Tag Archives: loss

Duetting: Memoir 41

Duetting: Memoir 41 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops her grief journey to Sydney, Australia.

Marika’s Australian scrapbook is filled with names and words. Excited scrawls strewn over the pages: “Suki wishing well” and “Wishing Tree.” “Flying foxes.” “Floating stage.” It becomes a game, a scavenger hunt. Her words are clues that set me loose fishing for what she saw. I canvass my way all over Sydney, and question people in the streets to find what Marika found.

Which of the countless statues of dogs was a wishing well that reminded her of Suki? She wrote “Hot Sake,” so I feast in Asian eateries, imagining her delight at being able to drink legally in Australia. She wrote “seagull and Big Mac.” Could she have seen the same seagulls and egret punching around the MacDonald’s bag that only the long-beaked egret could successfully reach into? “Weddings!” she’d written, and I could feel her joy. Words are no longer just words. They are stories. ‘Weddings!’ is a story. ‘Wishing’ is a story. And the word ‘ashes’ is now my tour guide who tells me, “Mom, you hafta go to the Queen Victoria Building,” and “Go to Darling Harbour.”

I pounce on this city like a young child attacking a pile of presents. At Taronga Zoo I follow koalas, quokkas, and rabbit-eared bandicoots. At the Aquarium, I stand in awe, surrounded up and down and on all sides by fish that swim serenely to classical music. Hanging out near the University of Technology, I find exotic Chinese Gardens and flocks of colorful parrots. I follow my nose through aromatic Asian and Italian neighborhoods, and pick out a live barramundi fish to feast on in Chinatown. I scarf down fish fries on the wharf and stuff myself with mashed pea-and-meat pies at the Harry’s Café de Wheels truck. Hot on Marika’s trail, I eat ice cream and crepes for breakfast at Pancakes on the Rocks.

The streets are lit up when I go to see The Marriage of Figarro at the famous Sydney Opera House. A huge chandelier is suspended over a floating stage on Sydney Harbour for the next evening’s performance of La Traviata. Loud funky music blasts out of shops along Elizabeth Street where everything is young and full of life and light, all day and long into the night. For four full days I ride the buses and walk endlessly in and out of markets, shops, museums and parks. I hop on a ferry and toss Marika’s jewels into the water at Darling Harbour and off the Harbour Bridge. Dropping her bracelets into deep water, it feels like I’m planting her here.

On the evening of my last day in Sydney, I am on a ferry I took out of the harbor in order to get free Internet access. I need to be in touch with my support squad. It is time to leave Sydney, the easy part of my trip, the first part of my four-part journey, where I’ve gotten comfortable and now feel safe. I send out a message to my friends: I’m emailing you from the middle of Sydney Harbour! We just passed the Opera House. Looks like we’re headed for the Pacific now … connection could quit any time … hope this ferry returns to the wharf eventually… more to follow.

I’m kicking myself for assuming the boat would return to the same place. Like home, I don’t expect I can really get back, not like the way it was. And what can one assume in a place where you don’t dare drive because people drive on the left and pass on the right? As it turns out, I can’t even walk properly in Australia. For four days I’d bumped into people and done a do-si-do dance with them in the street trying to figure out who was supposed to move over, and where, to let the other pass. Until some BIG guy coming from the opposite direction grumbled in his adorable Australian accent, “Yer in ‘Stralia now, yer not in America, darlin’. Stay lift!” I got it. Just in time to leave the crowded streets of Sydney, the city that whispers to me, “It’s okay, your story’s no sadder than anybody else’s here.”

And in Sydney Airport once more, headed for Melbourne, I’m coddled as if there’s a sign on my front saying ‘delicate.’ I’m told I don’t have to take my box of ashes out for inspection. I don’t have to remove my shoes. And in a state of disbelief, I completely forget to take out my plastic-ziplock bag of liquids. So forgiving is Sydney. She purrs, “We’ve seen it all before.” And at the airline counter, the agent offers, “Since you’re here two hours early for your flight, we can send you on the earlier flight, no extra charge.”

