all photos by the author


Sitting in that passenger seat and putting on the performance of my life with Ava was the best feeling in the world.

By Nuala Sanchez


Editor’s note: names have been changed to protect privacy.

Her name is Stacy. She is a 2006 silver Honda CRV.

Ava and I were sophomores in high school when her grandparents dropped off the car in her driveway. Ava had just gotten her learner’s permit and couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel.

“My first car!” Ava exclaimed.

I was just as excited knowing the two of us would be able to go anywhere together with this newfound freedom. As we stood in her front yard admiring the car in the driveway, Ava decided her name would be Stacy after the Fountains of Wayne song, “Stacy’s Mom.”

“Stacy’s mom has got it going on,” Ava sang, “That’s me, I’m her mom!”

The first time Ava drove me in her new car, she picked me up from my house to go see a movie. She had just gotten her permit and so her dad rode in the passenger seat, carefully eyeing her driving. I anxiously sat in the backseat of Stacy, watching Ava grip the steering wheel with white knuckles.

I watched her stick her neck out and flip her head back and forth waiting for the road to clear before she made a left turn. Then suddenly, she stepped on the gas and flung us into the intersection nearly scraping the side of an oncoming van. I gripped my seat belt and held my breath. Ava’s dad yelled, “Watch it!” Ava repeated, “Oh my god,” and, “I’m sorry,” as she regained control. I looked into the rearview mirror and saw her eyes welling up with tears.

As she continued driving, Ava became much more confident behind the wheel. Her driver’s test came around and she passed on the first try at what was considered an unusually difficult DMV to do so. Even with her license, she still had six more months until she turned 18, which meant it was still illegal for the two of us to take Stacy for a spin alone.

We were too impatient to wait. Ava would leave her house telling her mother she was just running an errand, but instead, she would drive to my house. My parents would be at work and I’d wait at my front steps for Stacy to arrive. She always drove with her window open and I'd hear the bumping bass of the music and laugh at her pumping her fists along to the beat. As I hopped in, Ava would turn up the music even more and we would sing along at the top of our lungs. Sitting in that passenger seat and putting on the performance of my life with Ava was the best feeling in the world. 

Ava became my chauffeur for the rest of high school. Knowing my best friend could always pick me up only further delayed the process of getting my license. Ava loved driving; she would call me around 9pm some nights saying she was outside my house, and I would throw on a sweater and rush out the door. Sometimes it felt like Ava and I spent more time in her car than at home.

It was winter break our senior year of high school. Two days before Christmas, I woke up to a phone call. It was Ava.

Her voice cracked through the phone as she said, “Can I come over?”

“Yeah,” I said, “Is everything okay?”

“I’ll tell you in person,” she responded.

I waited in the kitchen, looking out the window to the street. A few minutes later, I saw Stacy park in front of my house. Ava stepped out in her pajamas, her hair thrown into a messy bun. Even from across the front yard I could tell her eyes were puffy.

We went straight to my room and she sat on my bed, rubbing her eyes. She told me about her family’s Christmas party the night before. She was the designated driver and had driven her older siblings and her parents in Stacy to her aunt’s house. At the party, she watched her dad pour himself drink after drink. By the end of the night he was too drunk to stand. Ava’s mom and her older brother carried her dad to the car and left him in the backseat as they went to say goodbye to the rest of the family. When they all came back to the car, Ava’s dad had gotten sick. Ava drove them all home, turning the AC on full blast and rolling all the windows down. She said her car still smelled like vomit the next morning.

I couldn’t find the right words to make her feel better. I made tea and brought out some of my mom’s holiday cookies. We watched old episodes of Gilmore Girls in my room. Later in the afternoon, her mom called her, and I took a peek at her phone to see there had been several missed calls from her throughout the day. She felt sorry for her mom having to take care of her dad all day so she decided it was time to go home. As we said goodbye, I insisted she come over anytime; she nodded and said how much she loved me.

Before we knew it, it was spring, and by May, we had graduated high school. Ava and I planned to spend the entirety of our last summer before college together. We got jobs as counselors at a summer camp, and each morning, Ava would pick me up in Stacy and we’d drive to work together gossiping about our coworkers and all the annoying children. The social scene of the summer camp was unlike anything we’d seen before. We were in La Cañada, a wealthy neighborhood in LA where many of the counselors had grown up attending prestigious private schools and going home to their enormous mansions. Every weekend Ava and I would be invited to parties in these mansions. We had never been in homes so large.

We always felt like a fish out of water around these other counselors, but we were so excited by this new world we had unlocked. We got drunk for the first time and dared each other to talk to boys we liked. Ava had a new crush every week. I had fallen in love for the first time.

I was eighteen and still didn’t know how to drive. My parents never nagged me about it. They were relieved I had found a way to get around. There was always Ava, seven minutes away from my house, eager to come pick me up. She was even more eager when I told her I was going on a date and needed her to drive me there.

His name was Charlie, and I remember seeing him for the first time at the summer camp orientation. I had watched him from afar as he made friends with the other guys. He had dark brown hair and light blue, almost gray eyes. I had pinched Ava’s arm and we giggled and whispered about him.

I didn’t know how to act normally around Charlie. I was awkward and quiet when he was near. But somehow my social ineptitude didn’t deter him. He was also quiet at times, but would have witty remarks to make from time to time and sometimes only to me. The whole thing was entirely foreign territory for me, and I laid awake every night obsessively analyzing all our little interactions. Ava matched my level of anxiety with an abundance of excitement, insisting on reading all our text messages.

