I insisted on giving my father the $100 for my first car, even though a friend told him he could have it for free as long as he could get it started. It had been parked on a deserted street somewhere in New York City for a long time.
I wanted to pay for the car, because I wanted it to be mine, with no strings attached.
I was seventeen, about to get my license and a car of my own meant my freedom and independence.
I grew up in a middle class suburb on Long Island. It never seemed like a dangerous place to me, but my sister and I weren’t allowed to walk around at night unless we were with a boy. I still don’t know if the fears my parents had of us being attacked and raped were based on anything real, or if it was just their own paranoia.
I do remember seeing that fear reflected in popular culture the 1970’s and early 80’s. Women and girls never rescued themselves in the movies and TV shows I grew up watching. Unlike today’s movies where women and girls are often the hero’s (It’s a about time) back then, they were always the victims, waiting for some man to save them.
Because I didn’t have boyfriend to walk me home at night, for my early teenage years, I couldn’t go to a friend’s house or to the movies on a Friday or Saturday night.
So my car freed me from having to stay home at night, but it also gave me a feeling of independence. In a way, my car was like “a room of my own”. And even if I didn’t drive off, leaving my old life behind me, now I had to means to get away if I ever wanted to.
Of course, the 1967 Ford Falcon that my father brought home, wouldn’t have gotten me very far. It was constantly breaking down, leaving me stuck on the side of the road, as would all the other old cars I had before marrying into my first new car.
When I got divorced 10 years ago, I got the 2007 Toyota Yaris in the settlement.
I had the title changed to my name and hung beads from the rear view mirror (something my ex-husband didn’t allow). That car felt more like home to me than my new apartment.
It was only a year old, got great gas mileage and Frieda (my dog) had just learned how to sit in the back seat without throwing up. This time I really could drive away, leaving my old life behind and I wouldn’t have to worry about my car breaking down.
But I didn’t leave.
I eventually moved in with Jon and asserted my independence by driving my Yaris, without snow tires, though some of the worst snow storms we had in years. I would leave for work at 5am, driving on the unplowed back roads of Upstate NY. It would take me twice as long to get to work, but I always got there and back home too.
Everyday, Jon offered me his truck that had 4-wheel drive. He begged me to get snow tires.
But I was determined to do this on my own, my way. If I borrowed his truck, I wouldn’t have known that I could survive the winter with my own car if I had to. I was proving to myself, that I didn’t need a man in my life, or his truck.
I had to know I could make it on my own.
Unfortunately, the experience did seem to traumatize Jon, because he still tells the story of how he waited at the window, that long winter, for me to come home. He said he finally found someone to love and now he thought he’d lose me to a snowstorm.
I can empathize with him more now, but when I think about that time, I can still feel that old surge bubbling up inside of me. “Back off Mister” are the words that come to mind.
Last Thursday, I found out that my 11 year old Toyota Yaris wouldn’t pass inspection.
Like the 1969 Mustang I had when I was 19, the bottom is rusting out. If I hit one bad pothole, the axle will break, possibly making me lose a wheel, like I did on my 1991 Geo Metro, or worse.
It was Jon who found the Hyundai Accent at a used car dealer right in our town. He’s quicker than me on this stuff. I would have waited at least a day before I started looking for a new car.
I guess it’s because Jon knows me so well, that it actually turned out to be just the kind of car I’d want. Small, simple, inexpensive (as far as cars go) with good gas mileage. Even though it doesn’t look like it, this 2014 Hyundai actually has a lot on common with my 2007 Yaris.
It does have the added luxury of power windows and a remote door lock, but I’m sure I’ll get used to that.
Except for some clothes, my Yaris is one of the last tangible things I have from my other life. When I trade it in for the Hyundai tomorrow, I may feel as if I’m shedding an old thin layer of skin.
Living where we do, a car is still important for my independence and necessary just to get from one place to another. But as much as I want a car I can depend on, it no longer holds my freedom. At this point in my life, my freedom comes from inside of me. I’m not looking to run away anymore.
So maybe now, my car can just be a vehicle that gets me from one place to another. Maybe my car can just be a car.