My parents could have gotten me a car, or given me one of their old ones, but they didn’t. My dad said I needed to earn my own way in the world; this was a learning experience for me. He told me he would match whatever I saved and we would buy the car together. I earned something like $1,600 at my minimum wage deli job after school and on weekends, gave it to my dad, and he bought my little Honda from one of the ladies he worked with in New York.
It was so beautiful, this car. It was pinkish gray with dark maroon cloth interior and a radio and a tape deck, on which I played mix tapes with Joni Mitchell and Dave Matthews Band and The Smiths and Guster (pretty much an equal mix of respectable and embarrassing artists).
I bought feminist and anti-war and environmentalist bumper stickers and a fuzzy steering wheel cover and a leopard-print ball that was made to sit atop the antenna. I used the car as a canvas on which to paint my identity. It was the physical manifestation of who I believed my adolescent self to be.
My first boyfriend was originally my best friend’s boyfriend. She wasn’t that into him and I was crazy about him and I would flirt with him on AIM while they were together. When she finally dumped him, it was all I could do to wait a few weeks before I tried to make him mine. And I did, eventually.
We dated for a month. Pretty much as soon as he became my boyfriend, the interest started to dissipate. We had almost nothing in common. I told him we should break up over the phone and he said, “Yeah, I was going to dump you.” He was a real charmer.
When I went off to college, my brother drove my car to high school and to work and to see his friends. He drove it into the ground, being a teenage boy who hadn’t saved his money to buy it or lovingly decorated it with bumper stickers and antenna balls that defined him. He broke the driver’s side door handle and never got the oil changed and when I came back from college we would fight viciously about who was allowed to use it. He had a distinct lack of appreciation for the perfection that was this little Honda.
When my brother went off to college, my mom sold the Honda for $500 to a nice lady who, apparently, fraternized with some unsavory types and it was confiscated in a drug bust.
Both my first car and my first boyfriend were things I used as mirrors. I liked the boyfriend because through him I could be pretty and cool. I liked the car because it was my carefully constructed display of values. It made me feel pretty and cool, too.
But cars and boys do not make a person pretty and cool. And also, being pretty and cool are not that important! Having a boyfriend and a car did not make me kind or smart. But I was a teenager.
I didn’t know that the best reflection of my true self would ultimately be a short, brown-haired software engineer and a Kia Soul with a convertible infant-to-toddler car seat, a trunk that fits groceries and a stroller, and a towel that smells like a dog’s asshole on the back seat. Nothing pretty or cool about it, but it’s perfectly me.