‘Sydneysiders’ they call themselves proudly. What a warm, sweet beginning to my journey. Doing Sydney first was like starting a meal with dessert.

 

 

 

Duetting: Memoir 37

Duetting: Memoir 37 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a sea of highways to illustrate her fear of waves, fear of cancer, and fears of getting lost.

Long Island, New York. I knew nothing about how to navigate my way around the place of my birth. Yet every cell in my body was acutely aware I was back home. My original home. Where Marika was immediately accepted into the drug trial program at North Shore Medical Center. Insurance was going to pay for it so we were going to be stuck on Long Island for most of the summer. I followed the GPS instructions to my cousin Norm’s apartment in Woodbury, twenty minutes away. Norm was graciously giving us his guest room and the living room couch for our first weeks in treatment. We unloaded Marika’s belongings into the guest room before she took off with Rachel. I got the couch.

The girls spent as much time together as they could between Marika’s appointments and Rachel’s classes. Some days Rachel took Marika to Jones Beach, my old hangout. They wore eye make-up and dressed in little bikinis. Marika’s tiny cutoffs sat well below her navel ring. Joined by friends, they wave-surfed and picnicked with wine coolers, beer, and watermelon. They stayed up late, stargazing in Hofstra’s intramural fields where Marika sang long into the night with strangers who brought guitars. They laughed, made up lyrics, and ducked in the gully to avoid the patrolling public safety enforcers. Marika went with Rachel’s friends to a concert in Brooklyn where the tickets were sold out so they climbed over a fence to watch for free. They rollicked all over Long Island while I lay low, reading in Norm’s apartment where it was cool and quiet. Except for a noisy air conditioner. Which I kept off as much as I could stand, not wanting to hike up Norm’s electric bill. When temperatures fell below eighty, I ventured out to hike along Jericho Turnpike. It was harrowing to walk alongside moving vehicles, but I felt oddly alive being whipped by the hot blasts of their passing. I couldn’t simply sit inside all the time. Sometimes I just needed to be out under the sky, to have room to stretch.

The GPS was set to find the medical center, west of Norm’s. It was set to find Rachel at Hofstra, somewhere east. “Have GPS will travel” was my motto. When Marika went out with Rachel, I sometimes took off to find Turkish restaurants, shopping sites, and parks to walk around. Anywhere I could get an address to plug into my GPS. But on one hot afternoon, driving Marika to Rachel’s, we noticed the GPS was dying. First, the feisty female voice quit. Lindsay Lohan with barely restrained attitude stopped ordering me around, stopped badgering me, sneering, “Ree-lo-cating,” like she had to work hard not to add, “dumb bitch, you missed this turn for the fifth time.” If she had eyes, she’d have rolled them like Marika. She ditched me.

Then the map disappeared. By the time I dropped Marika off, the text of instructions had gone entirely as well. I felt abandoned. Terrified, I tried to retrace my way back to Norm’s, but I was lost. I drove on, searching desperately for something familiar. I was in a sea of highways. Wide bands of roads crammed with cars crisscrossed, curled, and tangled over and under in churning waves. Directionless, I wiped my sweaty forehead, and continued with the flow of traffic until an exit advertised a shopping mall. I turned anxiously from the highway, my first intentional move on Long Island without the guidance of a global positioning system, and found the mall’s Best Buy. A half hour later, with the new Garmin Nuvi GPS set to a charming British male voice, I was back on the road again.

Almost every town I passed on Long Island had a memory tucked away: an old boyfriend who lived in Wantagh, a factory my father once owned in Westbury, the parking lot at Roosevelt Field where our family dog died when a friend left it in a hot car. Most haunting about being back though, was the ocean. It was in the air all around me, always just beyond the crowded highways and stretches of shopping centers. It was in my blood. To be on Long Island in the summer was to feel the Atlantic Ocean and the Long Island Sound pulsing in every part of me.

