First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
Ever since my car started breaking down, my world has gotten a little smaller. These days, I can’t always trust that it will get me to my destination, so I’ve been avoiding long drives and sticking to short trips around my neighbourhood. I know it’s time to make a change, so I’m in a peculiar transition period between selling my old car and buying a new one. There is also a bit of sorrow in saying goodbye to an old car, especially when it’s the first one that I ever owned.
It’s no surprise that my car is starting to fail. After all, it is 17 years old. I can’t tell you the exact day that I picked it up, but I bought it in my final year of university, and it has been with me for almost my entire adult life. It was my first big purchase, and it felt impossibly expensive at the time. Back then, I fussed over every scrape and mark on its paint job. I used to look out the window and see it parked in the driveway and wish I could place a giant glass bell over it to protect it.
This car was with me when I graduated from university and moved back home with my parents. It took me to my starting day at my first real “grown-up” job, and it was there when I quit that job mere months before the 2008 recession. I was unemployed for the better part of a year, and I spent much of that time cursing the loan that came along with my car. I drove it to a friend’s cottage one weekend where I met my now-husband for the first time. There is still a pile of CDs in my glove box that my husband used to make for me when we first began dating. Our relationship was long-distance back then, and the CDs he made for my long drives home after a visit with him are a kind of musical record of our relationship. This car was also the one that we drove to our wedding reception and the one that we first strapped our daughter into after she was born. Last spring, we even brought our new pet cat home in it, fulfilling one of our daughter’s most fervent wishes.
I have made hundreds of trips all over Ontario and the East Coast in my car. There were times when I drove it every day, and others when it sat in storage for months patiently waiting for me to return from a trip overseas. It was key to helping me experience the freedom of adulthood for the first time, and it has been a dependable sidekick for many of my life’s milestones. Throughout it all, I trusted completely that it would take me anywhere I wanted to go with just a turn of the key.
A few weeks ago, my husband, daughter, and I found ourselves standing on a scrubby, garbage-strewn patch of grass beside Highway 401 with a flat tire. A couple of Good Samaritans eventually stopped to help us put the spare tire on while we stood lookout. But when we tried to load the flat into the trunk afterwards, the hatch jammed and wouldn’t open. We decided to try the car key in the trunk to see if that would work – and that’s when the key broke. It was not my car’s brightest moment. So, after thanking the Good Samaritans and assuring them we would figure it out, we loaded the smelly, shredded tire into the back seat with our daughter, used the metal stub of the key to start the car, and gingerly drove home. This was the final act in a series of small breakdowns that caused my husband and I to look at each other and say, “Maybe this car isn’t safe to drive any more.”
Sure, I could spend a bit of money to get the car assessed and fix the myriad small issues that it is experiencing. As much as I love this car though, I’m not sure I can depend on it again in the way I used to. It also isn’t a great fit for our lives any more. It’s a two-door hatchback, which was great when I was single. But even before our daughter was born, my husband and I would go on long camping trips, and it was a tight fit to load everything that we had packed into my car. When our daughter eventually came along, fitting everything we needed for just an overnight trip with a baby felt like an unwinnable game of Tetris. And don’t even get me started on the pressures of unbuckling a sleeping baby from a car seat in a two-door car without waking her up. The back seat windows are so small that they don’t open, a fact our daughter hates when she feels carsick, and one that we all hate when she does get sick.
I always said I would drive my car until it was falling apart, and now that I have a collection of pieces in my basement, I think maybe that time has come. My sister says that my car is telling me to let it go while it still has its dignity intact. It makes me feel a little better to think that somehow, my car also knows that our time together has come to an end. Still, with everything this car has given me, buying a new one feels like a betrayal. I can’t deny the many ways it has been with me for all my highs and lows, and here I am abandoning it in its darkest hour.
Although a car is just an object, and a sometimes reviled one, it’s hard not to get emotional about saying goodbye when we’ve travelled through so much of life together. Soon I will buy a new car, one that better suits my family’s needs and one that will help our world grow bigger again. But I’ll always look back on my first car with gratitude. I’ll never forget the container of cabbage rolls that I spilled on the upholstery, the muddy footprints that my daughter made as she kicked the back of the driver’s seat, the laughter, the tears, the unselfconscious singing, and all the grocery trips. Thanks for the ride of a lifetime, my friend.
Valerie Busch lives in Toronto.