Do you ever wonder what a car sees? The things to which a good car bears witness?
Tiny humans moving from infant carriers to car seats to boosters.
Potty accidents and coffee spills.
Singing and laughing and playing. And screaming and tears and the quiet of grief.
Windows rolled down while the radio blasts. Ice cream drips and gummy bears that melt in the inferno of summer.
Dew, and dawns, and dusks, and dust, and the lonely life of a chariot-in-waiting.
First drivers. Fast drivers. Confidence followed by WHOA, That Was Way Too Close.
I bought you ten years ago, my Bright Blue Pontiac. I was 35 then, and I was afraid.
You were the first car I picked all by myself, and I bought you as the economy was taking a turn. A bad one. A dive. I was a mommy of five, and money mattered like money always does, but it mattered extra back then, you know? Extra because five kids is a lot of kids, and I wanted to be able to keep feeding them. It felt like a Hail Mary at the time to use money for you. We needed a car, though, and I’d done my research.
A LOT of research.
Days of research.
Nights, too, pouring over Consumer Reports, comparing and contrasting, running numbers on my calculator. Running probabilities on keeping or losing our jobs to the Great Recession. Reviewing safety ratings.
So many safety ratings. And safety charts. And safety checkboxes. Side impact. Front impact. Driver side. Passenger side. Airbags in their various iterations.
I was new to parenting five, after all. My tiny twins were not quite two. And I knew lives may depend someday on choosing a car that would survive a crash.
In the end, I picked you because I thought you’d survive a crash well.
Live through it, even. Maybe. And you did, too. A new driver fender bender when the oldest kid turned 16. The delivery truck that backed into you outside Costco. The rear ending from the guy who felt awful and cried in the street.
You survived them all.
Until you didn’t, Pontiac.
Until the final crash last weekend.
You died in that crash, Little Car.
But my nephew survived, and never have I ever known such gratitude toward an inanimate object.
You died in the crash, but my nephew lived because some humans somewhere along a Pontiac assembly line — humans who did lose their jobs the next year to the downturn in the economy — did their work well and built you to cradle him when he hit the ice and careened off the road in the middle of the night into the tree that could’ve ended him.
I told his mama who called with a shaky voice to tell me about the crash — who said her boy would be OK eventually, after a long time healing — and that the car he was driving was you, Pontiac — that, “I don’t give a flying fuck about the car. If Kaream is OK, we’re good. We’re fine. We’re fantastic. I have zero other concerns. ZERO.” And I meant it because we learned a very long time ago a) that any situation that ends with people living is fixable, and b) to never loan anything — ever — that we would resent not getting back.
Accidents happen. And there’s no telling who will live through them and who will die because there are sadly, despite my many complaints to Management, no Magic Protection Wands in stock right now. We will never care — not ever — more about a car than we do about our children. But I’ll tell you a tiny secret, Pontiac — I do care that you’re gone.
You were, in a way, a symbol of my independence, bought as you were during an epic argument with Greg, my beloved partner at whom I was enraged because he enjoys a constant sense of I-am-right-ness — a sense I lack, preferring, apparently, to assume I’m wrong or have made a mistake or otherwise misunderstood, misinterpreted, or mishandled a situation. Greg suffers no such ailment, and, with the addition of his years being raised by a car dealer, considers himself an expert on All Things Car Related. Until I bought you, Pontiac, Greg had assumed the self-appointed position of Car Finder, Car Chooser, and Car Purchaser. He was, functionally, our Car Midwife, Doctor, and Priest, present to birth the cars, diagnose the cars, bless the cars, and read them their last rites when (and only when) he decided Their Time Had Come. Note: Their Time was not necessarily up just because they frequently didn’t start, stalled, were held together with duct tape, and/or dropped transmissions in the road like pregnant women giving birth on their way to the hospital, all, “WHOOPS! I didn’t mean for that to fall out just yet.”
It wasn’t so much that Greg didn’t like YOU, Pontiac. It wasn’t personal. He came to like you in time. It was just that Greg and I had different standards when it came to cars. My standard being “cars that don’t spill their guts in the street.” And Greg’s standard being much more fluid and flexible.
We were still in the era when I listened and obeyed better than I do now. Although I was smart enough not to offer obedience in our wedding vows, if Greg insisted on A Thing, I nearly always caved. He was wise not to insist often, so it played out like this: Beth made Every Decision about Everything, All the Time, and maintained her Boss of the Universe status except when Greg decided otherwise; to wit, where we live (small town Oregon — no other options), what we drive (🙄), whether he should go to grad school (no), whether we should get a dog (no), whether we should get a cat (no), whether we should get a miniature horse (no), whether we should buy a farm (no), whether I should get a tattoo (no), whether the children should be allowed to sleep in our room when they’re afraid (no), whether we eat seafood inside our actual house (no), whether we spend money on house repairs (no), whether we can order anything at Wendy’s except what’s on the value menu (no)… you get the idea.
OBVIOUSLY, very little of that is the case anymore. That’s why we call him PLG, Poor Longsuffering Greg, who now has a dog, two cats, a close call on a miniature horse, partial ownership in a farm, children regularly snoring on our bedroom floor, the occasional odor of shrimp in cream sauce (aka, “GROSS. What is that SMELL?”) drifting through the house, and a tattooed wife who both threatens to call handymen for house repairs AND who picks cars. Greg is, in other words, deliriously happy these days, if a tiny bit in shock, but you, Pontiac, were one of the first chinks in the armor.
He sighed a lot.
He made other “suggestions.”
But in the end, you and I won him over, in large part because you swore you’d protect us and get us safely from place to place, and there’s very little a man who would die for his family won’t give for that promise.
I’ve told Greg over the years how wrong I was to mock him for demanding air-conditioning in the house we built long ago. It just took being pregnant with twins during a summer for me to sob in gratitude for his insistence on optional subzero temps year-round. And Greg told me over the years how wrong he was about you, Pontiac. He came to believe in you as much as I did.
I really did love you, Pontiac.
I loved your grey cloth seats that absorbed stains like it was their job.
I loved that I never had to worry about scratching you because you weren’t uptight or fancy.
I loved your coin drawer that popped open every time we hit a bump and that slamming it closed was the rhythm by which we drove.
I loved that you were never quite saturated by stuff so we could always fit a little bit more, like you were doubling as a clown car or Mary Poppins’ carpet bag or the Tardis, bigger on the inside than you appeared.
I loved that you never broke down on me. Not once over 10 years. You never failed to start. You never stranded me.
And I loved most of all that people thought you were low-brow with your Pontiac moniker, but that you and I knew better. Like it was our secret. You and I knew you were a Car of the People, down to earth, unapologetic, and you didn’t feel the need to pretend to be anything else.
I don’t mourn you, if that makes sense, Pontiac. Not exactly, anyway. But I did love you, and my gratitude to you for this grown child’s life — and my memories of our time together — are so profound, I weep. My jaw is tight. My breaths both rapid and deep. My heartbeats delivering delayed electric adrenaline through my torso to my shaky fingers and toes. You died. He could have. And it’s a trade I would make again and again. Because you did what you were made to do. You fulfilled your ultimate purpose. Which is, even for you, Pontiac — even a thing made of plastic and steel — a life well lived. May we all be so lucky.
Is it strange to wish a car adieu which, directly translated, means go with God or I commend you into God’s keeping? If so, too bad. Because that’s what I must do, Pontiac, for you were, like the Velveteen Rabbit, very well loved, indeed.
Adieu, little Pontiac.
Go with God.
And thank you.
P.S. Thanks for your service, Pontiac.
P.P.S. This is the Boy Who Lived. Be still my heart.