by bethany grandy
some of my happiest childhood moments were those spent riding in our steel blue station wagon as we embarked on a day of dysfunctional family fun. some of you may demur at my suggestion that sharing a confined space with family members for any extended period of time is enjoyable. yet, for me, those moments were the most transformative of my youth. in many ways, those car rides were the catalysts for my transition into adolescence, during which i was exposed to love, laughter, fighting, and forgiveness. as i blossomed into a worldly adolescent, i felt ever thankful for such memories which have shaped my life impermeably and forever.
as the youngest and smallest sibling of the grandy clan, i was always relegated to the backseat—situated squarely between the bodies of my brother and sister, as well as within the surveillance parameters of the rearview mirror. more often than not, my father was the one steering the wheel during these long drives. i felt his incredible power so viscerally, yet, through mirrored reflections, his silent struggles were illuminated. in the framed reflections of the rearview mirror, i saw him clearly for the first time.
warning: objects in mirror are closer than they appear.
( all essay photos courtesy of bethany grandy )
i may have been too young or stubborn (or both) to fully appreciate it then, but sitting directly in my father’s line of vision bonded us in profound ways—ways i cherish more and more with each passing day. i can so vividly remember how, in an effort to make me smile, my dad would glance back at me through the rearview mirror, stick out his tongue, and then quickly turn his attention toward the road without my mother, brother, or sister ever seeing. of course, this would elicit a whiny reaction from me like, “moooom, dad stuck his tongue out at me !” to which she would feign disbelief and playfully scold, “jace, stop it !” my dad would give a guilty wink to my mother in the passenger’s seat before returning his attention to the road ahead. those moments—when a smile danced across my father’s lips and joy reflected from his eyes—are evergreen in my memory. our laughter played as the soundtrack to his smile—and happiness, like the winding road ahead, seemingly endless.
but not all memories are this quintessentially golden. in the nine years since his passing, i have compelled myself to purge the blind spots of my memory where the more painful memories dwell. more than once, i had a front row, backseat to the escalating tensions between my parents. i remember the wild eyes and frustrated sighs that were ominous precursors to every argument. although their fights almost always ended in forgiveness, tangents of these explosive exchanges have stayed with me—burning red in my memory. during these fights, tears streamed down my cheeks, like raindrops across the windshield during a storm. how good-natured conversations could turn volatile so quickly, i never understood. nor did i desire to. i only remember regretting those moments and silently praying for them to subside. my father had a fire in his heart, but sometimes, too often, it became an excuse for arson.
for thirteen years, i watched as my father adjusted the rearview mirror to every conceivable angle until it reflected some kind of lost hope that he could latch onto. maybe he, too, was attempting to eliminate the blind spots in his life—and there were many of them. or, perhaps he was, as i still am, searching for comprehension in something that is vastly and utterly incomprehensible. i can still remember how, when he thought everyone in the car was sleeping, he would angle the mirror toward my brother, sister, and i and gaze at us with tender bewilderment. during those precious moments, my father reflected the very best of us, just as we reflected the very best of him.
as i adjust my own rearview mirror while driving, i am consoled by the reciprocity i see in its reflection. indeed, i am the fragmented whole of my father’s fragments—a cracked mosaic crafted from the shards of his shattered soul. i am nostalgic for the moments and the miles that bonded us as father and daughter, but in memory, i am forever intimately and unconditionally connected to my father.