My kids called her Ethel. An ancient gas guzzling relic with a bumper that hung so low her back end blew sparks on the highway. She wore a two-toned armor plate full of dings and dents and if I ventured under the hood there were things that leaked and others that steamed, but damn a nation, what a car! Turn the key and watch her go! We should all be so lucky. No maintenance, not even an oil change could she count on, but the old gal ran like so many divorced women I know.
I eventually sold Ethel to my old boyfriend because he needed a ride, and more importantly, it had a kick-ass stereo. Much later he told me he’d run her into the ground…left her on some deserted beach and walked away while the engine was spewing and Mick Jagger was rotating his lips. And to think I sold all those memories for bird droppings.
Don’t know what made me think of that old car today, but my ex boyfriend hung Tibetan prayer flags from the back window. I’d never seen anyone string them in a car and it fascinated me. I watched him drive away with all his stuff jammed in the back…a multitude of colored cotton squares flapping in the breeze, and just for a brief moment I distracted myself from the sadness of separation by wondering if he was spiritually cutting edge or just irreverently cornball.
He had come home at lunch to get his stuff. We both looked like hell…dark circles, drawn faces, and a pregnant pause at the door. The smell of tobacco on his clothes. A habit he’d licked long ago, but was now licking him once again. At first he packed a few random things — a coat hanging on the chair, a few shirts he stuffed into a duffel. I followed him around like a lonesome tumbleweed. And then the signs of permanence began to disappear… his toothbrush and razor, an easel and paint. Every memory of our lives together transported to Ethel and heaped high as Friday’s garbage.
I still can see him drive away…those sun-bleached prayer flags dancing in blissful ignorance to the tune of our rabid relationship, and I recall thinking how wrong to have sacred streamers tangled up in this. They ought to be flying on some high mountaintop where reincarnated monks take refuge and vow to live in gentle kindness, not in the company of secondhand smoke and love gone wrong.
What’s wild is I now realize that I paced the sadness and padded the pain in whatever way I could, only allowing it to conquer me in doses I could handle. Like a morphine drip, I numbed myself to the feeling and unraveled ever so slowly, just like the tattered strings of that Tibetan flag. After all, he and I had made some sort of history together. He’d been my closest friend. What I’ve come to learn over the madness of time is that love is not transferable. You can’t just pack it up and move it to another, or band-aid the cracks and debris hoping to make the foundation stronger for the next. Once you have loved someone with your heart exposed I’m not sure where that is supposed to take refuge. In what fold of the skin does it hide? I’m told you become stronger over time…that you grow a thicker skin, but I sometimes wonder about people dragging around all these messed up relationships. There has to be a point when even a twig loses the will to become the tree.
All I know is today I feel like going in search of Ethel, the wonder car. And when I find her, I’m going to crank up that stereo full-blast and listen to Mick’s meaty lips flap.