“In a sense the car has become a prosthetic…”
― Rebecca Solnit
I got my first car five years ago, at the age of thirty-one. I had recently adopted a dog. The day she was released from the clinic, she’d been made freshly sterile, and was woozy from the meds. I’d had to arrange a pet taxi. That was the only time I was going to let that happen. She deserved better. I decided to buy Bela a car.
I had a car in mind, at the onset of the search. A Volvo. I had seen them around, you know. On the streets. Never one to ogle cars, they had stood out as something special. Little boxes. Boxes on wheels.
My ex hit craigslist, and within days, had a viewing lined up. We took the bus to the north side of Chicago, a trip that – with every stop and stall – showed us just how much we had to gain from procuring an automobile of our very own. You don’t have to let anyone out, block after block, when all passengers are heading to the very same destination.
The girl who was selling it told me about its past. It had belonged to the family for whom she worked as a nanny years before. Just the two owners. Oh, how romantic!
There were parking permits from various parts of Boston on the back window; I could track how she had moved around the city in her time there. After Boston, business school at Northwestern. The car wore her accomplishments as its own.
“Her name is Little Tank,” she told me. It sounded both precious and badass. “I’ll take her,” I said.
My ex became just that. I moved on, with the dog and the car. We went everywhere. The beach, forest preserves, homes of friends, drive-thrus. Then we took it cross-country. Bela, me and Little Tank made three.
I had known freedom prior to the acquisition of a car. Maybe I’d only ever known freedom. In high school, I was free to stay out as I chose. Going away for college meant freedom to choose who I was. Free from tight relationships, I ran from the ‘land of the free’, when I headed, on my very own, without knowing one word of the language, to the country of Italy.
But the freedom I found with Little Tank was different. It was the freedom to zip around like I never had. Time meant less — meant more. Ten minutes became two, thirty became ten — my feet no longer the only means to move.
She’s on her last leg now, Little Tank. Her body has been stripped. Someone stole her grill while I was watching a Bulls game. Someone busted out her right headlight while she was parked overnight. Bela and I have wrecked her insides, with food, and dirt and the general wearing out of being loved.
We have a new, four-month old baby. Little Tank offers him protection, as she is hard, like cars of the old, hard like steel. I glide my finger over the cars of today in parking lots. They crumple under the weight of my index finger. But she whines, too. She cries. Her sounds tell of time passing, and signal to me that despite the strength of her, she may need to go off on her own, like my own dear Bela will someday, and drift off to a forever sleep.
So Nic is researching boxy vehicles on the internet, and I am trying to open a corner of my heart. I am trying to let the past be the past. She seemed like my identity; she seemed like a part of me. I suppose she was. She is. And because she was – and is – she forever will be.