The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

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Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

September 9, 2003

Free bird!

Originally posted to Diary-X

I am not a very good driver.

I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 18, for reasons I can’t really recall nine years later. (The delay may have been partially caused by an accident I had at age 10—I rode my cousin’s three-wheeler up onto a deck because I panicked and confused the accelerator with the brake, which led to many years of bad nightmares—as well as by my dad’s, shall we say, patience-impaired method of teaching me to drive). Then, once I had my license, I hardly ever used it, because I was car-less in college. So basically, I started driving when I was 22. When we moved to Chicago two years ago, we sold one of our cars, and I started riding the bus and train everywhere. So I pretty much have the driving experience of a 20-year-old. (That’s my excuse, anyway.)

I liked driving when I lived in Michigan. I didn’t think twice about driving two hours away, after work, to have dinner with a friend or go to a concert, returning home that same night. I cherished my daily commuting time: the soothing tones of NPR, the comforting travel mug of coffee. Local traffic was never that bad, and my 25-minute commute gave me time to wake up and ease into the day. I missed that when I moved to Chicago, but the extra reading time that public transportation provides made up for it. Plus, with city traffic being so insanely harrowing and all, I was happy to let someone else sit in the driver’s seat. I don’t drive offensively, and that’s a prerequisite around here.

As we settled into city life and the months passed, the idea of driving became quite foreign to me. I began to depend on John, who’d grown into a seasoned horn-honking road warrior, to get behind the wheel when we set off for locations not easily accessible by public transportation. As I watched him navigate around dog-walking jaywalkers and deranged cabbies and double-parked cars, I felt a twinge of fear mixed with a twinge of relief—at least I didn’t have to deal with all this. Because I wasn't sure if I could.

I think I had lost a little bit of my independence.

I suppose people become a bit more dependent just by getting married. I lived alone for two years before tying the knot, and those were two good years. I wasn't one to worry about strange sounds at night. I shopped alone, paid my bills alone, went to coffee houses alone, went to museums alone. Hell, I went to Italy alone. I did what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. And it was fine.

My life isn’t exactly like that anymore. Of course, I still do things alone, but many times I’d rather do them with John. I think this is partially because we moved to a strange city together, without knowing anyone, and we were both slightly overwhelmed and lonely. We had to rely on each other, which probably made us closer—but it was a big change. Anyway, I wouldn’t want to go back to being my old independent self, exactly, because that self wasn’t married to John.

So anyway, this past weekend I noticed exactly how much my independence had waned. On Saturday, I had to drive to Kalamazoo, Michigan, for a friend’s baby shower. There was no reason for John to come—he doesn’t have any friends in Kzoo—and so I decided to go it alone. I won’t lie—I was kinda scared to do this. It’s not easy driving into and out of Chicago. There are six lanes of traffic. Lots of cars. Angry people. Hard-to-execute lane changes. In other words, Grownup Driving.

I had driven this route before. Four years ago, when my friend Jessica was living in Chicago, I drove to see her, by myself, two times. (Once was through a raging blizzardy snowstorm in which I actually prayed the Our Father out loud, in the car, because I honestly thought I might drive off the road and die). I hadn’t thought twice about making the trek then. How could I be thinking twice about it now? How had I gotten to this point? Frankly, I was embarrassed for myself.

So I did it. I got behind the wheel and drove my independent 27-year-old self the 180 miles between Kalamazoo and Chicago. Traffic wasn’t that bad, and the sky was blue and clear, and on the way home, the sun was setting, deep and golden. And I got off on the right exits, and no one honked at me, and I made my lane changes and listened to Alison Krauss and Coldplay and Richard Shindell and Sting and Norah Jones. As the sun dropped into the horizon, I was coming into the city, and the lake was bleached a pale, cool blue and the lights were glittering on in the skyscrapers. And I was there in the midst of it all, driving my old black Jetta down Lakeshore Drive as if I do it every damn day.

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