A few years ago I got a really good deal on this car: $1000 for a reliable little Ford Focus hatchback with good gas mileage—which rattles like Marley’s ghost, has no air conditioning (the heater works, but only on full blast), and accumulates puddles of water on the floorboards after a heavy rain. In the wet season, the air inside hangs muggy and smells like the previous owner’s dog for weeks on end; ancient coffee stains are revived by the moisture, and if I’m not careful to dry and air it out it right away mold will start to grow. The radio shuts off whenever I hit a pothole and sometimes stays off for weeks, springing back to life with a burst of noise for no discernable reason. In two unrelated incidents the side mirrors were broken off, and are now held on by wood screws (for a while they were taped on with artfully applied black and silver duct tape—tweakers used to compliment me all the time).
It reminds me of darker days, when I was isolated, when my home life was unstable. The point when I got the car was the worst of all. My ex and I were going through a really stressful move and had been fighting a lot. Then he got in an accident that totaled our old car. Then my favorite cat went missing and I was desperate to find her, but never did. The Focus was affordable, but I had never driven stick and had to learn by doing in the middle of the chaos. If I had to stop on a hill (which there are a lot of in Sonoma), I would panic when it rolled back, let off the clutch too quickly and stall the engine, blocking traffic. I started having panic attacks, insomnia, nightmares… the car was a tangible representation of the underlying theme: the frustration of being helpless. Ugh, such an awful time.
Things have changed. I can afford a better car, a nice car even, but for some reason I’ve committed myself to driving this sour tin can into the ground. It’s like a challenge, I want to beat the car. I want to drive it until it crumbles like the Garthim when Jen plunged the shard into the Dark Crystal (which it probably will). I want it to be worth more than the sum I paid for it, give me every bit of its value and then some, and then I want it to die. I want it to stand as a symbol of all the shit I suffered through so I can triumph over it; resolve some latent rage against the helplessness I felt by slow motion walking away from its fiery corpse, my face splattered with raspberry jam that looks like blood.
Maybe that’s ridiculous. Maybe I’ve just been watching too much Spartacus and I’m all pumped up on gore-porn. Driving a car until it quits probably wouldn’t give me a glorious sense of vengeance and completion so much as it would have me stranded on the freeway with a steaming pile of wet dog-smelling Ford. Plus—spoiler alert—Spartacus dies in the end and his rebellion fails. Also, the Skeksis and the Mystics re-combine into their original form as beings of light who then ascend to some (presumably) higher plane, leaving the world to the last two Gelflings who can save their species through many forthcoming generations of incest… I should rethink my strategy here.