Nonfiction: Parking Lot Love by Abigail Thomas

I am remembering my first favorite parking lot. It was the end of the road where my grandmother lived in Amagansett. Indian Wells Highway stopped abruptly at the Atlantic Ocean, and at lunchtime there were always working men in pickup trucks eating sandwiches and watching the water. I used to know the names of cars back then. I could tell a Chevy from a Ford from a Buick. I knew what a Studebaker looked like and a Nash Rambler and an Oldsmobile. This was back in the day, when Schellinger’s Well Drilling was still on Main Street, and his daughter, Judy, was my best friend. There was also Topping’s, and the Three Sisters’ Tearoom (or was it Two?)  and a tiny grocery store with a dime stuck to the floor which, if you tried to pick it up, gave you a shock and the old shopkeeper snickered. On hurricane days my family drove to the beach, parked, and stared at the insanely huge waves, perfectly safe from wind and water in our car, but struck dumb.

At 77, I still love a good parking lot.  Not the ones you can see from outer space, those remind me of cemeteries. I never sit at Lowes, or Wal-Mart, or Home Depot or Target. Nothing at a mall. Too many families unloading huge carts of stuff, too much action. I like the smaller parking lots at local stores. I love the parking lot at Sunfrost, especially in summer, when my car is parked amongst potted plants and trays of flowers. And everybody shops. We buy bread and toilet paper and brown sugar and light bulbs. We buy tomatoes and fresh corn and butter and smoked trout, when feeling flush. I am part of this community, but I don’t have to engage. Nobody bothers to look inside my car, I am comfy and invisible.  I have found it possible to eat an entire coconut custard pie with my bare hands.

But I’d rather sit in my parked car than at a picnic table, or by the side of a stream. It’s a pause. The pause does not get nearly enough credit. I might turn the car around and drive to Albany Airport and fly away to Fiji to look for an old boyfriend who moved there. But I like sitting in the stillness that precedes whatever comes next.

A kind and generous friend sent me a mix tape; old rock songs. I can’t afford to let that kind of energy loose in my house, so I drive to the Comeau and park in the lot where dog walkers head off across the field into the woods. There are lots of other cars, people greeting each other, dogs leaping, their tails wagging furiously. I take the CD out carefully and stick it in. The sound is jacked as high as it will go. This is my kind of music. This is rock & roll. Twenty-one songs. Nobody notices when my little car begins to shake, nobody notices when I burst out laughing or sing at the top of what’s left of my lungs, nobody notices when I bang on the steering wheel, nobody notices when now and then I burst into tears. I guess there are some parked cars we never leave. Here I sit, seventy-seven years old, but another me is once again parked at the Amagansett Beach, sixty years ago. The sun is down. My boyfriend and I are in his old Hudson, and the car is rocking a little, we are listening to Chuck Berry, and I’m wondering if it’s possible to die from so much pleasure.

Abigail Thomas was asked to leave Bryn Mawr in 1959 because she was pregnant. She left and never looked back. Thomas has written eight books. The first three were works of fiction, the last three are memoirs: Safekeeping; A Three Dog Life; and What Comes Next and How To Like It. She has published poetry and prose in a wide range of magazines, and a chapbook of poems, under her then married name. She lives with three dogs, a daughter, a son-in-law, and twin boys in Woodstock, New York.

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