This is a love story.
February 2002. I was the new assistant head of school, working 16-hour days. I was slowly resurrecting my social life after a couple of emotionally exhausting years. And after several months of perseverant courtship, I had finally, warily agreed to date a co-worker: Mr. M. Interfaith. Inter-office. Doomed. I was much too practical to give it a real chance.
On March 4, 2002, during the height of rush hour traffic, my trusty Saturn hit a patch of ice in the left hand lane of a major freeway. My car spun twice, crossed three lanes – somehow dancing between cars – and became wedged under the shoulder guard. I walked away, but the car was loaded in chunks onto a flatbed as the snow picked up speed. M met up at the towing office, bearing blankets and hot chocolate. I accepted both in a stupor.
The next day, as I wearily contemplated buying a used economy sedan, M asked, “Is that what you really want? What do you want?” It was the first time he asked me such a question, but it quickly became a refrain in our relationship. What did I want? The question provoked my first tears since the accident.
“Well, there is one car, but it’s only a two-door and it’s . . . cute. You aren’t supposed to buy cars because they are cute.”
That evening, I somehow found myself at a Volkswagon dealership, test driving a Bug. Two days later, as I drove into the school’s parking lot, a whole line of Kindergartners began to point and punch. It became the “Miss X” car. At holidays, students gave me bug earrings, a bug ornament, even a crocheted hot pad. Driving my beetle released something silly and young in my hyper-responsible personality. I felt . . . cute. M gave me a yellow daisy for the bud vase. Two years later he gave me a ring.
For over four years, I commuted 63 miles a day in this car. I don’t like my commute. I dread it, actually, and the gasoline used to fuel it. One accident on the pike and my drive can stretch to 90 minutes. Each year is my “last year” and each year I can’t bear to say goodbye to these students quite yet. Over time, my car has been privy to all my secrets, listening to me brainstorm aloud, confide over the cell phone, pray in earnest, belt show tunes, and cry during NPR’s weekly segment on a soldier who isn’t coming home. I believe buildings take on the energy of their occupants. This car – enduring 80,000 miles of Deborah energy – became my hobbit home: round, comfortable, familiar as skin.
This past Friday, I reverently cleaned every corner. She really didn’t need much more than a vacuum. Moe at “Quick Cash for Cars” wouldn’t be paying attention to neglected crumbs in the trunk. We Pay Top Dollar! No Haggling! Sell Your Car – Fast and Fair! Yeah, right. But at nearly a hundred thousand miles, no reputable dealership would take her; and since we weren’t trading in for a new car, Moe’s flashing neon sign became our only expeditious option. It’s time for something more practical – four doors. We’re planning to start a family. My father-in-law was going to trade in his old Honda, but he was generous enough to offer it to us instead. It’s in good shape, with fewer miles. All very practical.
I sold her to Moe – she was sparkling on that last drive. After handing over the keys, I ran back into his office, “Wait! I forgot to get out my daisy!” That evening, my husband couldn’t do anything right. Even his breathing brought forth darts until finally he said, “You miss your car, don’t you?” And then he was good enough to hold me as I sobbed recklessly – without laughing or eye-rolling at such a silly silly sadness in this serious world. I didn’t mind giving up my maiden name – just wasn’t an issue. But my bug. My husband assures me that I don’t need her anymore – that I can still be sassy and suave in a black Accord. He’s right, I guess, partly because I still have him around to ask me, “What do you really want?” And he listens almost as patiently as she did.