I knew it was going to happen.
Cars don't last forever, especially if they have 162,000 miles on them and you add approximately 360 more every single week. Especially if the car is 7 years old. Especially if you live in your car. Especially if you had car problems on 12/30/10 and you knew, oh you knew...it wasn't going to last forever.
So you prepare yourself, right? Every month I set aside some money, knowing I would have to make a downpayment soon. I started doing research on small SUVs, trying to decide what I would buy next. I (almost) convinced myself that it would be okay to have a car payment again, after two years. I make more money now. I've got a savings account that's relatively healthy. I don't have to worry. I do worry, but I don't have to worry.
So when my car died, dead by the side of the road on Friday morning? I was okay. I called my husband (four times before he woke up. But whatever) and he came and got me. He called the tow truck and they picked up my little gray Santa Fe. We dropped the kids off at school, I dropped him off at work and went on to work myself. No matter what happened, I was okay. They could probably fix it. If they couldn't, okay. I could buy another car. Either way, it was okay.
I got the call late in the afternoon. It would cost more to fix it than the car is worth. No guarantees that it would even work after they were done.
After a long conversation, Jason called a junk yard. They towed the car from the auto repair shop. They had a check for me and I was to bring them the title. I had to rush because they closed at 5pm and they were out in the middle of BFE.
It's business. It's fine.
I picked up the kids, drove the five minutes to my home, grabbed the title and drove the forty minutes to the junkyard. I laughed and joked with my kids the entire way there. And it was fine.
And then? Sitting to the side of the messy junkyard? I saw my car.
I wasn't fine.
My daughter began to cry.
"I'm going to say goodbye to the car," she told me. "This is the only car we've ever had, mom."
It was the only one she remembered, true. I brought them home in a 1993 Toyota Tercel, which didn't survive the drive (I'm not kidding). After that I had a red Chevy of some sort. I can't even remember what it was. When they were five years old, I got the Santa Fe. It hauled us and a whole lot of our crap to Tennessee. We rode together to Disney World in that car...a ten-hour drive during which I cursed about 85% of the populations of both Georgia and Florida. The car in so many of our pictures, especially ones of the kids taken when we lived in our little townhouse in North Carolina. All crooked smiles and karate uniforms. Probably 75% of the significant conversations we've ever had? Inside that Hyundai.
To me, it was one of the first tangible representations of my adulthood (apparently those kids didn't count, right?). It was a real car. A grown-up car. It was the very first major purchase that Jason and I made as a married couple.
It was our family car. The first physical representation of our coming together as a family.
I know this all sounds so dramatic, and possibly really stupid. But standing in that junk yard, pulling out the remnants of seven years of our lives? I started to cry. I couldn't stop the tears as I loaded up all my CDs and I sobbed even worse when I found, in my glove box, a little drawing the Boy Child had made me when he was seven. A little bracelet (so small it wouldn't even fit her tiny wrists) that Girl Child made for me at camp four summers ago. A blanket covered in Ginger's hair. A love note Jason wrote for me, just a few weeks ago.
I cried silent tears all the way home.
I know in my heart that a car is not our family. It's not our love. It's a means to get us from one place to another. Who we are is what makes us who we are. No matter where we live. No matter what jobs we have. No matter what kind of car we are in.
I pick up my new Hyundai Santa Fe today. It's dark gray, not light gray like my old one. The body style is different too. It's not as curvy and bubbly as my old one was.
But really. I looked. I tried. I drove a Ford. I drove a Kia. I drove a Honda. I drove a Mitsubishi.
Nothing else would do.