1991, it was their first new car as a young couple. Silently ecstatic as they took it off the lot, both feeling the same dual sense of joy and dread as they drove off. Was it really theirs? Could they really afford this? It had been no hasty decision. At least six months of shopping around, reading consumer reviews, talking to mechanics. But still, now that the moment had finally arrived, they felt like children taking home a shining new toy. A toy that they would be paying off for the next 10 years.
Bruce washed and detailed it every weekend; Jan drove it like it was fine china on wheels, with a V6. They wouldn’t let the kids eat in the car, not on the leather seats. Some balmy summer nights they would sit on the porch, sipping iced tea and marveling at the champagne colored sedan, shimmering like a mirage in the setting sun.
The first time the Buick saw hail, they held each other, watching helplessly from the window. Bruce had moved it under a tree, it was the best they could do without a garage. They cringed as golf ball sized comets fell like a plague upon their pride and joy. Their children cried in fear as thunder and hail pounded down, but there was no comfort for anyone that day.
Years passed and time, in its slow, unnoticeable way, ravished the Buick. The elements took their toll, along with children and their ice cream cones, spilt cokes, windows left down in the rain. Bruce washed the car only when it was too dirty to see out of. Jan hit the brakes a little harder, was less kind to the engine as she accelerated. They no longer sat on the porch with iced tea. They paid less attention to the car, less attention to each other. It was around the car’s 10th birthday and their 15th anniversary that the front windows started acting up. First the passenger side, and then the driver’s, until one day both windows got stuck halfway and they never rolled up or down again.
It was an ugly divorce. She took the house and the kids; he got the car and hefty alimony payments. Bruce sold the LeSabre to a high school kid named Jason for $1,200. His hand was shaking when he signed over the title, Bruce almost hugged Jason when he handed him the keys. He turned and walked the mile back to his apartment looking at every car that passed like it might be his Buick returning, brand new, born again, carrying the life he had lost in its roomy seats.
Jason didn’t mind the windows. He solved that problem with clear packaging tape, which he replaced every month or two when the tape got too murky to see through. He covered the cracked leather seats with thrift store afghans and pasted the bumper with stickers of his favorite bands. As a final act of both style and rebellion, he had his brother help him fasten a snowboard to the trunk. The snowboard, secured with screws and metal brackets, acted as a spoiler. Jason took special pride in parking his car next to the rich kids’ new sports cars with real spoilers in his high school parking lot.
The Buick became the refuge for a tight group of friends who passed their days and nights in parks, baseball dugouts, parking lots, or wherever they found themselves that was away from parents or guardians. It could not be said that the LeSabre was treated with care or respect, but it was used, valued, and became something of a second home to Jason for his high school career. A home that was often times more safe and comforting than his first home.
Though the sedan became cluttered with trash, choked with smoke and teenage funk, it was a haven for the 10 or so rotating friends who roamed the suburban streets thick as thieves. Jason took it in for regular oil changes, if nothing else, and installed a new CD player, which pushed thick, guttural screams and heavy distortion through struggling speakers for the whole neighborhood to hear.
It was the summer between junior and senior year that Jason lost his virginity in the Buick. It was the last week before school began, his friend had been having a week-long party while his parents were out of town. Jason would never forget that sweaty, blurry night or the fundamental act on the musty afghans, all two minutes of it.
When Jason moved from the suburbs to the city for college, he decided a bicycle would suffice for all his transportation needs. He had his own apartment now and it was no longer necessary to have a mobile safe house from his parents. With great regret and lament, he removed the afghans from the seats and sang a silent funeral dirge as he placed them in the dumpster. He put the Buick on Craigslist and sold it for $600 the next day.
When Jason signed over the title he wrote down the current mileage of the car: 117,567. He had bought it at 67, 384 miles. That was 50,000 miles he had spent with this automobile. A couple about his age from the mountains had taken it gladly, but they did not seem as happy about the car as they were about the price. They closed the doors a little too hard and turned the ignition a little too long. He watched the car drive down the street and turn the block and he had a vision of the future.
He knew that many years from then, he would look back on this day and see himself on that street corner watching his car drive away. And he knew that that moment would be dog-eared, like a well-read page in a book, which he would revisit again and again as he reviewed and revised his life’s plot.