A Pat on the Dashboard

Car in snowIt has this new little shudder, my car, when I start again after a traffic light or a slowdown. As if it wanted to tell me something. And I shudder at the idea that it could be the beginning of the end. I’ve been paying more attention since it reached 200,000 miles a few days ago.

I also started to look at other cars online and it makes me feel like I am cheating. To make up for it I paid for the highest grade oil, which is supposed to last twice as long. And I said yes to changing the transmission fluid.
It’s just that we’ve been through so much together. Symbolically it came to me just before the divorce, this car. I didn’t get to choose it.
Soon after we separated and I bought a new home, and I kept the car.
I think I became a lot more materialistic at that time, more grateful for what I owned, what I kept. I started counting my blessings more, and keeping my ducks in a row.

I didn’t give it a cutesy name. Sometimes, coming down my pathway I took a sight of its big green handsomeness on My parking spot– the perfect dark green color, the harmonious volume, the glass and the silver metal. I don’t know if I would have cared so much if I had seen it in the street, but it was Mine.
An extension of me.

Of my previous cars, I remember vaguely a silver Saturn that collected mishaps. And before that a gold Saturn that I was happy to trade in.
But this one saw me through thick and thin, though scorching heat and New England blizzard with no major letdown. The most reliable member of the family.
I liked its color, a rare kind of Teal. A color that sparked many animated conversation between my children and their friends:
– It’s blue!
– No don’t you see it’s green!
– It’s Teal
– Mom, you’re color blind!

I think of all those times I have looked for it in various supermarket parking lots, scanning for its friendly silhouette, trudging from row to row laden with bags or a cart, in the heat, cold or wind and rain, searching for its familiar shade of green, its perfect volume and lines. How its eyes lit up and blinked joyfully when I finally found it and clicked the remote from afar, the relief of finding shelter, the inviting inside light, the protection against the elements. Home away from home.
We have gone through so much together – the many winter days it was buried in snow and I carved its shape and details out of the block with shovel and broom. All the early frigid mornings when it was time for school and work and she didn’t complain
All the vacation departures, the happy filling of trunk with bags and suitcases, the songs and the joy inside, the landscapes on the way, the excited arrivals after hours of driving through upstate New York, Western Massachusetts, or the road from Boston to Montreal through white mountain notches.

I used the Cruise control so much on the highways that the key is erased. How useful that function has been, keeping me on track, protecting me from the cops, giant scary blue-light bumblebees buzzing on the side of the road.

We went through so much bird poop on the windshield, days of yellow pollen blankets, dead leaves stuck in the hood in the fall that flap in the wind like little brown flags for days on end until I pry them out. And the salt that covers the roads to melt the ice, and then cover the body of the car, and especially the windshield: the morning when the wiper fluid suddenly ran out two-third into the commute, on the highway; when I had to drive with windows open on the icy air so I could at least see something from the sides. I prayed that I could reach a gas station unharmed , and without harming someone. How I made it to a garage safely, I don’t know.
Other extremes: the agonizing return with the girls from a fourteenth of July firework when I realized I was running out of gas, could stall any moment, and had left my bag home, with money and Identification.

I remember all the zany passages through the moppet rolls of the carwash, especially looking though the glass roof (verification that not a rainbow-colored suds came through the seals) the satisfaction at the end of the tunnel to have a brand new sparkling car. Especially when this was coupled with an oil change. The way I felt so righteous then, proud of my possession, and virtuous at the same time. Like cleansed of my own sins.
All those times when I physically tackled the giant trump of the vacuum station on the grassy side of the carwash, pockets weighted with the necessary loads of quarters. How the hose powerfully gobbled the kids’ crumbs stuck in the back seats’ seams and crevices. How I beat the bejeezus out of the carpet liners against the posts to get the sand out.
I learned to avoid the ArmorAll wipes delivered by the vending machine, and instead bring my own sponge and water. I still don’t know what to do with the encrusted cup holders that are impossible to clean.
As a matter of fact, I invested in and organized a whole cleaning bag full of sponges, bottles and paper towels, which I consequently hung from the clothes hook at the back and that I took with me everywhere. Not that I used it much. It was like a talisman. I knew that I could clean the inside of my car if I wanted to. Anytime. (It was like the road paved with good intentions.)

In the trunk were also the trash bags full of clothes that I meant to drop at collecting bins, but that I forgot. I would drive for weeks at a time taking them everywhere, commuting to work, shopping for food – being faced each time with my forgetfulness, sometimes wondering about the unconscious reasons for schlepping that baggage in the trunk, until I put my mind to it.
I remember the day I bought a little jar of nail polish of the closest color to hide some minor scratches. It wasn’t perfect, but it did the job. Just a slightly lighter shade of green.

Oh, she did also have her demons that were a constant battle; the way the blinkers just would not go back by themselves to their original position after the turn, the way the brakes creaked after any city driving as if they were going to give way.
We had one minor accident, the night I rear-ended another car right at the entrance of the highway on the way home after work. It had just started snowing and the then smooth tires just sled on the fresh sludge. But the engine was intact. Only the hood had to be replaced.

I pat it on the dashboard sometimes, like a dog or a horse.

I look at its wounded side and I know I am not going to fix it because it would cost more than its current value.
The pain I took not to get a scratch in a parking lot – and that accident happened one Saturday morning at the new gas station down the street, when I scraped the metal arch by driving too close. I remember the terrible muffled sound of crumpled aluminum, easy like foil. I remember the puzzled looks of onlookers wondering what I was doing. The lesson I learned.
I remember the gut sinking feeling when a garage told me owe much a repair would cost. That was a dumb morning move.

So it goes with my damaged self. We go along with what we’ve got, our wounds and imperfections, but still pretty highly functional.

Could I let it all end up as a pile of junk in a landfill (or wherever old cars go), this old carcass I interacted with two or more times a day for almost a decade, that I utterly depended on? the carapace that protected me, a bubble against the world, the sound box for my CDs (the radio, my IPod,) the object that I cared for, cleaned and maintained like a relative or a pet? Do material entities get imbued with something else than just their materiality? It will still live in my memories, its image will stay with me, it will still be an element of this life of mine. What’s the line between the material and the non-material? What will be of my body when the spirit of life has left it, if not a well-crafted machine, albeit more complex than a car and its engine.

The first thing to go was the battery in the remote key that locks and unlocks doors. I used the spare key but that went too. I now leave the car unlocked. Then there’s the shudder, and that knowledge of the mileage number. I keep my fingers crossed, pat it once more, and try not to jinx myself.

* * *

Pas eu le temps de traduire. Peut-être la prochaine fois.

2 thoughts on “A Pat on the Dashboard

  1. If Click and Clack the Tappit brothers were still Cartalking they would have read this whole thing on the air had you sent it to them. From me your piece brought forth smiles, laughter, and wonder – and not to mention admiration for your absolute mastery of idiomatic American English, using it playfully, touchingly, and knowingly. Nice use of the words “notches” and “bejeezus”!

    Liked by 1 person

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