Love Bug

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.


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. Mel says:

    What a great story! And I’m so glad you went with your heart–on all counts! There is no reason something can’t be practical AND cute.

    When we were in the market for a new car, we seriously considered a mini cooper even though it seemed like a totally impractical car for bookstore owners. We measured the inside, figured out how many boxes of books we could pack inside for offsite events, and even figured out how to use a bike rack to transport a hand truck.

    In the end, though, my in-laws gave us an offer we couldn’t refuse on, coincidentally, their Honda Accord (frankly, also not a practical car for bookstore owners).

    I don’t believe that practicality should override all other considerations. A mini cooper–or some other car that is exceptionally fun to drive–is somewhere in our future! Hmmm, maybe we’ll order that turbo Volvo and fly to Sweden to meet it before it gets shipped to the states. Volvo would pay for our plane tickets. That sounds like a perfectly practical way to get to Europe!

  2. Dora says:

    I love your story.

    What a powerful question. It takes such a caring person to ask it, then wait for and accept the answer given. I know many talkers, and I do appreciate them. However, those who are listeners as well tend to be the best friends.

  3. EmilyCC says:

    I’m sorry for your loss…I’m still amazed at the emotional attachment I’ve had with some cars I’ve driven. Is it because they’re integral to getting me where I need to go every day or is it because they’re one of the few places I can sing at the top of my lungs?

  4. Caroline says:

    Great story, thanks! I wish I felt that kind of love and loyalty to my car. I got a new one 3 years ago, and it’s very nice and very grown up (sedan, silver, four doors – a quintessential mom-mobile) but I have major regrets. It’s a gas guzzler, and how I wish I had bought a hybrid! Oh well, next time.

  5. sarah says:

    Oh, I didn’t know you were selling your baby! All I can say at your emotional attachment to the blue babe is this — Remember the gold Duster!

    Our family has always had attachments to our cars :). It is where much of our bonding and heartfelt conversations took place. And in an odd way, when your Saturn crashed, it allowed some of our difficult memories of driving for hours around Boston with a sobbing, screaming, emotionally lost child to disappear with it.

    Loving your car and its memories also means you are still part of us, even though you changed your last name ;). love you! your big sis

  6. cchrissyy says:

    I sold my ’99 bug when our firstborn was 6 weeks old. It just wasn’t working out, but I had to TRY!

    I wish there was a way to get one back, but it will be a while. sigh.

  7. Eve says:

    Deborah, this is such a great story.
    My husband and I have been in the throes of car discussion for months now. He is absolutely, irrevocably In Love with a certain kind of car I blush to mention and would blush to be seen in (especially since we live in a ward consisting of mostly poor students–I’m going to be hideously embarrassed to drive this thing to church if we end up getting it.).

    But your wonderful story has given me a glimpse of his car-loving heart. Thanks.

  8. Lucy says:

    We had a white ’69 VW Beetle. My children loved him and, of course, named him Herbie. They were heart broken when when sold him, but he just wasn’t the safest car to drive kids around in. My son still pines after his Herbie.

  9. Lucy says:

    We had a white ’69 VW Beetle. My children loved him and, of course, named him Herbie. They were heart broken when we sold him, but he just wasn’t the safest car to drive kids around in. My son still pines after his Herbie, and I miss him a bit too.

  10. Seraphine says:

    lovely story. thanks for sharing it.

  11. Starfoxy says:

    We used to have a red 86 toyota pickup with a lift and lightning bolts on the sides. I loved that car dearly. It was my brother’s when he was 16, and was passed on through two of my sisters until it was mine for several years. It ended up in the hands of one of my sister’s again (after her car broke down). Alas, it was stolen and never recovered. If they ever do find it, I want it back. 🙂

  12. AmyB says:

    I love your story, Deborah. My condolences for the loss of your bug.

    What a great man you have! I think sometimes it’s especially hard for women to go after what they really want, and feel that it is acceptable to do so. But if we can be more authentic about meeting our own needs and desires, then I think we will have more to give others.

  13. Deborah says:

    Thanks for all the love — and other love stories.

    Mel: What a fabulously *practical* way to plan a vacation! I’m a mini fan, too; something about shapes. There’s probably been a study done on this.