On my first date with Charlie, we planned to get ice cream. As usual, Ava drove me there, and since I was a few minutes early, we sat in the parking lot across the block waiting for my phone to chime. Ava was quickly distracted by the idea of getting ice cream for herself and insisted she could quickly run in and grab a cone before he arrived.  I begged her to hurry and watched her rush into the shop.

Of course a few minutes later, Charlie texted me saying he was there and I looked up to see him standing on the street corner. My heart pounded and I wiped my sweaty hands on my jeans as I walked across the street to meet him. As Charlie and I entered the ice cream shop, there was a short line, and I spotted Ava at the front. She had thrown her hood on and was wearing dark sunglasses, in complete disguise. I stifled a laugh trying to ignore her as she slipped past us, a giant cone of melting chocolate ice cream in hand.

That night, I called Ava and told her every single detail of my date with Charlie. We stayed up until 3am dreaming about how our summer romances would develop. Ava’s crush that week was the tall lifeguard, Ryan, and she planned how she would inevitably make him fall in love with her. Then of course the next week she had become completely bored of Ryan and was instead interested in the bus driver, Tyler. I wasn’t able to move from one guy to the next the same way Ava could.

Charlie and I continued to see each other for the rest of the summer. I would sneak him into my house late at night when my parents were sleeping, and he’d leave just as the sun came up before they had awoken. We’d always linger at my front door not wanting to say goodbye.

The summer went by much quicker than I anticipated, but before I knew it, the camp ended and I was packing for college. Charlie was going to school in Arizona and would be leaving a few days before me. We both adamantly agreed we would never survive a long-distance relationship, and so as the days of our departures loomed closer, we silently mourned our time together.

It was Charlie’s last night in town and we planned a double date with his best friend, Ethan, and Ava. What I had hoped would be a celebratory farewell with our friends turned into an emotionally disastrous affair. Neither of us knew how to say goodbye.

After drinking beers at a dingy bar that didn’t ask for our IDs, Charlie suggested we drive to the top of a street that looked out on the rest of the city. Ava and I drove in Stacy and followed Charlie and Ethan up the winding road.

Finally reaching the top, Ava parked to the side of the street and I watched Charlie get out of his car as Ethan stayed in the passenger seat. Looking back at Ava, I realized she wasn’t going to be getting out either, and this was the moment I had to say goodbye to Charlie.

He leaned against the side of his car looking out at the glittering city lights. I walked up to him and he slipped his arms around my waist burying his head into the crook of my neck. We were silent for a long moment. He slowly loosened his grip to look at me and said, “I’ve never been in love before, but I think I’m in love with you.”

He kept talking, but I couldn’t process anything else with the word “love” ringing in my ears. He kissed me for the last time and squeezed my hand. Tears streamed down my cheek as I turned to walk back to Ava’s car. Ava drove me home as I sobbed in the passenger seat the entire way. She stayed over that night and listened to me obsess over my last moments with Charlie while intermittently handing me tissues as snot dripped down my nose. We watched Gilmore Girls on my laptop until I fell asleep at some point and she quietly turned it off before settling in beside me.

Over the next few days, Ava and I were busy packing our suitcases for college. She was driving a couple hours north to Santa Barbara and I was flying across the country to New York. We promised we’d visit each other. “Now I’ll have an excuse to visit New York for the first time!” Ava told me.

On my last night at home, Ava drove to my house and picked me up to go on our last drive together. We drove Stacy all the way up the winding roads of the Angeles Crest Mountain until we reached the top, looking out at the setting sun over Los Angeles. She parked on the edge of the road and opened the trunk of the car. We climbed into the back and sat next to each other, watching the sun slowly dip beneath the horizon.

All we could talk about was how different our lives were about to become. Ava said this was the best summer of her life, and I agreed. The sun finally set completely, and the sky turned a dark purple hue. Ava opened her phone and began playing the song “Home Again” by Michael Kiwanuka. It was one of the many songs on our joint playlist titled, “Songs They’ll Play At Our Double Wedding.” We sat there quietly, listening to the music.

“I’m really going to miss this,” I said.

“Me too,” she mumbled.

Eventually we drove back down the mountain and towards my house. Ava drove down my street, and just before my block, she turned right. “I have an idea,” she said.

We drove higher up into my neighborhood until we reached the edge of the reservoir. The road around the reservoir was a wide downhill curve. Ava stopped at the top of the hill and reached her arm up to open the sunroof.

“Stick your head out,” she told me.

I lifted myself up and peaked my head through the opening. The cold fresh air felt crisp in my lungs.

“Hold on!” Ava called out.

Suddenly she stepped on the gas and Stacy went flying down the street. The wind whipped across my face and rushed through my hair. I shrieked and then laughed, raising my arms up and letting the air press against my body. As the road came to an intersection, Ava slowed down, and I dropped back into my seat and shut the sunroof. My eyes glistened from the cold air, and the rush of adrenaline still lingered in my veins. She played “I’ve Had The Time of My Life” from one of our favorite movies, Dirty Dancing, on the way back, and we screamed the lyrics at the top of our lungs. I started to cry again, but I tried to force the tears away with more screaming. I knew if I let myself cry I wouldn’t stop.

We reached my house and Ava followed me to my front door. “I’m just gonna say see you later,” she said. “Right,” I said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” “Tomorrow,” she repeated. I threw my arms around her. “Tomorrow,” I repeated.

From my kitchen window I watched Ava climb back into Stacy and waved goodbye as she drove away. She drove extremely slowly, dramatically waving and blowing kisses at me through the car window. I laughed, tasting my salty tears as they fell into the corners of my smile.

See you tomorrow, I thought to myself, See you tomorrow.