Once, when teenaged Jack was little, I had him strapped to my chest in one of those forward-facing baby carriers while I tried to work, and someone remarked that they’d heard a theory that babies think they’re appendages of their mothers’, at least until they’re mobile.
It’s sounds hokey to me now, but at the time, it certainly felt like we were attached more or less permanently. I remember getting to the end of the day and not wanting to be touched anymore, by anyone ever. Completely unencumbered by the weight of another person, or someone clutching my leg or my blouse or even laying a hand on my shoulder.
Now, of course, the norm is something more along the lines of the occasional side-hug or fist bump, so my issues with being touched have waned.
Now, it’s no longer my body that feels like shared property, but my car. Or rather it’s the car. There is no more my car.
My first car was a little, red Mazda. I got into a wreck that nearly totaled it about 12 hours after exiting the parking lot. It wasn’t my fault, really. There were nuns and school children as witnesses. We bonded over that incident, my little red car and I, even though it was never the same. The car forgave me, and we went on to have a great deal of fun in my 20s together. I cried when we said goodbye.
My next car was also little and also red. An Acura. It had a sunroof and black upholstery. It was shiny and sleek and made me feel like a badass. Teenagers would rev their engines when they pulled up next to me at stoplights. Cops pulled me over – sometimes preemptively, with a warning. Sometimes with a ticket. I drove it off a mountain road in a rainstorm once while speeding around a corner. It was okay. I was okay. I waited with it until someone could pull it out of the barrow pit. We bonded over that incident.
Kids came along, and car seats, and crumbs, and my back nearly broke every time I hoisted a bajillion-pound carrier over the front passenger seat, into the back of my little, red Acura. Eventually we graduated to booster seats, and the boys were able to climb into the backseat themselves, but the low ride was nausea inducing (couldn’t have been my driving), and our kids prone to motion sickness. I tired of cleaning up after them. My little, red Acura was pretty, but not practical. It was more badass than I needed.
We put it on a consignment lot and some 21 year-old bought it, with its sunroof and barf stains. I cried when we said goodbye.
For the past eight years, my ride has been a white Prius. It is not badass, but it’s okay. It gets 50 mpg and someone drew on the back passenger-side panel with a crayon. There’s a Jolly Rancher half melted and permanently affixed to one of the floor mats. There’s always a stash of umbrellas and canvas shopping totes in the back. There’s a dent where my kindergartener flung the door open and hit a light post. There’s a plush Pokémon doll sitting on the dash, and a bike rack on the hatchback.
It’s the family car we take on road trips, because it’s economical and roomy. It’s the car my son learned to drive, and for which he now regularly takes the keys.
It’s paid for and reliable and nondescript. I appreciate it, but we’ve never bonded. I no longer drive fast enough or let the tires go bald so I’m in danger of sliding off a mountain road in a rainstorm. The cops don’t give me a second glance, and in fact, I think the speedometer is off on the thing. I suspect I’m going about five miles per hour slower at any point in time than it says.
I don’t get teenagers revving their engines at stoplights at me. I’m more likely to inspire some redneck in a truck to try to crowd me off a freeway, or tailgate. I can’t be imagining it. It must be intimidation. I’m pretty sure in this rural state, the mere presence of my city-girl, tree-hugger momma car is enough to inspire righteous indignation.
The other day, Mike and Jack came to pick me up at a meeting in my little, white, dented, Crayola-and-Jolly-Rancher decorated car. I sat in the back. I don’t care. I have no pretention when it comes to this car. I might be driving, or Mike, or Jack. It’s not an extension of me, but a shared commodity, just as at it felt my body has been at certain times of my life. I’ve never been nostalgic for those days when my back felt like it would break for the weight of a little person, or my elbow felt locked in a 90 degree angle from carrying a pudgy kid. I loved my boys as babies, but I loved having me back, too.
Someday soon, Jack will have his own car. Maybe it’s just some piece of crap that gets him from point A to point B so we don’t have to. Maybe by then, Jack’s brother Colin will be sharing the car. The car he decorated with Jolly Ranchers and crayons, and a ding in the side.
There will someday come a time when I once again have a car in which the radio is reliably on the station I left it, where the crumbs in the crevices are mine, and there are no more footprints or impromptu artwork where there shouldn’t be.
When I leave the keys to the car with someone else and ride off the lot in something cute with a sunroof and no dents in the door, I probably won’t cry.
But then again, I might.
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