Battle Scars

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I didn’t want to wear blue jeans when I went to pick up my car, for fear that the blue dye would tint the leather in the seats.

It was my first car in over 7 years — and it was my first brand new car, ever. The car I owned from ’04 to ’06 was a ’99 Chevy Cavalier, a former rental car with a subpar braking system. Nicknamed the Chevrolier, I drove that little green clunker as recklessly as any teenager would, blazing down the roads of my hometown, hugging corners like a NASCAR driver and deliberately speeding up over hills to make the car gain air.

How I survived those years without a single ding, dent, or speeding ticket, is beyond me.

But this wasn’t a 5-year-old former rental car. This was a brand new car with a brand new car smell.  No former owners — barely 20 miles on the odometer before it became mine — and a perfectly working braking system.

The car also had sentimental value: my brother-in-law sold me this car from the dealership he owned.  It was a value that grew heavily and exponentially after he sold the dealership — an act that signaled something frightening, that all the smiles and positive words were not reflecting what stage his cancer was actually in.

When he passed away a year later, the car become almost a relic of a beloved and beautiful soul.

As a brand new car, I was obsessed about keeping it pristine.  No food in the car.  Any travel mugs were securely closed and only sipped from at red lights.  Nothing was placed on top of the car, for fear it would scratch the roof.

Then, three months in, I got rear-ended.

Within three year’s time, my pristine car would become anything but.  The “no food” rule vanished and my passenger side seat became a graveyard of tupperware containers, wrappers, and crumbs.  The floors I tried not to drag dirt onto were perennially caked with sand and mud.  The cupholders have perpetual coffee stains, from all the times I was running late and took my open, at-home coffee mug to go.

Within three year’s time, I’d also watch the laundry list of damages and replacements pile up.  A tiny ding in the windshield would splinter into an unfixable crack before I could get it sealed.  I drifted into a snowbank during one blizzard, causing the rim around one of my foglights to break off.  A popped curb just before our road trip would result in a flat tire in New Orleans — as well as the discovery that almost all of my tires were on the verge of blowout, thanks to shoddy installation.

But nothing beats the last three months.  In December, a three-point turn on a narrow, dead-end street resulted in backing my car into the handle of an opened mailbox lid — with the metal handle puncturing my hatchback’s rear window, effectively shattering the entire thing.  Two months later, my car would roll into the hitch of a pickup truck, turning my front license plate into a shish kabob — and breaking off yet another foglight rim.

This past Sunday night, on our way home from the festivities of the day, we drove what we thought was out of the parking lot — but, in actuality, we were driving onto the sidewalk.

And then directly off of it, onto the ground.

The jolt of essentially popping down from the curb sent my rearview mirror flying off the windshield, hanging by the electric cord attached to the ceiling.  Upon inspection, we’d learn that the rearview mirror didn’t just come off: it took two layers of glass with it.  A completely unfixable situation, we’d later learn from the repair guys — my car would, yet again, need a windshield replacement.

I think of how I was when I had my first accident: my three-month-old car, getting rear-ended while I waited obediently at a red light.  How frustrated and upset I was, and how quick I was to get everything replaced.  How desperate I was to keep everything pristine.

There’s a dig just below the rear window, where handle of the mailbox first hit my car before shooting directly up — a dig that will probably be there until the car is retired.  The second foglight rim has yet to be replaced.  The car’s white exterior is striped with scratches, and the leather seats have become tinged with blue thanks to blue jean dye.

In many ways, I prefer this version of my car.  This is not the pristine, untouched, brand new car with its brand new car smell.  This is a car with over 100,000 miles on it.  This is a car that has seen half of the states in the continental US.  This is a car that I have driven at my lowest of lows, when my only respite was getting in my car and driving down the country roads of New Hampshire, blasting my music until it reverberated against my soul.

This car has been through a lot, and she’s got the battle scars to prove it.  And maybe I just like to see the metaphors in everything — but I cherish this car with its history and its dings and dents.

My Chevrolier was sold going into my second year of college — living in Boston proper, having zero use for a car, and no one in my family really wanting it for themselves.  I joke that my new car won’t last the length of its bank note — but I truly hope I can keep this car around for a while.  My relic, my metaphor, my means of release and reset.  A car with its components tinted from use.

A reminder to embrace what we carry away from the things we’ve experienced.  Battle scars and all.

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