“Aren’t you afraid that I’ll forget?” I asked.
“You can’t really forget how to drive. It’s like riding a bike. You can’t forget how to ride a bike. You do need to get readjusted to the car, so start driving slow.”
“You think I’ll be okay?”
“Just drive slowly, Stephanie. You’re a good driver. Don’t be worried.”
I was scared, then, that I’d forgotten how to drive. It was this past July — I’d just returned from a month-long trip to Taiwan — and the thought of losing control behind the wheel gave me anxiety. I was also about to move out to Baltimore a month later to start college, which would mean going three months without driving.
Now, sitting in my suite, I don’t have to close my eyes to clearly recall the image of my dad in the passenger seat again, the California sun blazing through the window, illuminating his salt-and-pepper hair. I’d seen him in the same spot countless times since I’d first learned how to command my mother’s silver SUV at 15 in my high school parking lot.
He looked on as I kept nudging what felt like a hulking metal creature through the quiet black asphalt of the near empty lot, dodging parked cars 15 feet away at the breathtaking speed of three miles an hour.
Twelve years before, my dad was beside me in the same lot, but then he was watching me closely as my short, stumpy legs pumped the pedals of a tricycle. As I grew up, he evolved to biking along with me until one day I sped up and left him to bike alongside my brother, following me at a distance. We pedalled to middle school, Sunday morning farmers markets, café brunches, hiking trails and the baylands.
Time passed — I might’ve outgrown biking to school by eighth grade, but I never outgrew the weekend rides with my family. School, stress from my social life and anxiety from my extracurriculars piled up during the weekdays and overflowed into my weekends, but still we biked together as much as possible.
I turned 15 and a half and learned how to drive. We started in my high school parking lot, then moved into the neighborhood. The longer I’d been driving, the later my dad and I went out and the further we ventured from home. How far beyond the Safeway at the edge of town can we go? To Belmont? San Francisco? San Rafael?
I got my license and my world extended tenfold. I learned the roads of my town like the back of my hand and adapted my own driving style — in California, the local speed limit is 20 miles over the posted number. On highways, you go at least 75 — unless you’re on Interstate 280, where you never go under 90 unless if you want to piss off other drivers.
Achieving this new, iconic teenage freedom was another step toward absolute independence; I no longer relied on my dad for rides. His appearances in the passenger seat slowly dwindled, and in his place came my friends yelling for the aux cord, warm summer night breezes and Soundcloud-level Indie music blasting from my speakers.
I desperately tried to keep my parents involved in my life; I’ve never meant to shut them out. But as I added more and more miles to the odometer in my car, I realized those weren’t just numbers I was piling on — I was creating more distance between myself and my dad.
I started feeling nostalgic for the times I had time to bike with him. Granted, I was already pretty independent of my parents at that point, but relying on my dad for rides was an integral part of my childhood and early adolescent years. Driving was a large milestone in the process of growing up, and, once I had my license, a vein of connection I had with my dad was severed.
I was terrified of growing up, and I still am today. A large part of it is letting go and leaving my parents — my primary anchors — behind. Recently, I found myself asking questions I don’t have answers for. What does it mean to grow up anyway? When did I take the first biggest step toward independence? Was it the first time I sped ahead on a bike, or was it the last time I drove with my father guiding me in the passenger seat?
I can’t turn back time, nor can I slow it down. It’s October now, and I’ve moved across the country. I haven’t been behind the wheel for over two months; I haven’t been on a bike for even longer. I won’t be seeing my dad in the passenger side for a bit, nor hearing the rattle of his and my brother’s bike chains behind me.
But I know I’ll still be able to in the future. Just because I’ve grown up doesn’t mean I have to let everything from the past go. It’s okay to feel nostalgic or fearful at times, but I also know that the increasing distance — physical and mental — won’t make my family and I any less close.
I know that when I return to California, it might feel strange at first to getting back on a bike and even more so sitting behind the wheel, but I haven’t forgotten how to use either. If anything, I’ve grown up a bit more after a semester at Hopkins,. I certainly feel like I have. Hell, I’ll just be ready to ride.