Written by Alexa Wilding
Last summer I learned to drive – again. I hadn’t driven since college, where I’d learned in two weeks, drove badly for four, only to jump back into the passenger seat after driving the wrong direction on the Taconic Parkway. But for a brief moment there I was behind the wheel, speeding down Route 9 in my caftan and 70’s sunglasses, singing along to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” With the wind on my back and Stevie on the radio, my own crystal visions felt at my finger-tips: I was going to be the next Stevie Nicks.
But I spent the next ten years getting the wind knocked out of me. Managers told me what to do, how to be. Stylists told me what to wear, and sound guys told me how to sound. I depended on bandmates to get me around, many of them thinking I wanted more than just a ride. A local paper went so far as to call me the “neo-Stevie Nicks,” but my heart sunk when I realized that the line was buried in an article about someone else.
When I finally got the memo that I wasn’t Stevie incarnate, I decided to keep my crystal visions to myself and act on another dream. I locked my guitars in my closet, alongside my leather and lace, and became a mother – to twins.
“You’re Super Mom!” people said, and for the first time since speeding down Route 9, I felt like I was once again behind the wheel of my life. “I got this!” I’d say, running the manic first year of my boys’ life like a well-oiled machine. Until, days before West and Lou’s first birthday, Lou was diagnosed with brain cancer, and I was kicked out of the driver’s seat like never before.
That awful winter, I couldn’t escape “Dreams.” The song would find me at 2 a.m., waiting for emergency meds at CVS; at 6 a.m. in the hospital kitchen, making coffee before Lou’s stem cell transplant. Or on the radio in Room 904, where I’d kiss my son’s head only to take in a mouthful of hair. Stevie would sing, “Thunder only happens when it’s raining…” and I’d look out as the snow turned to rain over the East River. The song would send, yes, what felt like a knife through my heart, reminding me not so much of my own failures (which of course were nothing in comparison to my son’s pain) but of how fragile life was, how we only get one shot.
Then one night, by the light of Lou’s monitors, I’d scribbled down my New Year’s resolutions. I’d felt guilty, hiding my notebook when the nurses came in, as though I were committing an infidelity, betraying my son. But by reasserting my goals – make another album, get an MFA in writing, (re) learn to drive – I found the fuel I needed to get Lou to the finish line. I began to believe in dreams again, and in turn, miracles.
Spring came, and Lou was a miracle. Eventually, it felt like I could get back to my list. So I made another album, only to find that after everything that had happened, my dreams had changed. I found much deeper meaning in my writing classes than I had ever found in trying to be famous. And when my husband, Ian and I decided to move our now healthy, four-year-old boys out of the city for a much-needed redux, I knew it was time for me to drive again.
Those first months back behind the wheel I’d say to myself, “I got this!” only to hear, “Hey, lady, what the hell are you doing?” followed by a symphony of horns. “I don’t know!” I’d yell back, and the more I said it, the more comfortable I got with the idea. I honestly didn’t know if I had the right of way, or if I could turn on red or not. But I was driving! And that’s all that mattered.
“Dreams” still finds me, when I’m in a café trying to write my book, or waiting with Ian and West at the clinic for the results of Lou’s routine scans (he remains cancer-free). And while Stevie’s song still sends a tremor through my body, the charge has softened to a feeling of nostalgia. Lately, when I’m driving along the Hudson River, I sing along. Catching my reflection in the rear-view mirror, I see my big sunglasses, the flowers on my caftan. I see all the women I’ve ever been, and I wave back at them.
“When the rain washes you clean you’ll know…”
I’m still terrified of the Taconic Parkway; I don’t understand merging, and multi-level parking garages feel like the seven circles of hell. But then I remember I’ve already seen hell, and I just keep going.
Thank you so much, Alexa!