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.
7 thoughts on “New Muffler, Old Car”
I have the same model car, about 2 years younger, and bright red instead of blue.
I consider the manual windows a benefit. The car I had before had automatic windows but the motor went out on the windows twice. I couldn’t afford to fix it the second time, and drove around for two years not being able to roll down the windows.
I am very grateful for my tiny little car with the windows that roll down.
Yes Gaye, the less there is, the less there is to go wrong.
Dear Maria, I can really identify with your post. After an accident left me crippled with 2 severely fractured legs and 3+ years of hospitalizations and physical therapy, I had to learn to drive again. That included getting a new drivers license. I had spent those 3+ years depending on others for all my transportation. I really had grown tired of being dependent on my husband and others to get around, though I was grateful for their help. When I got an old beat-up Pinto for my car and my new license, I felt like a new person! A brand-new Mercedes would not have looked as great to me as that old Pinto. When I drove away by myself the first time,I felt the fantastic sense of independence and freedom…not since I drove by myself when I was 16, for the first time with a new license. Driving oneself cannot be truly appreciated unless you’ve lost that privelege and been dependent on others, or others vehicles.
So glad to hear you got your car repaired and youve got your freedom back.take care. Hope to see you at your Fall Open House. All the best! Ruth Moerschell
I’ve felt that lack of independence just by having no car for a while. It goes so far beyond that in your story. But cars do give us that sense of freedom. I guess that why so much of the American story is based around cars and road trips. It’s a symbol, but a reality also.
Oh, Maria, This is a beautiful and meaningful story!! City dwellers have no idea how much self reliance and independence car ownership in the “Outback” provides. Annie
Beautifully said. This is going on my list of favorite posts.