Living in Ithaca, I missed the ocean. So we’d take vacations to beaches, with boogey boards and picnics. My children were fearless in the water, maybe because I’d swung them around in Cayuga Lake and in pools and ponds from early on. But I was always terrified of waves. If I went into the sea, I stood stiffly in the waves, jumping up as high as I could at each swell, keeping the kids close, ready to grab before they could be pulled under. Because as a young girl, one summer on Jones Beach, I was swept away by a wave. Not very far. But I remember being petrified, helpless under the water. The sea was way stronger than I. It was vast and violent below its surface. And it wanted to swallow me. Crying, I finally pulled myself up out of the shallow remains of the wave and looked about. I could not find my mother whose hand I’d been holding only a moment before. Salt water stung my nose and throat. All around, concerned strangers reached out to help me. But I was not supposed to talk to strangers. I was frantic. Lost. Battered by the ocean I’d loved. And where was my mother?

That trauma haunted my dreams. It gave me a tremendous respect for water. It made becoming a lifeguard the hardest thing I ever tried. And it fired a small current in me every time I watched my children in the waves. In no way could I stand the thought of Marika or her brother being lost or scared like that. In pain. In any sort of trouble, with no mother to protect them. Back on Long Island during the summer of 2010, I visited the ocean at Jones Beach only once. I didn’t have to see it more than that. It was in me.

 

 

Duetting: Memoir 36

Duetting: Memoir 36 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a maze over an old photograph of her daughter, a cancert patient, to illustrate that there was nothing simple or atraightforward after cancer struck home.

Nothing was simple or straightforward ever again after cancer hit home.

“Let’s toast to summer,” said my friends, as we clinked glasses at our first outdoor dinner of 2010. I pictured berry picking, pond swims, barbecues, and all the feasts we would cook up the next three months. In between Marika’s weekly blood draws and my search for a new teaching job, I would allow myself some time off. Marika had secured her job as boating counselor and lifeguard at the Stewart Park Day Camp. She had her apartment and her car. We both had new bathing suits. Finally, after missing the last two summers, our Best Summer Ever was about to begin. But in our lives nothing could be presumed anymore. There was no straightforward movement towards any end. I should have known better than to celebrate.        

Marika’s friend Rachel, hanging out at Limbo before leaving for summer school at Long Island’s Hofstra University, was also anticipating summer. “I just have Anatomy-Physiology to finish up and then I’m done,” she told Marika, chewing a mouthful of Australian cookies.
“Did you just eat the whole box of TimTams?” Marika chided her. With chocolate crumbs dotting her face, Rachel shook her head, licked her lips and grinned, “You should visit me on Long Island this summer.” But Marika was preoccupied inspecting the countless unaccounted-for bruises on her arms and legs. She knew what that meant.

“What is it about cancer and summer?” I asked Laurie, that night, over the landline. “It’s exactly a year after her first relapse, and that was a year after her first diagnosis. Why always summertime?” We quickly resumed our old routine where I relayed to Laurie the medical terms doctors threw at us, so she could breathe meaning into them.
“It’s the same type of leukemia,” she said.
“Laur, they told us they ran out of drugs to treat her with,” I wailed.
“Well, there’s one mega-problem with the second relapse: there are no standard forms of treatment.” I squeezed the phone as Laurie continued. “The only option is to find an experimental drug in Phase Two of its clinical trial, meaning they are ready to try the drug on significant numbers of people—I guess the mice must have lived.”

“So what’s the good news, Laur?” I asked hoping to eliminate the scenes of squirming cancerous lab mice stuck in my mind.
“She might get to keep her hair?” Laurie said, questioning herself. “You get to travel,” she added, more sure of this possibility. The Roc Docs had been consulting with colleagues in Chicago about a drug being used in Japan. They wanted to send us to Chicago, but Laurie went online and discovered clinical trials for the same drug being conducted on Long Island. In order to get a new drug, we would have to show up regularly at a cancer center. We couldn’t simply have a new box of pills mailed to us and just continue with our lives. So we were on the phone making plans to go to North Shore Medical Center in Manhasset, one town over from where I grew up.

