Friday, September 23, 2011

Rolling Refuge

The other night, I drove in from work, looked over one shoulder, then the other, and backed in to the narrow parking space in front of the house. I sat for a minute in the warmth and darkness of the car and listened to the end of the song on the radio as I often do before heading inside. It was comfortable and peaceful, the work of the day complete and the chores before me on hold.

I climbed out, leaving the headlights on to illuminate the road, then crossed the street to fetch the mail. As I walked back, I gazed fondly at my car. Something about her front grill and headlights seemed to smile. The thought crossed my mind that she’d put in a lot of miles and it was time to think about getting a new vehicle.

I burst into tears.

My mid-size 2001 Caravan is a deep purple-blue: a unique color when it first came out, but now, you see it on the road a lot. After our kids left for college and our dog died, we down-sized from a Grand Caravan, but this model is still bigger than I need. While she does okay on gas – maybe 21 mpg – I feel guilty about not driving a hybrid.

I have never had my own brand new, snappy auto. When I was a teenager, I inherited a black Ford Falcon with a white vinyl top when my grandfather passed away. When my grandmother, Byeo, died, I took the wheel of her mammoth maroon Impala. Once I married Dave, we shared a car, and when the kids came along, so did the larger family vehicle. My Caravan is the first one that has felt like mine. She is matronly, but has held up well, so we are a good match.

While I never named her or anything, she has been a good friend to me. She has held me through some hard times. I slumped, sobbing, in her gray velour seats in the parking lot after visits with my father-in-law, Colombo, at the nursing home. She was womblike and warm, ready with heat, old favorites on the radio, and the reassurance of my own independence, my own abilities to punch buttons, turn the wheel and go, even though Colombo had lost his.

When I received my cancer diagnosis, she was the first to offer comfort. I’d held myself together as I walked through the waiting room of the radiology center and crossed the parking lot. But I couldn’t wait to get to my car, buckle in and break down before assuming a brave face for my family and friends. And throughout that year, en route to scans, hospitals, doctor’s appointments, and surgeries, she was my refuge. I cried a lot behind the wheel, but I also knew that as long as I was in her seat, I was safe.

Living in the moment got me through that time. As my car and I made our way to whatever needle, stethoscope or prodding awaited, I would tell myself, “Right now, you are fine. Right now you have control. Right now you decide on your music, heat, mood and destination.” And it helped.

In my car, I had no need to be cheerful, or self-conscious about my scarf. In fact, the small square of the rear-view mirror framed only my eyes, so I looked the same as before the cancer. Well, maybe a little sadder.

I will miss my Caravan. It will seem like a betrayal, to park her in a lot somewhere and drive away.


Eliza Twichell said...

Love this. I am a total car junkie. Plus I am as sentimental as you- and burst into tears at least once a day.
I had to sell my beloved old Audi years ago- it just died- klonk- and the bluebook value was less than putting a new engine in. Waaa! 2 years later I saw it parked in front of a shop- so I ran in- "Who's Audi is that????" From an aisle a woman wailed "OH NO! DID YOU HIT IT?" I told her it had been my best beloved car- and she told me it was HER best beloved car- safely transporting her family thru life. It's all good.

Casey said...

I TOTALLY just cried. I love your blue buddy... said...

I love my car, too, a 2002 VW Passat stationwagon, about to turn to 190,000 miles. I'm trying to wrap my mind around moving on, but won't do so until it's really necessary. We've taken good care of each other ;-)

Love you, Lea.

David said...

Has anyone told you yet today that you are brilliant? I love not only your passionate writing, but also the subject matter of your stories. JUST BRILLIANT.

aggie said...

loved your piece and i too love my car , a 1994 jade green volvo wagon with cloth interior which is in good condition believe it or not. in the same way that our purses are our portable wombs, so is my car. with my first child i had a diaper bag . with the second kid, i just threw the diapers etc in the car - voila! the diaper car replaced the diaper bag. when the kids were little,there were times i took my dinner to the car to eat in peace. in a way, out cars symbolize our freedom. xo aggie burke rives