Today I said good-bye to my car of ten years, my little blue VW GTI. For nine of those years it was zippy and reliable and the best car you could imagine, and then this year I started having to pour money into it, and when it turned out that this latest repair would have cost far more than the car is worth, I decided it was time to let go.
I went to the garage on my lunch break, and cleaned the car out. The stuffed pear with spectacles, named ShakesPear, that was given to me in college and has traveled with me in various cars ever since. The sleeping bag I bought for the Moby-Dick marathon. My reusable grocery bags. CDs, and tapes even, since it had a tape deck which I still used. A couple hats and scarves. Masses of dog hair. Ten years of travel and freedom, of the open road and shouting along to music at the top of my lungs. And ten years of mundane errands, and scrapes acquired in parking lots, and little spark-shaped cracks in the windshield.
That little blue car took me to all my doctor's appointments last year, and to daily radiation for six weeks, cruising over the Tobin bridge at dawn on my way to getting better. It took me to Canada many times, to Vermont to be with family, to used bookstores all over the state just because I felt like driving on a brilliant fall Sunday. It was the car my younger brother, now an M.D., borrowed to drive up to New Hampshire for his med school interview. When I bought it, Claudio and I were still a couple years away from being engaged; last month it took me down to Plymouth for my first date with Berowne and got a parking ticket in Somerville when our second date lingered past the meter's limit.
It's been with me through getting sober, through my divorce, through the cancer. I drove it to my cousin's memorial service, and drove it several times to the annual fun run in memory of my aunt. I parked it at the local courthouse when we signed the papers on our house, and at that same courthouse when we got divorced. It has seen many tears and many slammed palms on the steering wheel; it has heard curse words without number. Its windshield wipers tended to stop working during rainstorms. The driver's side window fell into the door once, because that happens in VWs.
I loved that car, madly. But it was time to let go. Its life could have been prolonged, but it wasn't just the expense which made me decide not to take that route. When the engine died Sunday and I coasted to the side of the road, there was none of the "NO NO NO NOT NOW" sensation which had come to me every other time something went wrong. I was calm. Completely, bizarrely calm, despite the fact that I had to deal with this on my own, despite the fact that in three days I was planning to drive to Canada, despite the fact that my default state under the best of circumstances is High Anxiety. I just called the tow truck and dealt with it, calm as anything. And when I got the call from the garage with the bad news this morning, I wasn't surprised. You live with a car, day in and day out, for ten years, and you get to know it. I knew that it was done, on Sunday, and that it was time for me to let go.
So I cleaned it out, and piled everything into the rental car I'll be driving to Canada. I called Claudio and arranged to retrieve my other car from him when I return (both our "family" cars were under my name, so part of the minimal stress for me was knowing I had another car available, for which I am beyond grateful), and said good-bye.
I never gave it a name, or a gender. I'm not that type of person around cars. But I would pat it on the dashboard when it had done something particularly good, like make it up the hilly curve to my house in the snow, and I talked to it rather shamelessly. "Hey, little car," I'd say, getting into it after a hard day, "let's get out of here." And we'd go.
There will be other cars, of course, and they will see me through other decisive transitions, and I will love them too. But tonight I'll be crying a bit, for a little blue car.