October 24, 2009

When The Net Appears

“Just go!’ my youngest son said, silencing my many fears and worries over my odyssey to the Arizona desert where I was going ostensibly to write and get way from fifteen months of unemployment. In reality I was headed for more of a spiritual odyssey than anything else. You see, I think I’m actually in full-blown post-traumatic stress—paralyzed by forty years of accumulated anxiety. Time to go back to the desert where life first slid sideways. Time to try and let go of old trauma so I can find a new beginning.

“But what if my Jeep dies?” I asked Blake. Too Cool is the coolest car I ever had. After eleven years of junkers that only a single mother of three can afford, in 1993 I bought myself a brand spanking new Jeep Cherokee Sport. Together and over the last sixteen years we’ve put on 220,000 miles. Every winter for sixteen years she’s taken me skiing, never a moment of fear, not even when we once slid into a ditch. Out she chugged, kids squealing in the back seat. We’ve been to Banff in the Canadian Rockies too many times to count, roamed the prairies, just the two of us, driving Big Bear’s trail, connecting the dots on my great-grandfather’s whereabouts as a Mountie during Sitting Bull, poking our noses into gullies and following old rivers and finding all kinds of surprises.

"Just go, already!” said Blake.

So I packed up Too Cool and headed south, to the desert, to sunnier skies and family and friends who, despite the forty years, still love and care for me. And where I hoped to undergo some sort of esoteric experience of “letting go.”

She started to overheat while driving into San Jose, California, where I’d once lived and where I’d scheduled a stop to visit my old Bible study teacher, a woman who’d tempered the wind for me in dark years of fundamentalist Christianity and other troubles. Controlling the hot engine by turning the heater on full blast, I limped into Marilyn’s place, one sweaty gal and a wee bit worried. Was it safe to drive on to Phoenix where the temperatures would be even hotter? Even if I could, could I cope with the heater going full blast, the temperature outside 100 degrees?

Weekend coming up, Marilyn’s husband Fred advised me to get the car into a mechanic. They called their son-in-law, a former mechanic, to recommend someone else to take a look at my hot Jeep—how ironic her name is Too Cool. Four and half hours later and Friday at five Michael and Company had no idea what was going on. I’d have to bring her back Monday morning for more poking around.

So instead of one night with Marilyn and Fred, I spent several, stranded and at the mercy of these long-ago friends to house, feed, and help me cope with mounting angst. Their love, rooted decades ago, blossomed—their graciousness a fragrance I find hard to describe. I began to hope that Too Cool might be all right after all, for how could bad things happen when I had such good friends? But Monday morning the nice man behind the counter said his only option was to pull the engine, another six hours of diagnostics—and that would only buy me a diagnosis. From there the cost would continue to go up; he was thinking cracked gasket and other mean-sounding things. I was sick to my stomach.

Someone once told me you can’t love things, only people. But I love eucalyptus trees, I love the falling snow, and the first robin in spring. And I love that Jeep. Just three months ago I’d refused to pay $200 to replace a broken seat belt buckle. Too Cool blue-booked out at 300 bucks, and it was hardly worth it, but I found myself okaying the additional $600 diagnostics and called Marilyn to come pick me up.

When she arrived, we sat in her car while I fought tears. She quietly suggested I change my mind and junk the car. It was a punch in the gut to an already sick stomach. “At least take some time to think about it,” she said. So I went in, got my keys, and followed my friend back to her house in tears, only to find that Fred agreed. Junk the car. I called my children.

“Look, she’s served you well,” the youngest said, the same young man who told me, Just go! “We knew she had to die sometime.”

“Yeah but you told me not to worry!”

“Right, don’t worry.”

My middle son said, “Mum, this really should come as no big surprise. You need to cut your losses. Everything will be okay. It’s all just logistics.”

My daughter simply said, “Oh, no! I’m so sorry!” I like her response the best.

I called my best friend from my high school, senior year, seventeen in Arizona, hoping Wayne's humor and smart mind might save me, save my car. “I’m the only dissenting voice,” I told him.

“And why are you dissenting?” he asked when I gave him the particulars. “It’s sixteen years old. It’s a Jeep. (Like Jeeps totally suck.) It has 220,000 miles. You’re lucky you’ve gotten this far.”

“But what if I try to drive it to Arizona at night?” I wasn’t going to give up. “When the temperature is cool?”

He didn’t even hesitate. “Absolutely not. That’s not going to happen.”

How do you even junk a car?

Fred and Marilyn found some phone numbers, a task I seemed incapable of doing. We finally settled on Pick and Pull, an offensive name as far I was concerned; but they offered to pay me $241. Not quite Blue Book, but enough to let me rent a car for the rest of the journey—or get myself home. Marilyn pressed. Forward, not backward. This is a spiritual odyssey. It’s about letting go, new horizons. It’s about trust. True… And I really did expect to let go of things along the way—things like ideas, not my car! I see now it was a rather transcendental view, sounding good on paper and even in my head, but when the rubber, so to speak, really met the road? My car? I had to let go of my car?