“I hate Long Island!” Marika stated. Emphatically. I shushed her, and hunched over the phone.
“Can you come down the day after tomorrow?” Pat Li, our contact nurse at North Shore, asked. The quick responses from the clinical trial people surprised me. Did they sense our desperation to do something—anything—to be rid of cancer? Or did they need us, need more human guinea pigs? We packed half-heartedly as Marika had not yet been accepted into the program. We wouldn’t find out if she qualified until our first appointment. If she did, we would remain on Long Island for three weeks. If not, we would turn around and go home. There were too many questions either way. Like where would we stay if she qualified? And what would we do if she did not? Whether or not her father’s health insurance would cover it, I didn’t dare consider yet.
“Wifey, it’s only seven minutes from my school,” Rachel said joyfully to Marika, “You’re definitely visiting. We’ll have a blast.” Oblivious to Marika’s sentiments about Long Island, Rachel was already making plans.

“I’m not going,” Marika said on the morning of the first appointment for the clinical trials. She had slept at the house to make for an easier early morning departure. It was time to go, and I was anxious about dealing with New York City rush hour traffic, finding the medical center, and maybe being told she didn’t qualify for the trial. “I’m not going,” she said again, banging the refrigerator shut. We had at least a five-hour drive ahead of us and she was already being difficult.
“Mareek, this is our best bet to get you into remission. Our only bet.” I was sweating, and my head was beginning to hurt. “What on earth is the problem?” I was losing it. My voice got higher. Louder. “I’ll meet you in the car in ten minutes,” I said, praying things would not explode into an outright war, or worse, in her disappearing on me. I’d made breakfast and delivered the tray to her room. I’d walked her dog and driven it to family friends who would take care of it. I made Marika’s special tea with lemon and honey in a thermos for the road. So she was supposed to cooperate now.

“I. Don’t. Want. To go.”
“Okay, what do you need to have happen so that we can get moving? Because I’m getting nervous. This is not my idea of fun. Who wants to be driving to Long Island? Of all places! I thought I was done with Long Island years ago.” I was ranting uncontrollably, “And they might just send us home with nothing. And then what? You would miss our last chance for a cure because you don’t like Long Island?”
“I don’t want to talk,” she said, her tone matching mine. “I’ll go, but don’t talk to me. If I hear your voice I’ll jump out of the car.”
I opened my mouth, then caught myself and nodded instead. But she had already thrown herself into the back of the car with earphones plugging her ears, her thermos of Get Gorgeous Tea and a thick invisible wall between us. We drove in silence and got caught in morning rush hour traffic, as I knew we would.

As far back as my mind can remember there was anger every place I called home. I was attracted to it and it followed me everywhere: my childhood ranch house on Long Island, the palace on Ithaca’s West Hill, the homes by the ponds. Anger lurked in the walls and ceilings, in the carpets and closets, in every corner. It seethed in the spaces between the inhabitants. It was inherited; it was contagious. It could boil for months, sometimes seeping through the cracks before erupting completely, violently. My own small blaze was mostly suffocated in passive-aggressive smoldering. I got away with that for most of my life. And when I should have been most angry, my little fire turned to ashes. It disappeared somewhere in the sad miles and years of shuffling my young children back and forth between two simmering households. I watched the anger grow in my kids. My son eventually found it useful for survival in combat. In Marika, it came out in fierce tantrums. By the time cancer crept into our lives, my own anger had mostly dissipated in the raging storms around me. Seeing it in the eyes of the ones I loved, chilled my heart.

“Let me know if you want me to stop at this rest area,” I said, breaking four hours of silence. “I think it’s our last opportunity.”
“Don’t talk to me!” She kicked the back of my seat. For the first time I wondered, if we were to go home that day, if she might possibly be able to ride back with her father and his wife. They were already in the waiting hall of the medical building on Long Island.

