The news on the other end of the line is grave. We don’t have much time left together. A year, if we’re lucky.
Our history includes high drama, banal routine, and everything in between. The drama: She’s taken a bullet (yes, really—more on that later), helped bring home my beautiful baby from the hospital, and stowed most of my belongings after I moved out of an unhappy relationship before I could park us somewhere of our own. The routine: as ordinary as any pair like us. We went here, there. Work, holidays. Ticking off the days and miles.
“You don’t have to decide right now,” my car mechanic tells me. There has been silence on my end, too many beats and maybe too much emotion for a mechanic. I imagine his calls are usually simpler: We found what’s wrong, it will cost this much to fix, you can pick up your car Friday.
For Ginger — named for her sandy coloring and classic looks — the prognosis will never improve, fixes will only stave her inevitable decline. She’s a 2006 Saab, which makes her an elder in car years and in some ways the relic of a bygone era. The company no longer exists, having declared bankruptcy in 2011, and no one manufactures Saab parts anymore. Though the problem is more straightforward. Like the rest of us, she’s aging.
Technically, she’s falling apart.
The reality is hitting me harder than I expected. Not so much because I’m broken up about losing a car, but the life retrospective Ginger represents. From my late twenties to late thirties, a lot happened. My car, in the most literal sense, got me from there to here.
Let’s start with the bullet
It was one of eight fired in the street behind our South End apartment. It shattered the rear passenger window, pierced the upholstery of the headrest, and lodged there. Though I didn’t know this at the time. Gratefully, I wasn’t in the car. It was after 2 a.m. and I was asleep, across a small alley, four stories up.
These were not the first gunshots I’d ever heard as a Bostonian, but I instantly (albeit groggily) recognized them as the closest in proximity. The silence that followed had a haunting, sinister quality that chills me still. The next day I’d see on the news that someone died. Not knowing it at the time, it seems possible that some part of me felt it.
Minutes later, someone rang our buzzer. I won’t pretend that this wasn’t also scary. It was the middle of the night, following gunfire. I froze. We waited. The buzzer rang out again, zapping my already jangled nerves.
From the street below a uniformed police officer called up.
“Is Rebecca Pacheco there?”
“There’s been some damage to your vehicle,” he said.
Moments later, wearing an oversized wool coat over my pajamas, I followed the officer outside.
I remember how jarring it was, being not quite awake in the presence of an active crime scene investigation. The police officers and detectives scoured the street. I remember the not-groggy quality of their eyes, scanning and alert; their voices clipped with the shorthand one speaks on the job. This was their world, a day at work in the middle of the night.
One bullet was missing. They suspected it might be in my car. So, we looked. We searched the floor; I opened the trunk; I must have moved belongings out of their way — a pair of running shoes or a forgotten to-go mug.
Eventually, we noticed the perforated leather of the rear headrest. An officer’s gloved hand reached in to retrieve the bullet.
It was cost prohibitive to fix the tear, so I left it.
Anytime after that, when I’d call the busy garage to schedule an oil change or investigate a rumbling noise, it was easier to identify myself as Hi, this is Rebecca . . . I have the Saab that was shot once.
Oh, yeah! Of course, we remember you!
Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. It’s a familiar shtick and yet also too fitting to ignore, especially for anyone who’s driven a new baby home from the hospital. It was two years ago, or thirty-five, it doesn’t matter. You remember it in a flash.
I was elated and terrified and hyperaware of how unaware the rest of the world, that block of the city, and the flow of traffic was that a tiny, fragile, newborn human was riding around who hadn’t been here before.
I sat in the backseat, which I have only done in my car a handful of times in our 11-year history. And I watched my daughter like a hawk, like a lioness — pick an animal kingdom cliché for a mother guarding her kin. That was me. It is the most primal, loving, fierce, and ferocious of feelings.
It didn’t occur to me that we were in the same backseat that I’d searched with detectives in the hollowed-out hours of the middle of the night a few years earlier.
It is unfathomable to me now that I was in the relationship I was in for as long as I was. But as these things often go, it was about me needing to find the resolve to leave a version of myself behind.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began
The late Mary Oliver writes in her poem “The Journey.” These words come to mind when I remember the packing of my bags and loading of my car. I did not have a place to live, ultimately I would couch surf and stay with friends for months, parking and praying that my car wouldn’t get broken into with its wardrobe of clothing in the trunk. And yet, a steady, unequivocal clarity had set in, such that even during a time of disorienting life change, I could set my sights on the road ahead and not look back.
Which brings me back to the future for Ginger and me. She’s tired and a little battle scarred. There’s the bullet hole, of course. And a few years ago, we had a furious hail storm in New England. She’s been covered in tiny indentations since. Recently, one windshield wiper broke and a series of head and tail lights went out in quick succession. As if to say, how can you focus on the road ahead with only one wiper and no lights?
Thankfully, those things are easy to fix. But they also seemed indicative of the bigger picture, which is what Ryan, the mechanic, called to tell me last week. The suspension. Wear and tear. There’s some corrosion . . .
Even to those of us who possess only a working knowledge of cars — as in, I turn the ignition: it works, let’s go! — we know that corrosion only goes one way. Nothing corrodes into existence.
Despite this knowledge, I’m not ready to say good-bye. I’ve decided to pay enough, which in terms of “good investments” is too much, to have her fixed so that she can operate safely in our final days. The years have been too good. And they’ve been terrible, too. Do you remember the Snowpocalypse? I shoveled out poor Ginger more times than I could count. There was the time I thought she’d been towed and then actually stolen. I even called the police to report it. Only to realize that I’d forgotten where I’d parked her. This can happen if you don’t drive that much or, say, are on a book deadline, your mind elsewhere.
But there she was, parked in front of the Thai restaurant, right where I left her. It was a spring day, of which there are so few in Boston. We tend to languish in winter and then catapult into summer heat waves without much of an interlude. Except for those scarce days in between when the air is gentle and flower petals rain down from the dogwood trees onto the street.
You get into your car, peering through a windshield obstructed by flowers, and then watch them scatter behind you as you drive away.
Driving away from the garage after retrieving Ginger a few days ago, there were no flower petals in my rear view. Just traces of snow and salt. But I was surprised by how great it felt to be in the driver’s seat again. A careful, comfortable joy, rivaled only by that first time I drove her off the lot all those years ago.
Rebecca Pacheco is a writer, speaker, and yoga and meditation teacher. She is the author of “Do Your Om Thing: Bending Yoga Tradition to Fit Your Modern Life.” You can connect with her on social media @omgal.