Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How it Went Down

It took less than ten seconds to lose the only car I ever loved. I know it’s just a car and that I’m lucky to be alive, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less.

I swung the car around to the front of the main entrance to my office, as I’ve done the other million times that I walked out of the building and forgot something. I put the car in neutral and turned it off. I hopped out, turned around, and saw the car start moving away, gravity triggered by the slightest decline in the parking lot surface, one that I had never noticed before. 

I didn’t have time to think. I ran after it, unlocking the driver’s side door, trying to stop the car from rolling. When my strength and weight was no match, I stretched my upper body across the driver’s side to reach the emergency brake, which I had only ever forgotten to execute once in my six years of driving a manual car. I had reached over and put on the brake many times on a flat surface, but trying to run alongside as the car picked up speed made it impossible. The car accelerated. I ran faster. I lost my grip and tumbled. It was probably for the best that it flung me out when it did, because I landed three feet from the sinkhole that swallowed my car.

What I saw when I got up from my fall
When I got up from my tumble I parted the bushes, expecting to see my car rolling off into a field, which is what I thought was back there. I never knew the sinkhole was there because of all the brush and bushes that covered it, but there it was, ten feet deep and nearly twice as wide. I came face to face with the underside of my car, the front end at the bottom of the hole, the back tires floating high.

I broke the silence with a shriek. Not because I was hurt, but because I could not believe what I was seeing. My baby, the car I spent three years searching for; the car I learned to drive stick for; the car that carried me on so many road trips across the country and had so many left in her, was now immobilized, gone in an instant. I knew I’d never drive it again. 

All because I forgot my gym bag. The sadder truth is that I knew the moment I saw the car that I wouldn’t have had time to work out that weekend anyway, even if I hadn’t had the accident. 

I don’t know what was heavier, my embarrassment at forgetting something so simple as setting the emergency brake, or my sadness at losing my car. What I didn’t feel until much, much later was gratitude. Even as I looked at the car, knowing that if I had been in it I would probably be dead or severely hurt, I was angry that I would lose something else in life. Hadn’t I lost enough the day my best friend took his last breath? Why didn’t I fall in the hole, too? Was he not ready for a reunion? Why was it OK for him to die but I had to stay on earth and deal with this mess? Why was there even a hidden sinkhole on the property, and why did my car have to fall in it?

My heart hurts seeing my baby like this

My beloved Element deserved a finale much better than this

These questions played and re-played in my head as I watched three tow truck operators use two tow trucks for over two hours to pull the car out. When it emerged, even as it was banged up like I had put it through a can crusher, I wanted to hop inside and drive it home. I wanted it to be OK. I wanted to make it all better. In my irrational mind still filled with disbelief, I thought that was possible. My car had survived so much already. How could a ten-second event be the last of this wonderful machine that held so many memories? 

Of course, I could not drive it. The car was hoisted to a tow bed, on its way to a lot filled with cars that would be dissected for parts like a lab rat no one ever loved. But my car wasn’t an unloved lab rat. It was loved and counted on like a member of the family. It brought me independence and joy. It was unique and reliable. I felt bad-ass shifting gears on the open road, knowing that most women my age are intimidated by manual transmissions, but to me it was the only way to go. How was I going to replace a car that was discontinued in 2011 and rarely seen for sale? I don't blame people for not trading them in. Who would ever want to get rid of such a wonderful vehicle? It would be nearly impossible to find another, especially a 5 speed manual. I felt like life sucker punched me again, reminding me that for every smile, there would be a stream of tears, because that was my lot in life and I should never forget it. 

Time brought clarity and reality. Accidents happen. I was alive. Finding a new car wasn’t going to be the end of the world. I had options. These thoughts brought me slivers of hope. I could think about all the things I wished my car had and see if I could find the perfect car for me. The problem was that it only had one feature that sometimes posed a problem, and that was lack of seating. It was a four-seater. It rarely bothered me, though. How often would I need to haul more than three other people anyway? That did not outweigh the long list of features that I loved about the car, like its simplicity and durability. It never faltered, got up hills in the snow, offered a lot of cargo space, and rode well across terrains. It was a lot like me. It didn’t let much stop it (big hole withstanding). It was no non-sense, low maintenance with no bells and whistles. It did what it was designed to do, and did it well. Now it served as another reminder of how quickly losses happen. In the time it takes to offer a greeting and a smile, it was gone forever. Fragile, like life.

I looked at other types of cars and tried to see this as an opportunity to embrace change. The problem was that I wasn't ready to let go of driving an Element. It had too many features that I loved, that were important to my lifestyle. From the first day I got the car I remember telling Warren that I would drive it into the ground (ironic, I know) and get another Element because I loved it so much. He felt the same about his Maxima so he could relate to my brand loyalty. Here I was with the option to get a more souped-up car, with more seating or luxury features, but none of them made me feel excitement. In my heart, I wanted another Element. Thank God for small miracles, my dad did an Internet search and found one that looks exactly like the one I lost, but is five years newer and has 60,000 miles. It's also a manual transmission, which I am not ready to give up, even if my mother disagrees.

As I drove my new Element off the lot I told myself that it is just a car. It doesn't hold the memories my old car did. Warren didn't teach me to drive stick in it as we drove home from Colorado. We didn't take it with us on adventures in camping with our runaway dog. It hadn't racked up miles from taking us to Arizona to see loved ones. It was just a car. But, I know myself. It is just a car until I start to create new memories in it. It is just a car until it safely gets me up my driveway in four inches of snow, sparing me from breaking my back shoveling through it. It is just a car until my daughter learns to drive in it and I teach her the way her daddy taught me. Perhaps I am too sentimental, but for now, I am feeling what I should have felt that day - grateful to be alive and have the opportunity to make memories. 

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