Why Was It So Hard To Say Goodbye To A Car?

Yes, I know it sounds stupid, but I cried all afternoon over selling a car. There I stood, weeping as if someone had just dumped my new Porsche into a river.
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Yes, I know it sounds stupid, but I cried all afternoon over selling a car.

Not just any car, mind you. This was my 2003 Honda CRV, a beat-up red car with probably enough forgotten food in it to sustain a family of five for a week. At 200,000 miles, the air conditioning had stopped working, only one door lock worked, the shocks were gone, and the brakes needed replacing. All signs pointed to the inevitable: it was time to get a new car.

Yet there I stood, weeping as if someone had just dumped my new Porsche into a river.

"You always cry when we sell a car," my husband pointed out. "I still don't get it. You're going to be driving a better car. I would think you'd be happy."

I am happy. I hated worrying about that car breaking down on some dark, nameless road while I was driving my children and elderly mother around. But I am sad, too. A car isn't just a car. It has a life of its own. Or, more accurately, your car contains your life.

For example, one of the first vehicles I ever owned was an ancient, wheezing Renault that my brother kept going with pliers and duct tape. But, whenever I drove it, I felt like a French actress, able to live on croissants and love. It represented who I thought I might become someday: a woman of mystery with many lovers.

The car I owned when I finished graduate school? That was a green Pontiac Sunbird with a six-cylinder engine, courtesy of my mother. She was understandably horrified when I informed her that, with this car, I was going to drive across the country -- by myself -- to start a new life in San Francisco. That adventure included getting stopped by the police in Colorado because I was driving 90 mph.

"If you were my daughter, I'd throw you in jail just to teach you some common sense," the cop growled as he wrote out a ticket worth half my month's rent.

That ticket was worth every penny. My Sunbird represented my cowgirl self. It was a symbol of freedom and frontier daring -- especially when I took that stick-shift dragster up over my first hill in San Francisco and landed with a cinematic thud on the other side.

Next came my sensible working woman's car, a powder blue Honda Civic: good on gas and easy to maintain. I invited that car to come back East with me when I married my first husband.

When I divorced and married for a second time, I added two stepchildren to the two children I already had. This meant buying a car that could fit us all. I went for an Audi Quattro wagon with a clever rear seat. The kids fought over the privilege of riding backwards and making faces at all of the drivers behind us. That Audi represented my determination to remain oh-so-cosmopolitan, giving a nod to my blended family status while stubbornly refusing the stigma of a minivan. I should have stuck with Hondas: that Quattro proved to be such a lemon that it cost more than our mortgage in monthly repairs.

Still, I cried when I sold it. I cried when I sold the Sunbird, the Civic, and even the Honda Odyssey, the beloved (and reliable) minivan I bought after I ditched the Quattro.

Why, why, why the tears?

Because a car isn't just a car. It is who you are, at least for the moment.

Inside your car, there are crumbs on the carpet and sticky wrappers forgotten under the seats. More importantly, there are those conversations you had while driving, the children soothed, the teenagers listened to (or lectured). There are great vacations, the time your best friend told you she had cancer, the year you got divorced, and the summer you landed the job of your dreams. All of those memories are there, embedded in that car as if trapped in amber.

When I sold the Sunbird, I grieved because I had reached an age where I would no longer rocket along the highway at 90 mph. Saying goodbye to my Honda minivan meant no more car seats -- and no more babies of my own. So sad.

The Honda CRV? That had the college stickers on the back window. As I watched the guy drive it away from the curb, I wept for the trips I had made to those colleges, with or without my children in the car, mourning the fact that my kids had nearly completed the long, sad, happy process of becoming independent.

With one more child still at home, I now have a new car that I trust and love -- a blue Honda CRV. I may not go 90 mph, but I can still plow through snow. This car has already taken my family to Prince Edward Island and back again. Once my new car was covered in that familiar red dirt, I started to feel at home in the driver's seat.

Now I can't imagine myself without it.

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