I knew it was the beginning of the end when she sputtered and stalled, leaving me stranded at a four-way stop a couple of blocks from home.
We limped up the street, rolled into the driveway, a ribbon of dark fluid marking the asphalt like a muddy trail of tears. My 12-year-old car had finally met her match. A fateful meeting with a manhole cover marked her demise, and I cry over this muddle of metal that seems more like an old friend than a dated car.
We’ve had a good ride, me and this car of mine. I bought her new off the Saturn showroom floor, proudly bucking the trend when the carpool moms were climbing into over-sized SUVs. I wanted a wagon. Yes, a wagon. I bought the car when my daughter was 6 and embraced my suburban mommyhood with fervor, perched on my heated leather seats, marveling at my nine-disc player.
I was working as a reporter and spent hours in the car, traveling to our local news bureau, downtown to the Dallas Morning News, and racking up miles driving to assignments. My trusty wagon also allowed me to cater to my antique and collectibles fetish, helping me cart home mismatched furniture and roadside finds with the flip of the rear seat. I could strap a table on her luggage rack faster than you can say bungee cord.
The Saturn and I forged a friendship few understand. In honesty, it was the time I spent in the car with my daughter that has my heart breaking now that the wagon sits, sidelined in the driveway, waiting for the tow truck to take her away.
Yes, my daughter was 6 when we got the car. The wagon and I watched as my snaggle-toothed first-grader blossomed into a long-limbed, long-haired beauty. Twelve years is a long time to have a car; Not so long a daughter. A lot of memories are packed into 12 years of travel, and my wagon has become symbolic of these snapshots of my mind. A lot of living can happen in a gold Saturn wagon.
The wagon and I carted Girl Scouts and cartons of cookies. We stuffed in camping gear and science projects; notebooks and backpacks; poster board and glitter glue. In the wagon, my daughter and I traveled to sleepovers and tennis lessons. The wagon and I hauled my daughter and her clubs to golf; to orchestra rehearsals, viola lessons and theatre auditions; to study sessions and the library.
The wagon and I often found ourselves huddled in darkened parking lots, waiting for some school event or activity to end. We’ve waited, watched, as the sun melted into the horizon and dark’s shadows crept up against the day. I’d watch the dash clock click and wait for the rap of knuckles on the passenger side door. I was her driver. She was my charge.
In the wagon, I was carpool mom and confidant, listening in as pony-tailed girls giggled in my backseat. In the wagon, we cranked up the music, rolled down the windows and danced in our seats. I taught my daughter and her friends the art of the Chinese fire drill. I drove the get-away car and was allowed to be their partner in crime during middle-school pranks of “chalking” or “rolling” friends’ houses. I was proud to earn entre’ into this secret club of theirs. I was their driver. They were my charges.
One afternoon, when I was picking up my high school carpool kids, it began snowing. As we inched to the stoplight, the girls reached out of windows and scooped up slushy snow from the top of the wagon; Sloppy snowballs, hurled, willy nilly, at a truck full of boys perched at the light. We laughed about our snowball shenanigans all the way home; talked about it for years. “Remember the time we had the snowball fight in your mom’s car?”
The wagon and I took my daughter to her first Cotillion, her first school dance, her first movie date. In the wagon, we delivered presents to parties and balloons to sick friends. In the wagon, my daughter excitedly chattered to me about the triumphs of her day. In the wagon, she cried to me over a broken promise, a lost friendship. I hugged her over the center console. In the wagon, I had the immense privilege of watching my daughter grow up.
Twelve years of days, packed full of love and life. I was the taxi driver of this special time-machine chariot. I marvel, now, at how quickly it all passed. Twelve years of days, packed full of love and life.
The wagon sits, idle in the driveway. I curl, idle, on the couch. Flashes of the past flicker a sentimental slideshow.
I imagine my daughter, hours and miles away, tucked in her college dorm room, books and papers splayed across her bed. When I told her about the car, she was sympathetic, but pragmatic, reminding me that it had been time to get a new car for a while; that we could donate the wagon to a charity; that it had been a good car while it lasted. While it lasted. … Twelve years of days, packed with love and life.
I make myself get up from couch, pad from room to room in my scruffy, blue slippers, turning off lights. I tiptoe through the darkened house, pause at the living room window, and peek through the blinds. The wagon is parked in the driveway. A streetlight pools golden light across the hood.
I fish the key from my robe pocket, and ease the front door shut behind me.
Twelve years of love and life.
It’s a lovely goodbye.