I've been driving the streets of L.A. a lot lately...in my head.
I guess it's fitting that when I think of Los Angeles, the land of the driven, I should remember intersections and gas stations and mini-malls. But there's a poignancy to these particular memories; a minor-key soundtrack seems to be playing on the car stereo. Because sitting in the passenger seat as I drive is a Child. She's a junior in high school, doesn't yet have her license, and every morning I drive her the 10 miles across town to school.
Sometimes she sleeps the whole way. Sometimes she eats the fried potatoes I made for her while she'd showered and dressed. Most mornings we listen to her CD mixes, and I routinely fail the obligatory exam.
"Okay, who's this?"
"Um, All-American Rejects?"
"Um, The Flesh Tones?"
"You mean The Hush Sound? No."
"Um, Tegan and Sara?"
(Shake of head. Facepalm.)
But the dopey ones I manage to learn by heart; in fact, I can never get them out of my head. She and I tsk with mutual disdain over the inane lyrics.
" 'There's no distance in between our love' ?" The Child says, her shoulders and voice rising with incredulity.
" 'You're part of my entity/Yeah for infinity' ?" I counter.
Then we sing along with Rihanna together.
" 'You can stand under my um-ber-ella-ella-ella-eh-eh-eh.' "
Every time she plays a new song for me, she surreptitiously watches my thumbs to see whether they tap the steering wheel in time to the music—the sure sign of a hit. She finds it weird and slightly disturbing to see them tapping to the beat of Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl." But I think I secretly get some cool-mom cred with her friends when she reports this. (She may beg to differ.)
I'm proud that she feels comfortable enough to preface a new song with "This one is not really parent-appropriate"—and then play it for me anyway. I admit to brief palpitations on the first hearing of The Dresden Dolls' "Shores of California," with its lyrics "All I know is that all around the nation/The girls are crying, the boys are masturbating."
Now I hear "Shores of California" and I'm achingly nostalgic for a certain stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard between Westwood and Beverly Glen, or of Sunset Boulevard between the Strip and La Brea. I miss turning the corner from La Brea onto Hollywood Boulevard and waving at my dad's star on the Walk of Fame.
"Hi, star!" we'd chorus, waving vigorously, perplexing the guy hosing down the sidewalk.
And I miss the sleeping, texting, chewing, singing, ranting, witticizing, facepalming, silently mulling high school junior sitting beside me. The girl who is now a sophomore in college and is spending the summer on the other side of the country.
I'll never get that year back. I'm grateful to have had it. And as anyone knows who's read my many recent posts, I'm truly grateful for the here and now in New York City. Still, in some impossible way, I want to hold that junior year in my hands again. These conflicting true things co-exist in an uneasy mash-up in my head. And I'll just have to live with that.
As the sage said: "You're part of my entity/Yeah for infinity."
* Title taken from Katharine Hepburn's autobiography, Me; on leaving the California house she once shared with Spencer Tracy.