I feel as if I lived my childhood in a car.
Summers were spent sweltering in my mother's silver Suburban as my rowdy siblings shouted amongst each other with the silver beast crawling its way towards Up North, serenity at the top of Wisconsin. The better half of my grade school days were spent sitting in the backseat of my dad's burgundy Trailblazer with a varying mix of my six older siblings. As we drove to school, we blazed past everyone on the highway on-ramp. If my dad was going to have to pay for seven college tuitions in the near future, he was never going to pass up on his consolation prize: the carpool lane.
Freshmen year sped by as my closest in age sibling, Monica, drove me everywhere and anywhere. Anywhere usually meant the same thing: the straight shot down Lake Drive towards Colectivo on Lake Michigan, pointing out the mansions we would one day move into if one of us made it big. These car rides may only be mere moments on my timeline, but they felt like the essential ones; so when I finally started driving by myself, it was strange.
Because if you were to know anything about me, it is that I define myself first and foremost as the youngest of seven siblings.
I became who I am because of those six people.
I learned patience as I anxiously waited to be heard. I learned humor through repetitiously quoting "School of Rock" at every family gathering. I learned compassion through accepting each of their varying personalities, stretching from brother's quiet intelligence to the exuberant generosity of my extroverted sister Clare. Thus, when they started to move out of the house for college, I didn't feel their obliterating absence in the house—but rather in the car.
One by one, they left. By 3rd grade, I no longer had to sit in the last row of the Suburban. By sophomore year, I was riding shotgun with my dad as the Trailblazer chugged through its final stages to school. My days of fighting for the front seat with Monica were in the Suburban's rearview mirror. While she was riding the "L" train in Chicago to class, I had complete control over the radio. Then on a rainy December day, the day after my 16th birthday, I passed my driver's test. I didn't need anyone else in my front seat anymore. This was a complete conundrum to me: did I have a place to go if there was no one to accompany me? I had always had a life of chaos—obnoxiously filled with people but happily so.
Was I capable of finally being alone?
That same December day, while on the highway for the first time—I thought of my siblings. With my backpack riding shotgun as my only passenger, I couldn't take the carpool lane. My siblings would be with me on the phone, Up North, or at family gatherings but we would never all fit in a car again. They are no longer in need of parental rides and have since merged into the fast lane of life. It was time for me to move on from my childhood, learn how to spot the mansions on Lake Drive by myself and merge.
So with the twitch of a blinker, I signaled my transition from on-ramp to highway, from childhood to beyond. Heart in my stomach, I press on the gas, trying to match the pace of my fellow commuters. At sixteen, I found a spot on the highway. And now, at seventeen, I'm searching for a shot. I’m searching to be heard not just among my siblings but among the traffic noise of life. Because with or without passengers, my car—my life—is going to include me, in the driver seat.