When Too Cool was still brand new I’d bought her a fancy ski and car rack. The ski rack had been taken off sometime last summer to load lumber and was still at home in the garage. The car rack, years ago, had gone to my son-in-law—though I maintained dibs whenever I needed it. He’d dutifully removed it from his car back to mine less than a week ago. How was I to get this back to him?

Fred made a cardboard box out of recycle in his garage and we all went down to FedEx and I shipped off all that would remain of Too Cool. It was like removing a wedding band and sending it off to the next of kin. We then stripped Too Cool down to her skivvies and headed for Pick and Pull, gray clouds gathering and clumping like knots in the sky, rain trying to spit against the cracks lacing my windshield.

I parked on the street. Fred and I went in. A rather efficient, cold-hearted operation. I handed over my car title, the man no older than twelve tapped on his keyboard awhile, printed out a check for $241, thirty pieces of silver, and passed it to me over an industrial desk. He and Fred went to “check her in” and I sat numb in my metal chair.

I did not expect to see Too Cool again. But there she was, right there at the foot of the stairway when I went out, right in my face, red ink scrawled all over her windows, a humiliating end for such a faithful car. I looked away, blinking hard, almost ashamed that I could do such a thing, and I walked a little faster, a growing sense of betrayal somehow lodging so firmly inside my chest that my heart actually hurt. By the time we reached the street, tears stung. Fred--an arm around my shoulder and quick hug--said, “Look.” Spilling out of the steely gray swarm of clouds hung the two ends of a brilliant rainbow that arched the expanse of heaven. “Does that say anything to you?” he asked.
Did I say this was a spiritual odyssey? Even a hardcore atheist has to be hard pressed not to see a sign of hope in such a universal symbol.

It’s been four days now. I write from the desert, where I did arrive safely; and I find myself once again trusting long ago friends to take care of me. The house I rented is dirty, there’s no hot water, the toilets back up. And I have no car of. But Like Marilyn and Fred, my former mother-in-law and my friends from high school have pitched in with grace and goodwill. Cleaning supplies, kitchen equipment, Wayne's snazzy wheels on loan. Old habits die hard, though, and I fret over my finances and what kind of car I can buy on an unemployment check. I wake up nights in a cold sweat, dreaming I’m back to the old clunkers I used to drive.

“I just can’t go back there,” I tell Wayne. “I just can’t.” I don’t tell him I’m in the throes of flashback time, so many flashbacks to car failure and danger it’s like watching my grandpa’s old movies. Jerky. Moving too fast. But instead of images of my dad as a boy, it’s all my old cars falling apart. I see myself pumping gas by Seattle’s Kingdome and watching it pour right out the bottom of my camper van. I’m climbing a summit in the Santa Cruz Mountains and losing my clutch, rolling backward, nearly off a cliff. I have to get a kid to the doctor and the car won’t start, again! I shut my eyes to block the jerking kaleidoscope of memories.

“I can’t, I just can’t go back to all that, Wayne.” He tells me not to worry, he won’t let me buy a car that isn’t reliable, and while he doesn’t think it can be done on my budget he’ll find a way, he’ll make this work.

This much I know. Wayne will never lie to me. In the old days he never knew the dark trauma of my early days in the desert forty years ago (something I will probably never share with the world) but he was nonetheless aware of how troubled I was at times. He not only made my life work, but he gave me the best year of my life. So this much I know. Wayne will never lie to me. Never. I suddenly discover that I have at least this much trust.

In San Jose I’d asked my son Phil, “Do you have any last words before I take Too Cool to the junkyard?”

“I don’t know… It’s been a good ride?”

Yes, it’s been a good ride. And though it stings like hell to say goodbye, it is goodbye. Time to let go. Time to trust friends, and to thank God for letting my faithful car die under a rainbow.

Rest in peace, Too Cool.

Family and friends are the sunrise on a new horizon.

P.S. After writing this I found myself in tears again. The son who insisted, "Just go" told me on the phone last night, "Look at this way, Mum. You enjoyed a long and monogamous relationship with that Jeep. You loved her. You'll never love another car like her again. But now I think it's time to start sleeping around. You got to start looking for one that will at least do."

I laughed.


  1. OK. Now I'm dreaming about you.
    Can't believe you didn't call before you sprang out
    of there. Can't believe you --is sprang a word?
    You write so beautifully! For an anxious wandering
    person you have one helluva lot of friends! You know how
    special that is?
    Now, how can I reach you? And will you be coming back?
    And what of your home? Your mother? And how can you leave all
    those kids/grand-kids living up here?
    And...all that stuff!
    Greetings from me and Rocky Kaminski...my '93 Jeep!

  2. Alice6:55 PM

    Hi Brenda

    Thanks for sharing your story of the jeep. I am sorry you had to part with her but glad you made it to Phoenix.

    Hope that you are able to do all that you want while there. Ron and I begin our trek home on Tuesday. The consensus on the motor home is it doesn't like heights (altitude) and that is why it runs so pukey. We are praying we don't have any more major problems on the way home. I will update my blog as we go along.

    Thanks for keeping in touch and don't forget to have some fun while you are in Arizona.

    Love, Alice


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