    Dora/AmyB: Yeah, I’ve thought a lot about this question — it took me completely off guard, and thus prompted M. to tell me the myth of a Fisher King, where one honest compassionate question unlocks reveals the holy grail. (He likes myths.)

    Sarah: What ever did happen to the Duster? Was it junked? Best high school car. Ever.

    cchrissyy/Lucy: In my sobbing fit, I made my husband promise that after the kids are grown, we’ll get an orange bug with a black convertible top. Hopefully they’ll be running on hydrogen chips or something by then.

    Eve: My best friend in high school comes from a modest family. Seven children. Professor husband. Pre-school teacher wife. Her dad is an exceptionally quiet man with a gut and poof of white hair. One day her senior year, he brought home a red Miata with black leather seats. Her mom said that if his mid-life crisis was going to include something tiny, spicy red, and leather, she was glad it was just a car.

  14. John says:

    What a beautiful, thoughtful piece, Deborah. I tend to have a Buddhist inspired negative view of material possessions, but this post makes me want to introduce some complexity to this concept–there are a few items that represent so much in the way of happiness and connection, like the Mac on which I’m writing this comment, which I called the “LoveMac.” 🙂 (inspired by the B-52s song, “Love Shack”)

  15. Tracy M says:

    Thanks for sharing! I had to get rid of two bugs that I dearly loved in my life, and I can totally relate.

    My first car was a 71 Super Beetle named Apple, and she got me up and down the coast of California more times than I can say- even once making it with my purse strap as her generator belt! Nothing like a bug.

    Several cars were in between, but when the new bugs came out, I knew there was no other option for me. I LOVED that car, and her name was Lillybelle. We had to trade her in when we started our family, as much as I didn’t want to.

    Someday, when the kids are grown and gone, we plan on getting another. I wonder what her name will be?

  16. Eve says:

    Deborah, sorry for the tangent, but Tracy’s comment in particular has made me wonder: how many of you name your cars? Naming cars is a long, heated, and sacrosanct process in my family of origin, and I’ve brought the practice into my marriage; we’ve had cars named Jake (based on the license plate), Franny, Zooey (Salinger), Zooey II (after Zooey the first smashed into a semi on an icy November night) and Pippen (for our little pip of a Nissan Sentra).

    For a seemingly interminable stretch of our teenage lives, our parents owned a rusting out orange VW van, sans muffler in its later years, which my father, with his typical humor, christened “Vincent van Gogh.” And Vincent went…and went and went and went. What a relief when Vincent died forever! But it was also the end of an era.

  17. Heather O. says:

    Thanks for the post. Cars tend to reflect where we are in life don’t they? For a while, we had 2 VERY RELIABLE cars, which reflected the fact that we were a two income family, with a child and a mortgage. Yuck. We sold one of our responsible cars, got out of debt, and bought a cheap, ancient, non-air conditioned truck free and clear with the cash. We have 2 reliable cars no longer, and you know what? Somehow it feels more comfortable that way. Can’t have too much respectibility, can we now?

    And FWIW, I would love a bug. And also, you don’t need THAT big of a car with one child. I’ve even seen a mom pack twins into a two door. I’m not saying she liked it, but I’m just saying that just because you are planning to be a mom doesn’t mean you need a mom car quite yet.

    The other day at the pool, somebody said, “Are you one of the lifeguards?” What the heck, do I look like a 22 year old sunbather? Then I realized she saw me getting into my Accord, and it was the only, and I do mean the ONLY car in the parking lot that wasn’t a mini-van. What’s a mom doing in a sedan? It makes me wonder what she would have said if I showed up in a Mustang!

  18. Tracy M says:

    Doesn’t everyone name thier cars?? Apple, Lillybelle, Monster, The Varmit, The Slug, Old Blue Fella, The Bamba, Rainbow- just a few I’ve known…

  19. Deborah says:

    I never named my Bug — it was just “she” and sometimes “sweetie” as in “I know you’re running out of gas, sweetie, but hang on just a few more miles and we’ll get you to a gas station.”

    Heather: Notice I didn’t jump to a Caravan — just a four-door sedan. Slow, baby steps. 🙂

  20. sarah says:

    I believe the duster was given to someone in the ward who needed a car, but I could be wrong. I actually hated that car. I still have dreams about being in the duster and the brakes not working. My baby was the Mercury — 8 cylinder engine. Now THAT was a car! 😉

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