"That's a silly reason to get a new car. It still works," I would always answer.
"You're a lawyer, sometimes you can do silly things even though they're silly." I was determined, though, that I wouldn't change my way of life just because I could.
That car and I drove the grapevine probably a hundred times over our three years of law school. We drove to Shooters in Huntington Beach at 6 AM twice a week to open the bar and left were one of the last pairs to leave the library after closing it at night over those three years. We took the bar exam together.
Days before Ben was scheduled to move out of our house I got a call from our car insurance agent. "I'm calling for Charles, he asked for a quote on the new truck."
"What new truck?"
"Um. . . I might have the wrong number."
"You're looking for Charles Cude? Charles Benjamin Cude?"
"I think I have the wrong number."
Ben never spent another night in the house.
I resented his new truck the moment he pulled up in it. We'd planned to buy a family car. We'd planned to stay married. He'd alleged that the separation was only supposed to be temporary, a cooling off period so we could realize how in love we were and I'd looked forward to his pitiful return on his knees, when I would finally hold the strings and I would finally be in control. Looking at that truck it couldn't be more obvious that it was over. It couldn't have been more obvious that he never looked back.
So with my faithful, loyal car I struggled through the summer, doing my best to not let on how tight things had become. I felt like the protagonist in that Tracy Chapman song "Fast Car." I've always thought the car probably wasn't actually very fast, that the speaker just wanted it to be fast, she wanted to escape. The car didn't have to be fast. The car was what she made of it.
When I secured the job at Mullen and Filippi I could breathe again, but I was insistent that I wouldn't make any big changes right away. I crafted a plan to get a new car next April. I set about stopping strangers in parking lots, asking them what they thought of their vehicle. I rebuffed my friends' comments that began when I started at the firm.
"I think I need a tetanus shot," said Blake as he dragged his hand across the rusty spot on the top of my car. "Your car's a bucket."
"It IS a bucket."
"I don't care." I was committed to stand by my convictions. My car reminded me of me, a little weathered, but running just fine. Besides, things, like cars, don't matter so very much to me. And they mattered to Ben, and maybe that was part of the problem. The thing I really wanted, I couldn't buy.
Two weeks ago while riding with Noelle in a backseat that is now fit only for dogs, the window rolled down so she could flap her ears and tongue in the wind, the motor on the back window stopped working. After fruitless attempts to get the window back up on my own, I enlisted one of the regulars from the bar to help, but we couldn't seem to find the right time to meet up. Meanwhile, a stream of bird droppings dripped along the side of the car, which couldn't be hosed down or washed without getting into the interior. Every morning I would cross my fingers as I turned the key, hoping the engine wasn't next to fail. But the kicker was knowing that everyone on the road to work could hear that I was listening to Belinda Carlisle in the morning. My delicate pride was suffering.
"Just go buy a car," said Ken, my colleague at work.
"Maybe at the end of the month." Ken rolled his eyes. When I appeared in his doorway on Friday morning and told him I was thinking of car shopping over the weekend, he responded "Do it."
Car shopping, often cited as a stressful, pressured experience, was one of the most relaxing, empowering experiences of my new single life. At 6:30 on Friday evening I walked into a quiet Ford dealership showroom practically undetected but for a receptionist, who summoned a salesman to assist me. Frank was kind and unassuming.
"Can I help you?"
"I don't know. You either can, or you can't. I want an Escape. Preferably the older, boxy model. I need space for my dogs. And I'm not paying more than this much a month. And that's the only way I'm buying today. But if you can do that, I'll buy."
After verifying that I was open to a pre-owned vehicle Frank showed me what was on the lot.
"35,000 is a lot of miles to put on a car in two years," I said of the car that seemed like the best fit.
"Well, these new cars can go for miles and miles. Does it really worry you that much?" I nodded. He glanced at my car. "Yeah. You seem like you keep your cars for a while. Well, we have another one, it's a year older but it only has 30,000 miles. It's on the other lot. It's black."
"But it's on the other lot?"
"They can have it here for you in 15 minutes."
By 9:00 that night I was being handed the key to my new, certified, pre-owned car.
Ever the planner, there's plenty of cargo space in the rear for the dogs, to preserve the backseat for a couple of carseats someday. It feels like a family car. I'll admit, right now it's a little lonely. There are a few accomodations to be made before the dogs can ride. Of course, there's no need for a carseat. Right now it's just me, nothing in the rearview mirror behind me, but everything laid out ahead of me.