Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My First Car

"She laughed and swatted him with a towel, and we witnessed what we would later come to recognize as the rejuvenating power of real estate. It's what fortunate couples turn to when their sex life has faded and they're too pious for affairs. A second car might bring people together for a week or two, but a second home can revitalize a marriage for up to nine months after the closing."
--David Sedaris, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

Somebody asked on Twitter today if anybody had ever won anything in a drawing, and I answered "yes. My first car. For my 16th birthday." It was a white Toyota Corolla [It looked like this; this isn't it. As far as I know.]

Immediately my BlackBerry started lighting up with texts -- like this was a secret I'd been keeping. Several seemed fairly indignant not to know this about me, and I'm not sure why it's just never come up (except for maybe the fact that it was nearly 30 years ago).

So, more accurately, my Mom won it, a couple days before my 16th birthday. (You had to be 18 to win.) Our bank was having a Grand Opening of a new building, and Mom walked in; filled out one entry form; and told the bank president, very matter-of-factly, as she slid it into the box, "you know my daughter turns 16 next week. I'm going to win this for her and send her to college in it." Do not doubt my mother when she says she knows everything, because she does.

A week later, Sister Amabilis's voice came over the P.A. at school, calling me to the principal's office. (Surprisingly, this was a rare occurrence.)  When I got there, she said, "you have a phone call young lady," and gave me this look like, "let's not make a habit of this; I'm not your effin Secretary." I gave her a look that said, simultaneously, "don't worry" and "I sure hope somebody's dead, or else I'm going to be in trouble for tying up the school's line and interrupting class." I picked up, and it was my Mom, telling me she'd won the car -- as expected (she reminded me) -- and she was going to pick me up to go help pick out the color. And that was a moment of sheer, unadulterated joy. (Fffffreeeeedommmmm!) I remember it very vividly, because it's the last one I had for a long time.

Although this was the definitely the most exciting thing that had ever happened to us, and my family was pretty giddy for awhile, I do recall, nobody was happy for us. I tried to be really generous and not obnoxious; I always gave rides to my friends who didn't have cars; and I never once accepted gas money (even when I could've used it; yes, I'd had a job since I was eight years old, but I still had a very pricey college education to help pay for). I guess they were jealous, and more than that, mad that  it hadn't happened to them. It was like they assumed there was a finite amount of luck in the world -- a certain amount of pie -- and we had just used theirs up.

Then I became very superstitious and started wondering if they had a point. I didn't think we'd used up their luck, but I wondered if we'd used up all ours, and that the car was really one of those Brady Bunch talisman curses.

I left for college and the wheels came off the cart in a big way. My Dad had a heart attack and nearly died. My grandmother came down with the cancer that eventually killed her. Our house -- the one I grew up in -- burned to the ground. And my parents initiated an epic War of the Roses style-divorce that dragged on almost til grad school. It was a very Book-of-Job phase of my life. The only reason I was finally able to get rid of the "lucky" car was because I crashed it -- on the way to pick up my sick puppy, Quentin, from the veterinarian. (Yeah. She died.) After that, I basically sold it for scrap -- to a couple who banged out the dents and then sent it bck ato my alma mater first with their son, and later their daughter. (It was the best-educated, most well-rounded liberal arts car you ever saw.)

I am sure to this day that my professors thought "Christine" was haunting the campus.

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