Chasing Cars

I'm not gonna cry Roy
“I’m not gonna cry, Roy!” (click photo for the scene from the 1996 film Jerry Maguire).

I’m a sap. I admit it. You need evidence? The song “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol always makes me cry. The song is about, I suspect, young love. About wanting to put yourself out there and tell someone how you feel about them but being afraid to do so.

But that’s not what it means to me. No, the part that gets me every time is this:

We’ll do it all
Everything
On our own

We don’t need
Anything
Or anyone

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

The song came out in 2006, when Ryan was six. The first time I heard it, those lines instantly took me back a few years, to when Ryan was newly diagnosed. It was a time when our overwhelming emotion was fear.

Fear of the future that had suddenly been turned upside down.

Fear of not knowing what to do.

The fear was compounded by a feeling of being alone. Of course we had concerned family and friends that supported us and wanted to help. But no matter how many offers of help and sympathy came our way, it felt like nobody understood what we were going through. We even found ourselves in the difficult position of arguing to convince people that, no, everything “wouldn’t just be fine.” That this diagnosis was serious and life-altering and clouded every future plan we had for our son.

We reacted by turning inward, circling the wagons within our new family and holding each other up. No matter what, I knew Veronica understood my fears — even on the rare occasions when we disagreed — and she knew the same.

That’s where those lyrics got me. It took me back to that period of confusion and fear, where I wished I could, with my wife, “just forget the world.”

The result is the room gets dusty any time the song comes on. My kids have heard it so many times they make fun of me, and sometimes even play it for sport, just to see if they can make Dad cry.

On our last full day in the Outer Banks, we took the kids to Jockey’s Ridge, a state park of giant sand dunes with a view of the ocean and the sound. It’s a spot where people hang glide, fly kites, and just appreciate all the beauty that nature provides. For us, climbing the 100-foot dunes provides an excuse to reward ourselves at Duck Donuts.

That’s where I found myself, waiting in line with my custom donut order, while the rest of my sandy, sweaty family members waited in the car, when I heard it.

“Chasing Cars” came on the house sound system.

Even though it was the end of my favorite week of the year and even though it was kind of the unofficial end of the summer and even though I was in one of my favorite spots on earth with my favorite people on earth, I did not get choked up. The room remained blissfully dust-free. I smiled at the irony. I felt like Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maquire. “I’m not gonna cry Roy!”

Am I still afraid?

Of course. But I’m afraid more in the way that all parents are. I worry if the lessons we’ve taught both kids will take hold as they enter the teen years. I’m keenly aware that our time together is advancing rapidly. There are unique fears for Ryan, sure, but the panic and terror, compounded by feeling alone, that “Chasing Cars” has always evoked in me are no longer there. They have been replaced by a confidence that whatever issues we face, we will tackle them, together with our son, until we find the right path.

There’s another reason the song evokes such powerful feelings. “Chasing cars” is only mentioned once in the song lyrics, but the title reminds me of a time when Ryan spent most of his free time lying on the floor, rolling Matchbox cars back and forth in front of his eyes or lining them up in precise patterns on the rug.

Every time he engaged in this activity, it served as an unwelcome reminder that he was different, that the diagnosis we had been given was correct. I’m not proud to admit that I used to move one of the cars out of line just to see if he would notice. Of course he noticed. He could be racing past at a million miles an hour, but he would, without fail, stop to re-align the car I had touched. “Chasing cars,” indeed.

I found a basket of those cars in the bottom of Ryan’s closet a few weeks ago. They haven’t been touched in years. He’s doesn’t chase cars anymore, and I no longer feel like shutting down and just forgetting the world, either.

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