Open Road

I have a theory about vulnerability and long car rides.

It’s easier to be vulnerable in a car, when you aren’t looking at the person and your gaze is fixed on the road ahead. You don’t see the other person’s reactions, but you can sense their presence and perceive the emanating empathy.

My experience with the opposite sex has been largely comprised of such front-seat spill sessions–limited mostly to the prom date who asked me via Facebook Messenger, the boy I dated in college with hair longer than mine, and the classiest of all gentlemen who rarely asks for a date but always opts for going to third base on the emotional playing field.

Some girls experience hormonally-charged makeout sessions in the backseats of cars. I, however, have had a front-seat view of unwarranted emotional intimacy that leaves him commitment-free and me more attached than before. Though not always unwelcome or uncomfortable, they end with feelings of confusion and a questioning of their intentions.

I would simply sit and listen; ready for the pattern I knew all too well to repeat itself:

He offers to drive. His car is cluttered, strewn with papers and borrowed items; the empty cup from yesterday’s Chick- Fil-A run still sits in the cup holder. Death metal music blares through the stereo as he starts the car–a telltale sign this will end poorly in the rupture of our relationship, but something justifies it in the present moment.

We head down the mountain road in search of good coffee and end up having the kind of conversation that naturally slips off the tongue.

He begins with storytelling, the basics. Get to Know Me 101. Then a pause. Hesitation. Exhalation.

“Oh, I’ll just tell you.” And here, in detail, he shares.

What happened to his brother. What happened at that party. Deciding to go home. Deciding to go back. The reason he left. The girl whose heart he broke. The girl who broke his. His darkness, his truth. He shares anything, everything.

I sit, my body shifted slightly towards the driver’s seat. I take in his profile. I’ve never had a problem accepting someone else’s vulnerability—it’s only my own I have been trained to reject. He steals a glance at me, waiting for a response, waiting for reciprocation, for my own honesty. We always reach our destination before I’m forced to embrace it.

In truth I don’t know how. It is hard for me to believe someone will hold my story with sacredness. The vulnerability I know carries wounds, manipulation, and control. The one that is safe and freeing and courageous, I have never never met.

A few months ago, two friends and I drove a 900-mile stretch through the middle of California up to Oregon. We had spent the summer at camp together, working long hours, cohabitating in a cramped cabin, and laughing at three in the morning about things that were only funny because our sleep-deprived brains told us they were. We got to know each other so quickly that those ten and a half weeks felt like ten and a half months.

We spent six days in the car talking about everything. But somewhere between Redding and Grants Pass, as we drove past the kinds of towns that make you wonder about the lives of the people who live there, or if anyone even lives in them at all, I realized that these girls, these women whom I had grown to love and value so deeply in my life, didn’t know me at all.

“Have I told you about…?” Before I could even finish the sentence, one of them interrupted with a laugh and a harsh truth.

“It’s safe to assume no, you have not. You’ve barely told us anything.”

I circled back in my mind, trying to find evidence to prove that these words were an exaggeration. It’s hard to accept truths about yourself when you’ve spent so much time defending and denying behaviors that have become like a second skin. Somewhere along the way, I chose to turn vulnerability into vagueness. I had given these two women fragmented pieces of my life. Only when asked pointed, intentional questions did I share stories or snippets of honest, unfiltered information.

The words of a previous car companion rang loudly in my mind. “You do not invite people into your life with kindness.”

Another truth I had tried to reason away: He clearly had not asked me enough questions. He must not have actually wanted to know me. He lacked interest. He was disengaged. He was not fighting hard enough.

Maybe I half expected him to rip the vulnerability right out of me. But when had I ever asked him to? When did that become something he was supposed to do? There’s a beautiful, albeit terrifying freedom that comes from knowing vulnerability is not something that others must search for; it’s something I must choose to give.

And there, somewhere along the I-5, I did what I thought I did not know how to—I embraced it.

Perhaps the issue was never my inability to be vulnerable. Perhaps it was waiting for someone who would patiently walk alongside me as I clumsily stumbled down this path of being known–someone to tell me it was okay if I didn’t want to, and letting me know they would be there when I did. And perhaps it is about letting people know where you are on the journey, letting them know you aren’t very good at this, but you’re getting there. You’re getting there.

Rebecca Jacks is a Westmont graduate with a degree in Theatre Arts and is currently working in high school ministry. She loves to listen to people’s stories and encourage everyone that their story is valuable. Rebecca also enjoys oatmeal, avocados and lots of coffee.