Finally, we were stuffed into a small office at the medical center. More chairs were crammed in to accommodate Marika’s father and his wife. And Rachel. We had not planned on including Rachel in this meeting but everyone was grateful to have her there. With her EMT training, she was savvy about medical proceedings, and the one thing we could count on was Rachel’s ability to calm Marika. Besides, somehow she always showed up, whether or not she was invited.

Pat Li and the new doctor introduced tamibarotene, our new drug. The TammyBear-o-Teen pills were parceled out like expensive French truffles. They were to be taken mindfully, at particular times twice a day. Each dose was to be checked off and recorded in three places on various forms. The drug was ten times more potent than the ATRA Marika had taken the first two summers, the ATRA that had given her seizures and landed her in the ICU with respiratory failure. The good news was there would be fewer and less severe side effects with TammyBear-o-Teen. And Marika would not lose her hair.

“It is not a cure,” they reminded us. “A transplant is the only cure, and for that she must be in remission. This drug will get her into remission, and then she can have a stem cell transplant. As soon as possible.” I finally understood the whole plan. We could all see where we were headed. It seemed straightforward. Simple.

 

Duetting: Memoir 26

Duetting: Memoir 26 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a collage of a tiny book made years ago by her daughter Marika Warden, who died with cancer.

For my holiday gift I’d asked my son for a shooting lesson. So on the unseasonably warm afternoon of Christmas Eve 2011, Greg comes downstairs with two long guns. Trembling, I wrap up in scarves, earplugs, earmuffs and hooded jacket, and follow him out the door and across the lawn. He stops just short of the pond, props his shotgun against a tree, and hands me the rifle. Remington.22, he tells me. And then he shows me how to hold, load, and ready it for shooting.

“You don’t pull the trigger,” he says, “you squeeze it. You hug it with your whole hand.” Willing my eyes to stay open, I squeeze and shoot. It’s not nearly as loud or as jarring as I’d expected. Marika would have said, “LikeBAM!” Hardly drawing a breath, I shoot again. Bam! The sky echoes with each ferocious bark. Handling this loaded rifle, cradling it so close, and then blasting the air—LikeBAM! —I am spellbound, conscious only of being just on the cusp of control or calamity.

We had placed two targets against a large willow tree across the pond. The targets were a gift I’d painted for Greg. The one I’m to use is a cartoon image of a rotund woodchuck with a bulls-eye bellybutton. We train the scope, first focusing far, and then zooming in so every breath and movement I make is exaggerated in the scope, and the woodchuck bounces in a dizzying scene. When it settles, I hug the trigger. LikeBAM! With no movement of my target, no trace of a hit, I aim and shoot again. BAM! I continue to load the magazine and shoot. My woodchuck hasn’t budged. Greg fires his gun and with each shot creates small clouds of smoke before his target.

When our bullets are spent, we walk together around the pond to inspect the targets. Surprisingly, the bullets sped through mine without moving it and I’ve hit the woodchuck’s belly twenty-six out of twenty-eight times. Pleased with myself, I’m hooting and cheering. Until we remove the targets from the base of the willow.
“Oh. No,” I wail, “I’ve been shooting clear through to the tree. We’re killing the tree.”
“Oh, well. ‘Goes with the territory,” he shrugs.

Some things, like the differences in our respect for life and living things, will never jive. I say a silent apology to the tree and then follow Greg into the kitchen. He takes the two rib-eye steaks I got for our supper, pierces them several times, plants them in plastic zip-lock bags, and marinates them in Johnny Walker whisky. He pours two glasses of the whisky over ice.

