could stay happy in my car forever.

Like we were nine years old again, the year we met. Summer ending didn't just mean losing my freedom from homework, or even the friends I made, I was losing possibly the person who knows me best. We had always talked about leaving together. But we're not. We both knew this, acknowledging it with a single look, and then ignored it. We had one night left. One last night to ignore our looming futures and be nine years old again. So we turned up the music and drove down into our tunnel. Screaming. Laughing. Anything but crying. We flew down the hill into the endless array of lights. Our perfect constellations. Man-made, yes, but still beautiful.

When I'm on the highway now, when I'm about to drive through that tunnel, anything and everything is possible. I feel like I can escape anything. So when I have to turn around, I'm not sad anymore. Because no matter what, I know I can just leave. When the going gets tough I can drive off. I know it's a bad habit, but it's one that I'd like to keep. Because when I turn around, sometimes I do want to feel sad, but I'm not. I'm just hopeful and excited for the next time I get to fill the loneliness and boredom with something far greater: freedom.

So, every night I go driving. I blast dumb music to sing to, and also music that's sad and makes me think. I think mostly about myself, which seems selfish but that's why I go driving. Because despite the music blasting and the sound of the other cars, it's my time to be quiet and think about whatever I want, usually me and my life. Every now and then I go with someone else, and those times I don't feel as selfish or lonely. Those times I'm happiest. Because when I'm driving around with my best friend, all I want to do is laugh and sing and forget about tomorrow.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the March 2014 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.





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