It was one of those moments on the B44 bus when I really wished I had a car. I had a crumpled bag of food in my lap, along with my book bag, which I was trying to balance my bottle of water on as I ate my soggy sandwich. I dubbed those hurried meals on the bus my “grad school dinners,” in other words, dinners that have survived various states of refrigeration to be consumed during the 65-minute ride from Williamsburg to Brooklyn College. Bon appétit!
The bus was stuck in the usual rush hour traffic on Nostrand Ave when something made me look out the window. Parked on the curb on the opposite side of the street was a silver 1997 Honda Accord with a dent in the rear passenger side door and another smaller dent on the side of the trunk. There were like facial features on a person I knew because I could tell you exactly how those dents were made (an unfortunate scrape with the fender of a pick up truck and an ill-fated encounter with a pole in a dark parking lot). I never had them fixed, and it seemed strange that they were still there. As the bus inched forward, I saw the New York State license plate and confirmed it.
It was like looking at an old boyfriend. I almost spilled my water as I was staring at it.
I could almost hear the car saying, “Remember cup holders?”
No doubt my old car and I had some good times in the 11 years we were together. And now, looking at its miraculous reappearance in Brooklyn, it somehow stood as a remnant of one of the longest relationships I’ve had. Clearly, the car was busting a drive by—in other words, stalking me a little after our breakup.
The car wanted to see how I was doing on my own. Of course, I remember cup holders, and a trunk to put all of my stuff in, and freedom of mobility and being able to listen to my music and NPR. But now I’m involved with public transportation. I’m being green and all that.
The water bottle tipped over and spilled because my neck was craned as the bus passed the parked car. Should I have kept the car? I wondered.
I’ve survived harrowing blowouts of tires on the highway, colossal overheating on the freeway and in the snow (how can a car overheat in the snow?!). The car had broken down and had to be nursed back to health many times. I’m sure it cost as much to fix over the years as I paid for it. Everyone who came into contact with it called it a lemon (no offense to citrus or citrus named people).
So when it finally blew a gasket (literally) in Syracuse during the last month of my last year of school there, I knew we’d reached the end of the road. (I had to make one pun at least). It would cost more to fix than what the blue book said it was worth. I put an ad on Craig’s list and sold it to a mechanic within ten minutes (literally). I was leaving the car in good hands. The mechanic said he would fix it up to sell. I thought the car would have a better life with someone who could care for it better. I knew too much about its failings to give it the benefit of the doubt any more. It seemed I had learned the names of all its parts that had broken.
As the bus pulled farther and farther away, I realized that I had always blamed the car for breaking down. In my mind, it was something that should have been reliable no matter what I knew or did for it. And trust me, I knew nothing and did very little.
I was haunted by the drive by. It was if our fates had somehow fused in the metal. I was relieved the car looked shiny and well kept despite the scars I’d left on it. I didn't know why, but the car’s body had become the past, still in one piece, and somehow found me all the way in Brooklyn.