“Did Marika ever shoot? What’s the best prank you ever pulled on Marika?” I ask, thinking I’ve got him relaxed and ready to chat. “What would you fight for or even die for?”
“Mom. Just enjoy the Johnnie Walker. Okay?” And then, “Do you still have my extra passport photo somewhere? I need it back. I’ve got a job in Afghanistan as soon as I get my papers cleared.” He’s leaving again. Whatever holiday I’ve been avoiding is now totally shot.

Later that night, on the first Christmas Eve without my daughter, the single drawer of the small night table next to my bed is stuck open. I rarely use this drawer but I had rummaged through it for Greg’s passport photo. Now the drawer is jammed and I can’t get it to close shut. I slam it and it breaks. When I wrench it back out, a tiny green cloth packet falls to the floor, and I remember a Christmas long ago when Marika had no gift to give me. She had scurried upstairs, bounced back down, and handed me this small pouch of jeweled sequins. Now I empty the contents into my hand. Sparkling butterfly-light jewels catch the lamplight that blurs through tears. The remaining sparse contents of the broken drawer lay on the floor. And in the middle of the small mess, bound with shiny red holiday ribbon, sits a tiny book written and illustrated by Marika in 2001, when she was eleven years old.

Book of Wonderful Memories. From: Marika. J.W. To: Robin Botie
1.The costume parade. You were there for me every step of the way! I’ll never forget your face when I got 4th place. You were so happy! 2.That one teddy bear that you would look at when we were fighting and tell me a story of you. Mom … 5.Even with the most boring books, it seems so exciting with your voice. … 6.When I’m scared you are always there for me … 8.Always loveing even when I’m a brat.

Mareek! Are you here? I cry out. Are you helping me get through Christmas? What the heck am I doing in this drawer anyway? It’s almost midnight and I’m holding the most precious gift, now received twice over. Why does it feel like you’re watching me? Sometimes it’s hard not to believe in ghosts, in after-life. Here I am, holding this tiny book you made ten years ago, before all the road trips, before cancer. Before our mother/daughter divide. Ten years ago when you adored me—Maybe you never stopped adoring me—Maybe you just stopped showing it.

She’d made me a book. And now I am making a book for her. She wrote. So I’m writing. Words are my new medium and I’m using them to paint our portrait, mixing words like I used to mix colors. All the sweet or savory, whispering or roaring, bland or bewitching words that dance in my mind. Like : meandering, infinitesimal, crimson, petechiae…. Reading my book aloud at the Feed and Reads, occasionally I glance up from the pages to peek at my audience, their jaws dropped and eyes begging me to continue. My gift to Marika, I tell myself. Really, though, she has gifted me, and is gifting me still.

My first manuscript is a plot-less lament to my dead daughter. But that doesn’t matter. Because, daily, I lose myself and find myself in what I write. Some new determination to live, lives on. And I feel hope. It’s back. And hope implies future. So I continue to write, and look forward to the sharing. And I love my book like it’s my daughter.

Duetting: Memoir 11

Duetting: Memoir 11 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops words of her daughter Marika Warden who died of leukemia.

Before leukemia, home was the place we came back to long enough to grab what we needed, whether it was a nap, a meal or a gym bag, as we rushed out again down the hill and back into the world. We rushed and everyone around us rushed. We rushed to get our homework done, to get to school on time, to go to soccer practice or to the mall to pick up some last-minute sports tape, and a fast smoothie to tide us over. As a new special education teacher, I pushed to get through paperwork that piled up too quickly, while Marika scurried between schoolwork and part-time jobs at her favorite sushi restaurant and the gym’s daycare center. There was never enough time. Maybe we liked to eat out so much because it forced us to sit still while we waited for our food.

We were foodies. She baked. I cooked when I didn’t have too much homework from my SUNY Cortland classes. I danced in the kitchen to the muffled sounds of Marika’s music. Indie rock. Upstairs in her room, where she thought no one could hear, she sang over pre-recorded instrumentals. And in the car, stuffed with singing girls, the joyful un-muffled voices made me smile as we sped off to soccer games in neighboring counties.

