The Jeep

Gracie had her wrist surgery last Monday, and it went great. It was a ganglion cyst after all—that’s what my gut was telling me, but the tests all reported that it wasn’t consistent with a ganglion—so it’s a relief to have that settled. She was really nervous about the anesthesia, but she was very brave through it all and I’m so proud of her.

My mom flew in to provide moral support, and she waited at home with Isabelle, who got to go to school late because of her sister’s surgery. We got back from the hospital about 10:15, and I swapped kids and took #2 daughter to school. Obviously Grace hadn’t had anything to eat since dinner the night before, because of the anesthesia, but as it happened, I hadn’t either. We had to be at the hospital really early, and the surgery was short enough that I didn’t want to leave the waiting room. The plan was to drop the kid off at school, then go home to eat something while I caught up on the work I’d missed.

But what’s the saying about the well-laid plans of mice and men?

As I was backing out of my spot in the school parking lot, the Jeep died. Just like that. I could get it to turn over, but it wouldn’t catch. I waited an hour and a half for a towtruck, which took me to the nearest garage. My blood sugar was, by this time, bottomed out and I felt like a zombie as I tried to arrange for a rental car. Hertz couldn’t get me one until 5:00; luckily the garage ran a side car rental business at their body shop across the street, and I got home about 2:00, exhausted, shaking, and foggy, ate a quick lunch, and drove back to the school to pick Isabelle up.

All of this is just prologue to the real point of this story. (Warning: I’m about to sound like a really whiny and spoiled middle-class American car addict now. Please rest assured that I know these are all “first-world problems.”)

I found out late the next day that my Jeep’s engine was completely shot. As in, “smoke and oil coming out the tailpipe” shot. As in, it would cost way more to fix it using a junkyard engine than I would ever get selling it or trading it in. And so I was given my options: donate it, or try to sell it for scrap. And I had to decide what to do about a new vehicle.

Obviously, as a single parent with two kids, a big expenditure like this always comes as an unwelcome shock. It’s fun to get a new car, but only if you WANT to be getting a new car. It’s not as much fun when you really didn’t want to give up on the car you already had. And this is the part that makes me sound a bit kooky or worse: I cried when I went to the garage to clean out the Jeep. Not because I was going to have a car payment for the first time in ten years. Not because I was worried about the money. I cried because the whole thing reminded me of going to the emergency room to pick up a loved one’s personal effects. I cried because it felt like taking your dog to the vet and coming home with an empty collar and leash.

I’m very sensitive to the fact that this is a “thing,” and that it in no way compares to losing a person or a pet. People close to me lost their son suddenly, on the same day I lost my Jeep, and that is a grief and a shock that is just orders of magnitude beyond anything I could feel for a machine. But I feel about that car the way people feel about their childhood home. From my childhood onward, I’ve moved a lot, so I never really knew that feeling of nostalgia for a house. But my car was a little piece of mobile stability, a constant no matter where I lived, and the memories I made in its driver’s seat are like the memories others make around their family dinner table.

See, I bought this Jeep in 2002 because I was getting ready to try to get pregnant as a single woman, and my little black coupe was simply not going to accommodate a car seat. It was the first car I bought where I meticulously chose my options and “built” exactly the vehicle I wanted. It was the car I drove to all those inseminations, and the car I sat in, quietly freaking out, when I found out I was having twins—and freaked out again, when I found out my unborn twins had a condition that was usually fatal if untreated. It was in that Jeep that I made the decision not to terminate the pregnancy, and it was that Jeep that brought my babies home safely from the hospital. The three of us took a road trip to Colorado in that car, when the babies were a couple of months old. It moved us to Minnesota, and it saw a parade of different car seats as my daughters grew. It always carried us safely, no accidents in over a decade. We listened to a lot of good music, and had a lot of deep and not-so-deep conversations, and even had some knock-down, drag-out screaming matches. And when I cleaned it out, I found artifacts from the first nine years of my daughters’ lives under those seats: fossilized Cheerios, bits of Happy Meal toys, a lone tiny mitten.

by Holly Vanderhaar


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