About eight or nine years ago we bought a 2000 Chevrolet Suburban. I say “we”, but the reality is the decision had already been made, whether I wanted to believe it or not. It just was couched as being mine and I was given the credit for making a wonderful decision because it was a vehicle that had far more space and fit our family, particularly because it was about to grow, even though we didn’t know about it.
Andrea had wanted that Suburban. I had bought her a GMC Envoy a couple years before. It was the car designed prior to the re-design, the kind that looked like a Chevy blazer with more stuff inside. She wanted more room, the ability to carry more stuff, less claustrophobia when the two girls argued with each other, and – let’s face it – we lived in Texas, so she wanted a big, black Urban Assault Vehicle that could blend in with the landscape of big hair, big homes and big money. None of which did either of us have.
The car was in really good condition but it wasn’t low mileage when we bought it. In fact, it was considered a “value” because of the fact it was in such good shape for the mileage it had. But in the last few months tis very car turned over 200,000 miles. I’ve replaced the transmission, the air conditioning, the water pump, the fuel pump, the differential, and the catalytic converter. It was running amazing, leaking a little oil every day, but a great vehicle. But I saw the writing on the wall, at 205,000, it was time to move on, get another vehicle, and think about what was going to happen next.
I had some retirement money and stock options left over from my last job. I didn’t want to keep it, seemed a little odd to me considering the fact that the job had fallen apart so quickly. So I cashed it all in and bought a new car, an SUV, not as big, better mileage, and something that seems, oddly enough, to fit our family now. It’s big, but smaller than its predecessor, it’s nice, but not too nice, and it’s just what we need, even though we hadn’t really wanted to buy anything new at the time, not really.
But I held off on selling the old girl, affectionately dubbed our “Sexy Burbie” by the kids. It sat, for some time now, in the garage, pooling oil onto the cardboard I’d laid under it, battery draining, waiting for me to do what I’d pledged, to sell it. I made the kids clean her out, take out their stuff, clean it up, but I finally decided I should this weekend.
Yesterday I took the kids to a memorial service, one that was for Andrea’s Aunt Karol. Karol, you have to understand, wasn’t Andrea’s blood aunt, but she was so close to the family, so amazing and strong a personality, that when I met Andrea and was preparing to meet Andrea’s parents, she talked more about the fact that she “couldn’t wait for you to meet my aunt Karol!” Not unlike Andrea’s funeral, when we arrived at Karol’s house, we couldn’t find parking. We had to park blocks away, walking up, and barely getting into the house there were so many people. The place was full, packed with people, laughter, tears, and emotions. We saw Andrea’s uncle, who lives South of here, and the kids were insistent on going, regardless of whether it would be uncomfortable or not.
They were blown away by the beauty of the evening, but it was still not without its tug on the heart and they were all pretty beat by the end of it.
For whatever reason, after this whole thing, I had decided to sell the car. One doesn’t lead to the other, I’d just made the decision and come to do it then and there. I really did not think it would be such a big deal, it was old, near decrepit, hard to drive, and more or less a money pit at this point. I should have sold it immediately without giving it a second thought.
It was as I cleaned the car out that things began to hit me. I found old pictures of the kids. I don’t know if you get these kinds of things with your kids but they are these hard plastic teardrop-shaped pieces with your kids’ pictures on them. They have a hole on the top so you can put them on your keyring. As I cleaned out the middle console of the car I found half a dozen of these. There was one for each of the kids, Noah, Sam, Abbi and Hannah, and there were two earlier ones of each of the girls. One in particular, Hannah, with her two front teeth missing, the smile so big you could almost see her tonsils through the window in her smile.
I found all kinds of old cassette tapes. (If you are too young, they are rectangular cartridges with holes in the center to move the reels of tape from one side to the other. You used to record your old records to them so you could listen to them in the car. They were an audible history of our last near-decade. The Doobie Brothers’ “What Were Once Vices are Now Habits” which was there so Abbi could sing her favorite song as a little kid: Black Water. There was a James Taylor CD, Andrea’s favorite artist when we met. She’d gone when she was pregnant with Abbi to see him perform. In fact, in utero, Abbi heard Taylor, BB King, even her father, me, gigging while her Mom sat in the bar drinking club soda with lime and grinning while I sang a song I wrote for her.
Speaking of which, there was a copy of the first CD I ever recorded, with my first solo band, “Nine O’Clock Blues” which had that very song on it.
The car was filled with ghosts. There were receipts, there were scraps of paper, notes, grade reports. The car was an unwilling shrine to a life we no longer lived.
We took the car to sell it, me in “Sexy” and Abbi driving the kids behind me in the new car. I was fine until I had come along a road near Folsom Lake. I had taken the turn to take the lake crossing and felt an immense amount of pressure, like something pushing on me head. It was like a piece of tension gone haywire, like someone put massive hands on either side of my head and started to squeeze, hard, to the point that I was getting dizzy. I could feel Andrea’s hand gently caressing the back of my head. I looked over to my right and saw the spot where she sat, almost constantly, riding and looking out the window. She nearly always fell asleep in the seat as we drove, the motion lulling her into relaxation. I would always reach over and put my hand on her knee and she would stir and hold mine.
Don’t get me wrong, I did sell the car. It wasn’t like this was something that had a death grip on me, it wasn’t stopping me from moving on with my life. What I didn’t think about was how much the simple action of selling something – an action that happens from tons of people every day – would have such a great effect on me.
Every day I reach a new step, move forward with our lives another ghost reaches out and grabs me. Memories stay hidden until I think I’m safe to do something everyday, something normal that most people don’t give a second thought, and then they pull me back more steps than I’ve taken forward.
But I took the car and sold it. However hard it was, the cost of registering, taxing, and maintaining the car would be too much to pay for something that never was driven. Yet still, the mundane becomes massive when you’re trying to move on.
But the car was one of the last bastions of that story. It was another step off the path, the epilogue of the story. Memories are often where you least expect them and you never know when they’re going to make themselves known.