On the soccer field Marika was an aggressive tank, stopping at nothing to get at the ball. I winced whenever she headed it, and cringed every time she barged into another player. Marika was fierce; she was fearless. So of course she was going to fight leukemia. Early on, a friend set her up with a blogsite, Marika Kicks Leukemia. Though she lived in a dense fog the first few weeks of cancer, Marika was set for battle. She would fight her disease, her doctors, me, and anything else that kept her from living her life the way she saw it.

Life, the way I saw it, should be beautiful and function flawlessly. I always believed I could design my way into or out of anything. For me, to design is to control. It is ongoing, like breathing. Each day, before the sun rises, I envision every possible scenario so nothing can hit me by surprise. To put the most harrowing things in manageable perspective, I draw and make endless lists. There’s always a ‘Plan B’ as I bolster myself for the worst.
“I’m not worrying, I’m designing,” I insist, when accused of being anxious. And designing always started at home even though I hated being alone at home, and Marika would rather be anywhere else. But by the end of May 2008, home was where we both yearned to be.

“When can I go home?” she asked countless times as teams of doctors filed in and out of her hospital room. First this had to happen and then that—there were obstacles. It was like Monopoly, one of those endless board games we always gave up on before we could finish. We were only at the beginning of our road trip. And my mind was already racing, working overtime to find “beautiful” and “flawless,” to put them back into our lives wherever we might land. But leukemia had wormed its way into the warp and woof of our world. Cancer hit home. The tides were broken. They’d collided. Soon I, too, could not “ride along to the same rhythm anymore,” as Marika said. We were hanging over the dark craggy cliff of the gorge when Marika nearly died two times in her first three weeks of cancer.

There was no way to design my way out of that.

 

 

 

Loving and Losing a Car

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York photoshops her banged up Prius as she wonders why she is carrying on about loving and losing a car.Falling in love or forming any strong emotional attachments was not going to happen after my daughter died. No more grieving for me, I thought. But last week, losing my car, I cried like I was losing my best friend. A friend who had faithfully protected me with its life, to the bitter end.

On the way to Boston for the weekend, passing a slow-moving vehicle on a busy highway, I pulled left into the middle lane and discovered a huge truck tire lying in my path. There was no way to avoid it. My beautiful Prius crashed into it with a great thud. This is the end, I told myself upon impact. But the car somehow plowed through the tire. I kept driving. There was no way to pull over or stop so I continued on, shaken but unharmed. The Prius, who I’d long ago named Peeje after a beloved pigeon, got me to my destination and days later, back home to Ithaca, New York. And after the weekend, checking out the damage, I learned I’d smashed the car’s sub-frame, under-panels, radiator, and every single part of her belly.
“Call your insurance company, this is going to cost you…” the mechanic told me.

With visions of skyrocketing premiums, big bucks for major repairs, and weeks of car rentals, I took my Peeje to the Toyota Dealership where they offered me a small trade-in towards a new Prius, and I accepted it. Immediately. Gratefully.

Then suddenly, I had tears in my eyes and was stroking Peeje’s hood with both hands. There I was, once more grieving the loss of a familiar, comfortable, beloved part of my life. We had a lot of history, Peeje and I. When she was still new we got lost together exploring October Mountain in the Berkshires. Many a snowstorm we’d slowly inched up the long hill to my house, both of us willing her little engine to keep chugging. This was the car that carried elderly loved ones (now gone) with wheelchairs and walkers to fancy restaurants. She carried me through dark empty streets to retrieve friends who’d drunk too much. “Thanks, Peeje,” I’d say every time she got me home safely.

“You’re gonna have a whole new re-built life,” I sobbed to my Peeje, driving her home one last time, to empty out the six-year accumulation of stuff in every corner of her. I wondered, after all I’ve been though, why I was carrying on so about loving and losing a car. But I gently dusted off her seats and lovingly packed her snow tires into her trunk. And let her go.

 

How on earth does one end up loving a car or a house or something that doesn’t even have eyes or a heart?