In a few days, my car will be 13 years old. It is strange how an inanimate object can be tied to so many memories and can act as a benchmark and barometer of life’s major events.
I bought my car, a 1999 Acura Integra, when I was 21 years old and 6 months shy of my wedding. I had just moved across the country to join my fiance, who had relocated several months earlier in order to find work. I felt like I was on the precipice of my adult life: I had moved away from my childhood city, I was soon to be married, and I was in the process of making major decisions about school and career.
We were excited to buy the car. We felt adult. We liked signing our names together on the note and on the title. We felt proud of our research and negotiating powers, paying only $300 over cost and we were able to put over half down. I called my mom, excited to tell her about the new purchase. As I described the leather seats, she moaned, “Oh, Lisa,” in a tone that would have been more at home if she had just found out I had gotten a large tattoo. I didn’t care; it was my car and I loved every inch of it.
It really was my car. My ex was a tall man, about 6’1″. A 2-door Integra wasn’t exactly a comfortable fit for him. We used his vehicle (which changed over the years) whenever we went someone together. My car remained mine and mine alone.
In the early months, she was often filled with unique finds to make our apartment feel more like a home. Soon after we married, we purchased a house that we immediately began to remodel. My car was never without a random tile, a leftover tub of spackle, or a paint sample strip as we worked to create our dream house.
When she wasn’t driving to Home Depot, she took me back and forth to school to get my B.S. and then later my master’s. She took me to small jobs as a receptionist and a physical therapy technician before I settled on becoming a teacher. Once my career was set, she had only to carry me 3 miles round trip each day to the middle school down the street.
Even though my ex was rarely in the car, he worked to make it better for me. He pulled off all of the interior of the doors to insert extra insulation to cut the road noise. He replaced the factory stereo with a hand-me-down of his and hard-wired in the XM radio. He took on the repeating task of washing the exterior and vacuuming the inside. He made his mark.
As my car began to age and my ex bought a new car, she began to be the choice transportation for the dogs. I also developed a passion for gardening, and I would frequently fill her to the brim on biannual trips to a local budget nursery. Her carpets still have stray leaves and embedded dog hairs; signs of a life left behind.
My car’s life changed after the divorce also. She had been protected in a garage up until that point. Now, she bears the hail scars and pollen stains of a life lived outside. With the addition of a GPS (a post-divorce gift from a friend), she has led me on adventures, traveling further than she ever had before (with the added security of a AAA card in deference to her advanced age). Her title has changed over the years: first my maiden name and my ex’s name, then my name changed to match his, and now, she is in my name alone. Her plates have changed, reflecting my move across town.
She no longer has the shiny unblemished exterior of her youth. Her leather seats now show cracks from where my legs rub against them (and where my tears fell for many months). Her trunk no longer opens and her antennae often sticks. But that hunk of steel, that has been with me through so much, still runs beautifully.
Today, she yet again carries a dog. I like to think that makes her smile.
So, happy birthday to my car and thank you for carrying me through the bad times and staying through the good.