The innocent and the beautiful have no enemy but time.
~ William Butler Yeats
Growing up, I enjoyed riding shotgun. I could call dibs faster than Kelly Minisofer. Since this was back in the day before air conditioning came standard, we used 4/60 air – four windows down, going 60 mph. All the kids were jealous of the awesome tan on my right arm; I’d extend it straight out the window and do those cool aerodynamic swirls. And sometimes, since seat belts were also optional, I’d lean way out and let the wind, and occasional bug, rifle up my nose.
Remember that feeling? The onslaught of summer wind so strong it made breathing damn near impossible? The sting in your eyes, forcing you to squeeze them shut, instead just letting the sound of the road echo loudly in your head?
Zoe gets this. I can’t drive anywhere without her wanting to come with (as my Minnesota relatives so eloquently put it). This morning, it meant bringing her along to the little country store half a mile down the road. We could have walked, but where’s the fun in that?! Zero to thirty and we’re there. But not before she’d leaned out the window and lost her favorite hat to the warming Indiana breeze.
Not the first time she’s lost shit out the window. The first time came when she was probably four. We were on our way from Evansville via Terre Haute and were at that spot along US-41 that runs by Boot City, home of 10,000 soles. The air in my Honda has never worked really well, so we had the windows down, the music up, and smiles on our faces in anticipation of the corn dogs we planned to scarf down at Dog ‘n Suds. Then came The Scream. You parents who’ve had four-year-olds know The Scream. It’s heart-stopping. I quickly look over, thinking perhaps she’d been stung by a bee or something. Instead, I don’t see her favorite big cream-colored teddy bear anymore. Not in the floorboard. Not in the back seat.
Not in her arms.
And she’s pointing out the window. And tears are streaming down her face. And she’s screaming.
1.5 seconds have passed.
I glance into the rearview mirror and through the heat glare I see Teddy laying on the side of the road all Pee Wee Herman, half on, half off the blazing hot cement, yellow line bisecting his torso. And cars swerving like they were circumventing road kill.
Part of me, for just a brief moment, wants to keep driving. I’m suddenly all Tough Love. There’s a lesson to be learned here, I contemplate; “Don’t hold shit out the window you want to keep!” Yeah, she’d cry. A lot. But she’d learn a lesson.
Then, probably not. And what kind of a heartless son-of-a–
I slam on the breaks and pull over. And as she leans out the window, her crying abating, I walk down the shoulder and rescue Teddy. Now she’s all smiles. Innocent and beautiful. And I’m her hero.
We also stopped and got the hat back on our drive home, her head tilted out the window, the breeze blowing her hair. Again, she’s all smiles . . .