Passenger seat past

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

It is a spring evening, nearing sunset, after a warm day. The smell of sun-baked lakebed and blooming skunk cabbage fills the car, carried by a loud rush of air through the lowered driver’s-side window — uncomfortable at 60 miles an hour, but not as uncomfortable as the uncharted territory occupying the passenger seat.

Courtesy photo.

I roll up the windows and keep my eyes fixed on the highway in the sudden silence. Time to say something.

“It’s pretty cool you quit biting your nails,” I offer.

She glances toward my hands — the left slumped on the steering wheel, the right on my knee — and sees the tattered cuticles on my 26-year-old hands.

“Yeah, sorry — it didn’t last long,” I say with an apologetic half smile.

She, the 12-year-old Lyndsie, picks at the silver nail polish on her brittle thumb nail and fights the urge to nibble at the fragile corner.

I keep my eyes on the road for the most part, though I can’t help but glance toward the passenger seat every so often to take mental notes. The black sweatshirt with holes in the cuffs for her small thumbs, casually hiding her perpetually sweaty palms. The pink-and-black, dice-patterned Converse — a great find on eBay in 2008. Her bangs, partially grown out but not yet long enough for a ponytail, turned to wild whisps in the chaos of the windows-down car ride.

Her hands grapple absentmindedly, kneading and chipping. Her right knee bounces up and down.

“Do you have any questions?” I ask. It seems like a relevant thing to say, but it sounds weird as it leaves my mouth — as if I would have any answers at all about how we got here, where we were going.

Silence. Then: “What song is this?”

Not “where do you live now?” or “are you and Caleb still madly in love?” or “did you get into the University of Montana?” or “why does your car smell like coffee and wet dog?” or “where are we driving to?”

But — “What song is this?”

“Oh, um, it’s called ‘Constant Headache.’ It’s by Joyce Manor, I think.” I glance toward my phone’s screen for confirmation. The album’s cover, and the four children on it — one of them looking directly at the camera — look back at me.

“I like it,” she offers.

Drowsy electric guitar and angry drums rip through the speakers. The lyrics are about unrequited love or a failing relationship, or something like that. It doesn’t matter. The vocalist is devastated in a way that makes the most obscure song memorable, and worthy of the playlist. 

She hasn’t experienced anything close to devastating. She’s years away from fully feeling the song’s pain. Maybe I should prepare her.

“Me too,” is all I can muster.

The album came out in 2013. By then, the Lyndsie in my passenger seat will be 17 years old, a junior in high school. The tattered black hoodie will be in the back of the closet, the sneakers donated, the bangs grown out to full length.

We drive on.

Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey was inspired to write this work of fiction after considering what it would be like to meet her younger self.

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