I have this vision of a perfect night I either had a million times or never at all. It goes: a bunch of us are in a car at night in wet swimsuits and soaking through our beach towels and jean shorts, the windows are down and it’s so late that all the lights turn green right when we pull up, someone’s playing music and everyone is scream-singing along, maybe the driver pulls some funny shit like tapping the breaks to make the car bounce, no one has any sense of how fast the car is moving.
When I talk about missing Texas I’m really talking about a lot of things. It’s that feeling of being in a car at night with your friends, but so much else. The smell of chlorine, burning the backs of your thighs on leather car seats in the daytime, always sweating, the way people say hi when they pass you on the sidewalk, the way it smells in a bar when the doors are open, beer mixing with the night air (night air is sweeter), walking outside during certain months and hearing locusts buzzing in the trees, vodka sticking to a styrofoam cup, the way the moon and stars look all fuzzy on cloudy nights.
A lot of it does have to do with being in a car. There’s something about being in a car. I talk too much about how bad I miss my Jeep, the first car I got and only car I’ve had. My mom sold it to this French couple three months after I moved to New York City and my internship turned into a job offer, like I’d hoped and planned. I didn’t even know any French people lived in our suburb.
The Jeep was a Problem. We knew this before my dad bought it from the CarMax, it being an American-made car, a GE-made car, but I wanted it so bad and it was safe and affordable enough. Not one of those Jeeps they always tell you will flip over on a dime. First the passenger-side window kept breaking. It would just fall down into the door. I had it taped closed with duct tape for a while but it kept melting off in the heat. Then the AC was always on the fritz. For at least two summers, including the one when I moved to Austin, I had a little generator hooked up to the cigarette lighter, and a miniature fan plugged into the generator. It hung from my rear view with my Yankee Candle air fresheners and blew hot air at my face.
Still I loved this car.
One day I was talking a lot about missing the Jeep and Lauren goes, “Hannah that car always smelled like cat piss.” I forgot about the cat piss. Immediately when she said it, I remembered getting in the car on hot days and getting hit with the acrid and unmistakeable scent of cat piss. A cat I adopted when I was depressed had pissed on the back bench seat once and anyone will tell you, there’s no getting out cat piss.
I get it all tangled up. I can’t separate certain things. Nostalgia is like a floral perfume, or maybe like a stack of Yankee Candle Beach Walk air fresheners dangling on the rear view of a cat piss car, in that it overpowers and masks everything in its vicinity. I miss so much about Texas but what if what I miss is not Texas but being young and stupid enough to speed around after a few beers and not care how the car smells. It’s maybe possible that I don’t love cars but just hate the trains.
I still don’t know how my mom had the Jeep smelling good enough for that French couple to buy it.