I’ve never care much about cars. Sometimes, Trish and I would give a car a name, like Wodwo Tulk or Macaw, but a car has never been much more than transportation to me, and definitely not a source of pleasure or status. Yet today when the tow truck disappeared around the corner with our last car, bound for the garage, the moment seemed solemn. Except for the townhouse, the car was the last major piece of our life together.
We bought the car in 2006, a silver gray Toyota Corolla like thousands of others, distinguishable only by its manual transmission. It was used, but in such good shape that it might almost have been new, and Trish was so excited that she hugged the salesman (much to his surprise).
We never did make any long trips in it. By that time, Trish’s health was already too compromised for anything more than a trip across town. But for several years, the car made her more mobile, until she started struggling for the alertness to drive safely. I almost never rode in it myself, except on weekends, when, like many couples, we would run errands, the CD player blaring Oysterband or The Pogues or Ray Wylie Hubbard while we enjoyed each other’s company.
Then came Trish’s final hospitalization. For a month, the car stayed in the underground parking, unused except for the few moments each week when I turned on the engine to keep the battery charged. But in the aftermath of her death, I forgot the task for so long that, by the time I remembered it, I was too late.
In the months following her death, I quickly took care of about ninety percent of her affairs, including cleaning out her belongings. But that last ten percent was something I evaded as being more final than I could bear. When the car’s insurance came up for renewal, I put it in storage, but I couldn’t stand to do anything more. It was twenty months before I could even bring myself to transfer the car from Trish’s estate to me.
Meanwhile, the car gathered dust. Local children wrote “Wash me!” in the dust on the window. A couple of neighbors hinted repeatedly that I really should do something with it. Someone taped to the window the contact information for a scrap metal buyer, who would pay $150 for the vehicle (I angrily recycled the information, and took to glaring at the person I suspected of making the suggestion). But I couldn’t bring myself to do anything except wash the car and clean out its contents.
Still, I was slowly edging towards repairing and selling the car when, two weeks ago, over a hundred cars in the neighborhood had their tires slashed in a night. I was lucky, and was left with two intact tires. But since the car had to go to the garage anyway, I might as well ready it for sale.
When the tow truck arrived this morning, I realized I was dragging my feet as I went down to meet it. I stood to one side as the driver prepared the car for towing, carefully working around the slashed tires. Despite myself, I found myself thinking of what the car had meant for Trish, and how she was long past needing it. For no good reason, I reached out and touched it one last time.
The driver said that I didn’t need to stay around. I told him I would anyway. It seemed like something that I had to do.
Finally, the car was ready. I watched the tow truck carry the car out of the garage and on to the road. As I climbed the stairs to the townhouse, I paused at the top to watch it out of site, feeling as empty as an orange peel.
In a week or two, I should get good money for the car. But that wasn’t what I was thinking about. As it disappeared, I was thinking that another piece of my past was disappearing, too.