When we bought the car, I wasn’t sure if I liked it. I was pregnant with Austin and I wasn’t comfortable behind the steering wheel and it was so much bigger than our previous car. But we were becoming a family of four, and we just didn’t fit easily in the other car. Or at least both carseats didn’t.
And so we bought a Mazda with a third row, a car big enough to fit three car seats when the time came, a car that brought both of our boys home from the hospital, a car that took us to Canada and camping and to a zillion soccer games.
It was also the car I drove to the hospital, day after day, as Shawn was undergoing treatment. It was the car he last rode in when I drove him to the hospital to die. It was the car my dad drove when we went out to the cemetery to bury Shawn that terrible day in January.
It was the car where I cried big, fat tears after almost every therapy session, the one where I screamed “FUCK!” over and over when I couldn’t do it anywhere else. It was the car where I sat with my head on the steering wheel before class every day that first year of widowhood, willing myself to go inside my school.
It was the car where I did a lot of the swiping left and right for my online dating, so the kids wouldn’t see, and the car that I drove when I first took my kids to fun places as a single mom. It was the car where I blared music with Claire one day in the spring of 2019, singing at the top of my lungs with her and willing myself to be happy. That day, it worked.
It was the car that I used to pick up Chris from the airport, before we were dating, and he was just my friend. It was the car that we drove to Maine multiple times, the only place we went during the pandemic with the kids. It was the car where we ate pizza in the back and drove to hikes around town and picked up kids from camp.
It was over a decade old when things really started to go downhill. Windows that wouldn’t roll down and seats that were impossible to sit in. Shaking when we drove too fast. Mirrors and handles that were falling off. I wasn’t a crazy driver, but this car had held a lot of life over the years.
To fix it all was more than the car was worth. It was time for something new.
I stalled throughout the fall and winter. But when it was clear that we couldn’t use the third row at all, I decided I’d had it. Finally, one day in December, we drove out to the car dealership and picked out a new car. We actually realized that without car seats (and just a booster for Tommy) we didn’t need a big car, so we got something a lot smaller.
No longer did we need to cart around a stroller and a pack-n-play and a million other things. No longer did I need to fit a bike in the back, as Chris will put a bike rack behind the car. And the kids? Claire is big enough for the front seat now.
The car fit our future.
After talking with the salesman, we sat down with the finance manager who seemed concerned as he looked at the title to our old Mazda, which we were trading in.
He asked us about Shawn’s name on the title, and I explained that he died, but that I had all the paperwork showing I was the owner. I stepped out to call my dad to get him to text us some photos of the documents needed. Before I left, I joked with the finance manager, “see, my husband Chris is never allowed to die, so this won’t happen to me again!”
When I was gone, Chris smiled and said to the finance manager, “The moral of the story is this – don’t let your spouse die!”
The finance manager deadpanned and said, “No, the moral of the story is that you need to make sure you have all your paperwork in order.”
So I brought back all the images of the paperwork and we printed them out and I smiled under my mask to the finance manager.
But he didn’t smile back. “This doesn’t work,” he said and went on to explain that he needed Shawn’s name off of the title, and the only way to do that was to go to the DMV.
Ah, the DMV – every widow’s favorite place!
A few days later, I headed to the DMV with my big blue folder. I guess every widow has one – it’s a folder with the death certificate and social security cards and loan documents and insurance papers and it’s always at least an inch thick. I figured I’d just bring everything.
The DMV was…the DMV. It had been a while, so I forgot how they play these cartoon videos to everyone who is waiting. There seemed to be a real push for organ donation when I was there, so I got to watch a video over and over again that answered questions like, “can a doctor harvest my organs when I’m in a coma?” with cartoon images of a comatose person in a hospital bed.
Ummmmm. Not really what I needed. I tried to turn away from the video, but the poster on the wall was an informational sign about how you “can have an open casket funeral even with organ donation!”
I mean, I’m all for organ donation. But I was also extra sensitive about everything, and all this made my head spin. I was just trying to sell my car, the one I bought with my dead husband! The one with all the memories! The one I drove him to the hospital, remember, the day before he died?
But no one at the DMV cared. Eventually, I was called to the front, and I spread out all the paperwork for the DMV worker. He was kind as I explained the issue. No, he didn’t really know what to do. He needed to get his manager. And then the manager said that no, I didn’t have the right documents. I needed to get the original loan documents, the ones also in Shawn’s name.
And since we paid off the car loan before he died, I had no idea even what bank I needed to call!
I left the DMV, annoyed.
The next part of the story is so long and boring I won’t recount it to you but it involved multiple trips to the bank (I figured out the right one) and calls to the bank and finally getting the right person on the phone at the bank who listened to my story and then told me that she too was a widow (!) and was going to get this all figured out for me. Which she did, after a lot of work by both of us.
That night, I was exhausted. I was trying to figure out why. Yes, it had been a long day, but really, I have long days all the time at school or at home. But this felt different. I realized that I was feeling really emotional about letting the Mazda go. I mean, it is a terrible car, and I didn’t want to drive it anymore, but there was so much history in that car. So much of my life – a lot of it bad but a lot of it good, too.
And a new car wouldn’t have any of that. It would just have the future. I’m so excited about the future but I guess it’s also hard to say goodbye to everything in the past.
The thing is, I don’t want to go backwards. I want the life that I have now. And yet – it tugs at my heart, this experience of letting my shitty car go.
Ultimately, I got all the paperwork in order and the Mazda became someone else’s car. Or maybe it went to the scrap pile. At this point, I don’t know. I just had to let it go.
A few days later, I drove around in my new, smaller, sage green car. Claire sat in the passenger seat, playing the role of DJ and dancing. Then we sang along to the song, and I couldn’t help but smile.
Someday, she’ll learn to drive in that car.
It’s a car for our future.