Last August, my car Gypsy stopped running at a red light. She just quit, like she had sudden-onset car narcolepsy, and I could not wake her. I did not know it, but there was a short in the wiring, which caused most of the wires in the electrical harness to just sort of melt. A tow truck took it to a mechanic, who told me that maybe, if I had the finances, it was time to buy another vehicle. I was very sad, because I thought that she was a good car who still had a lot of miles left in her. But I bought another car. A red one, with amazing gas mileage and the ability to transport just about anything I might care to buy off someone's lawn.
Gypsy sat in my driveway for many months. Every day I would park the new car, the red Honda Fit, in front of her, and I imagined her looking at the shiny new car and feeling inadequate and abandoned.
I have a mechanic friend. He was my college roommate for a year, after he married a girl who was already my college roommate. He works at a junkyard, and he told me that he would keep an eye out for an electrical harness for a 2001 Toyota Corolla so that he could replace my fried one. That hope kept Gypsy in my driveway, and after a while, I didn't even feel guilty as I went off to yard sales in the Fit.
Months passed. Apparently the rest of the Corolla owners in the world were repairing rather than replacing their cars, so my mechanic friend didn't have the part. At some point, I made the decision to just sell her off for parts. I have packrat tendencies, but this was a little too much baggage for me. I was going to put an ad on CraigsList that I'd take the best offer from anyone who wanted to take a broken Corolla away. And then my mechanic friend emailed me and said he had the part. He came up on a Sunday and fixed her. She passed inspection, but might need a new battery and one new tire. Also, the mouse that was living inside seems to have died.
Here's a bonus hint: if ever you have a car that won't go and you want to make sure the mice are comfortable, be sure to leave a box of tissues in the trunk.
The timing was fortuitous. Right before Josh left for his tour, his SUV decided that it was no longer interested in turning left. It has 240,000 miles on it, which I'm sure was a lot of left turns. It was just a broken CV joint, but the repairs on this thing were getting to the point where it just wasn't worth it. So it sat next to Gypsy. For months, we had two disabled vehicles in the driveway. I suppose that's my redneck blood coming out.
Anyway, it's still sitting there. And maybe it sadly watches as Josh drives Gypsy to work every day. Last week, Josh had a show in Durham. We were arriving at different times, so we drove separately. After the show, he followed me home, Gypsy's headlights shining at me through the rearview of the Fit.
And I was a little jealous.
Let me expand on that. I was driving a car that is less than a year old. He was driving a car that is nine years old, has 160,000 miles on it, burns oil, accelerates painfully, and smells like rotting mouse flesh. And I was jealous.
I'll take a moment to tell you that I love the Fit. When I see my car, I get the warm glow of a decision well-made, because I am the kind of person who takes pride in responsible choices. I love every time some stranger helps me load a large yard sale purchase into the Fit, because they go from being skeptical that it will go in at all to asking just what kind of car is that, anyway. I love the forty-plus miles I get to each gallon. And I love the giant windshield, which makes it seem like the world itself is a bigger place.
And yet, and yet...Gypsy and I have a history. We were friends. Sure, the Fit and I will be friends someday, but right now, we haven't been through enough together. If I were into cliches, I'd say something about metaphorical trenches right here.
Once, back when I lived in Winston and drove to see my boyfriend every weekend, Gypsy's check engine light came on during one of those many Friday night drives to Raleigh. I was just past Greensboro, about halfway to my destination. I was terrified that I would be stuck somewhere on I-40, left to rely upon the kindness of strangers. So I talked to my car the whole rest of the way. It was an hourlong monologue, encouraging her, supporting her, reminding her of my complete faith in her ability to do her job.
Of course, I know that talking to the car had no effect whatsoever on what her engine was doing. It was really just keeping me from bugging out. We made it, I got the catalytic converter fixed, everything was fine. I do understand that a car is just a car. Yet we spend so much time in our vehicles, and our daily lives revolve around our ability to just go wherever we want. Though most of our treasured memories and rites of passage do not happen within a car, the car is how we got to where they did happen. I can't be the only person in the world who thinks of a good car like a good friend.
And I am a good friend to her, too, so I am glad that Gypsy rides again. I just would have preferred that she did it someplace where I would never see her with her new driver. Then I wouldn't think about the good times they're probably having together, her calmly and reliably getting him from place to place. Maybe this was my punishment for all those mornings that I climbed into the Fit, right there in front of her.
Then, the Saturday after that drive from Durham where I thought about how Gypsy was going to be friends with Josh now, I took Gypsy to get her inspection. I drove her all of five miles, the first five miles I'd driven her since she took a nap last August. And for all my talk about friendship and trenches, I was mostly just noticing the fact that Gypsy drives like an old car. An old car with a dead mouse inside.
At that point, I decided that I could be okay watching Josh drive Gypsy. I could be happy for her, happy for Josh, and happy for me, too. After all, I have a very nice, new car that will gladly provide me with years of reliable transportation. We shall go through our own trenches. And, it doesn't smell like death.