I got the car in the divorce settlement in 2009. It was two years old with just under a hundred thousand miles on it. A Toyota Yaris with the bare minimum you could buy in New York State. A two door hatchback, standard clutch, with windows you roll down by hand. At the time it, along with the Honda Fit, had the best gas mileage available.
I hadn’t owned my own car in over twenty years. I was living with a friend until I could find an apartment and having my own car gave me a sense of security and independence. It was in good enough shape that I could go anywhere I wanted to in it. It was a roof over my head, one that was all mine.
Jon always made fun of my car, calling it a “toilet bowl” and other disparaging names. It really is too small for him. It’s hard for me to shift when he’s sitting in the passenger seat. But I know his feelings really come from a place of anxiety and love.
The first winter we were together it snowed almost every day. Jon would watch me drive down the snow covered dirt road at 5am four times a week as I went to my job working in a group home. I didn’t have four wheel drive or snow tires and I’d drive 30 miles an hour down the dark, twisting country roads. Never once doubting I’d get to work on time, even though, in the snow, it took me twice as long to get there.
Every morning Jon offered me his four wheel drive truck, and every morning I refused. He begged me to get snow tires, offering to pay for them. Even though I know he worried about me till I got back home ( I also refused to call him when I got to work and let him know I was okay) I was determined to make my own decisions and to be free to make my own mistakes.
I was proving to myself that I could make it on my own. That I could hold down a job, get my own health insurance, put a roof over my head, ( I also rented an apartment even though I spent most of my time at Bedlam Farm) live my own life. Every morning I made it to work on time and got back home, to work in the studio the rest of the day, was evidence to me of who I really was and what I was capable of.
Last week when I started my car, it rumbled louder than usual. The last time I had the muffler patched together was about a year ago. But this time Jessica at the King’s Car Repair told me there wasn’t much they could do for it. I’d need a whole new exhaust and it would cost $1700.
I still panic easily about money, even though things are much better for Jon and me since the bankruptcy. We have some money put aside to pay our taxes and I knew I could use that to pay for my muffler, and then pay it back. That’s not something we could have done a year ago. But still the amount was daunting to me.
When I dropped off my car to have it fixed, Jessica came out from behind the counter and asked me if I’d like to see my new exhaust. To see what I was paying for. “Sometimes” she said, “it makes people feel better.” It seemed unnecessary to me at first, but when I looked at the long shiny pipes, bigger than me, lying on the floor, I suddenly felt good about spending that money to get my car fixed. All that shaped metal was not only going to be better for my car, (and my ears) but better for the environment too.
When I picked up the car I wasn’t panicky writing out the check to pay for it, I was grateful. I thanked Jessica for the work they did, they deserved every penny.
I feel silly saying it, but somehow, taking responsibility for my car, for repairing it and taking care of it makes me feel like it’s really mine for the first time. By gladly and ungrudgingly putting that kind of money into it proves my commitment to it and also that I am able to maintain it. Just as almost ten years ago my car helped me prove to myself what I was capable of.
I drove my quiet car home with its shiny new muffler and it felt different. More substantial. Healthy.
But then, something else important happened to me in my little Yaris.
Once home I looked in the glove compartment and found some old CD’s from my other life. CD’s I haven’t listened to in years. Crumpled under one of them was an old insurance card from when I owned the car with my ex-husband. Both our names and our old address. I couldn’t believe it was still there. Like I was still holding onto something from the past. I took it and the old dog blanket from the back seat that I hadn’t noticed, and threw them in the garbage.
My car is not just a car. It’s also a symbol of my independence, a reminder to me of where I’ve been in my life, and where I’m choosing to go.