We just bailed from the car as it was about to head over the cliff. The older generation would have said that since you signed a lease or a car note, you should have stayed with your commitment to the bitter end. They would chastise your cuts and bruises that you brought on yourself by evacuating the plummeting vehicle. They would not recognize how much less damaged you were by escaping, how you have lived to find a better and more reliable car whose breaks won’t go out on the way to the edge, whose steering has power to turn in another direction, a car that when cared for can last longer than the neglected shit-box burning in the chasm.
Yes, neglected shit-box matches the smell and curdling distinction of despair that developed like a fume inside that shiny shell. We bought the model that made you feel sleek, comfortable, and it smelled like the most beautiful New Car Smell that ever graced our nostrils. He drove it at first, for a while, and then would ask me to drive more and more. In the end, he was never in the driver’s seat but always giving direction attempting to dictate speed and course. That made it difficult to pay attention to the map. And this car was a gas guzzler, a real hog. There were so many times we coasted on fumes and as much as I tried to replenish the gas, it never seemed quite full. Like that little orange needle was stuck at half a tank. I was focused on the gas and I didn’t know right away that the breaks were singing. Eventually I did but he couldn’t hear them. I tried to get him to listen but he just couldn’t seem to hear that pitch. He just thought it was part of the radio he always insisted must play, nonstop, on his favorite channel. Then the gas ran out. We managed to get a few gallons in the tank. But the guzzler puttered out again. He was giving directions and I was talking about the screeching brakes and the radio kept interjecting and then, we somehow got off course. I put the car in neutral, to save on gas, and we coasted for a long while. It wasn’t just the brakes that were going; we got stuck in neutral. It turns out the transmission also needed attention. We came to the cliff, increasing in speed thanks to an odd decline towards the edge. The gas light dinged, the brakes gave out, and we threw ourselves out from our doors. He didn’t see it go over but I did. That was how I found out we had a tail light out.
Most everyone thought the car looked fine. A bit scratched at the tail and in need of a wash, but otherwise pretty standard for the flow of traffic. The lament over that, as it sailed over the edge, came more from external spectators than us. They saw a terrific loss, costly, as if the junker was worth its weight in gold just for existing. He and I knew, though, we would have lost so much more over that cliff. Others had gone over the cliff, believe it or not. Sometimes they were so broken that they had to create interesting ways to get by like duct taping the gearshift in place, patching the tires with each other’s hair, changing the angle of acceleration as broken bones set incorrectly. It could be done and had been done for centuries because a car note was a contract, signed on the dotted line, permanent an ink-blood vow. Our car, our vow, our word was broken maybe decimated beyond repair. But we still had ourselves intact; we could still drive, our aching foot could still press a pedal, our bloody hands could still grip a steering wheel. It was possible at least to get back on the road.
We each got a two door instead of getting back into one four door. It was terrifying; I remember thinking that I would never make it to my destination alone. Yet in the sad quiet I could focus. I could hear the hum of the engine and the brakes sounded fine. I would still have issues with gas but this little coupe took less so I could manage it more. He popped onto the interstate in search of hitchhikers and I stayed to the low country road trying to get some shade on my sunburned driving arm.