For a decade, I had an extremely unique car. He made everyone smile. At least once a day, my Little Buddy the T-bird made at least one other person besides me happy, and sometimes many more. I loved him. He was faithful, loyal, and brave through 114,000 miles and a decade together. He had a powerful V-8 engine under his hood, and he was 252 horsepower-full of fun. He was a rare gem with white-and-black leather seats and a smooth-to-the-touch, ivory stick shift. He even got excellent gas mileage and immaculate emissions reports.
I have included a photo here of the original 1955 mint-green model, the very first Ford Thunderbird. My Little Buddy was made in this signature color: Only 50 in this color were in the 11th generation of T-birds, the last series, which was produced only from 2002-2005, and I had one of them. I saw another mint-green signature model from the same series only one time, up in L.A. at the corner of Sunset and Coldwater Canyon in Beverly Hills. I waved enthusiastically; he did not wave back. Snob, I thought. I had my Little Buddy, and he had me; we were not alone.
Sadly, my Little Buddy was struck down in his prime on March 2, 2014. He has been mourned and very much missed. I had hoped we would be together for another decade, but unfortunately Ford (absurdly) decided not to support these little beauties, and no parts were available to rebuild him. He was finally relinquished to the insurance company, but not before I laid myself across his hood in the parking lot of the Ford dealership body shop and wept like a B movie queen. My only consolation is that his engine—like donating a heart—likely went to a Jaguar in need. The stereo system—like a kidney—went to my brother’s family.
Honestly, I never thought I could be so attached to a car. It is true that I’m a Southern Californian, and that I depend on cars to make my life work. I’ve also had a car continuously since I was 16 years old. However, before the T-bird, a car was just a tool to get around. On my value scale, a car was far below loved ones, friends, co-workers, students, pets, people in general, music, art, food, clothes, a fun dance partner, and education and enlightenment for all. And, of course, world peace—or whirled peas, as one bumper sticker has it. Compared with those sorts of things, a car was just a necessity. However, I truly loved my Little Buddy the T-bird. After the accident (Did I mention it was a hit-and-run on the 91 freeway in the dark?), people said, as people do: “It was just a car. Thankfully, you are all right. You can replace a car.” What they meant was: “Why are you sad about a stupid car? What’s the big deal? Why are you being so shallow?” What’s the big deal? For me, losing my Little Buddy was like losing a beloved pet, a valued member of the family. In fact, after the parking lot histrionics, I continued to cry for two weeks straight. I’ll never feel the same about a car ever again; he was the auto love of my life. And, he was, by the way, in fact, irreplaceable.
I now have a perfectly lovely BMW that I purchased with the generous insurance settlement for the T-bird, but it’s just not the same. People no longer smile and wave, or knock on the window in a grocery store parking lot and scare the beejesus out of me so that they can tell me how awesome the T-bird is. When I first started to drive the T-bird, people would stare. Initially, I thought: Ooo, I still got it. Then, the realization settled in: Oh. It was the car. It was the car! How great was that? The T-bird was a way to interact with the community in unexpected ways.
My mother died 16 years ago. She was too young to die; I was too young to lose her. I had to be dragged away from her burial site by my brother where I stood and watched until the last patch of grass was put back into place. I had wanted to throw myself in that hole with her. After that day, I expected her to call at any moment for a year—probably for longer. It just seemed like she was away on a trip. And, for the first year after she was gone, I barely left my apartment. When I did see people, they would say things like: “You should be happy that your mother is in a better place.” Happy, they said. Better place, they said. Humph…How was that supposed to make ME feel better? I was not in a better place; I was just in a grey, dull world without my mother.
I learned many important lessons losing my mother early in life, including the following two things: #1—Life is short, so I have to make my life the very best that it can be right now, today. Sometimes that includes enjoying the heck out of the physical world and the beautiful things in it, which includes a lovely car; and #2—It is okay to let myself feel crappy as long as I need to after a loss, and I don’t have to let those bastards make me cheer up. What is the point of living life well if I don’t go about it in an honest way? When I am ready, I always poke my head out of my shell and start plodding my way upstream again. After a year and a half of serious mourning for my mother, I went on what is now known as my “Eat, Pray, Love” summer; it was good. But that is a story for another time.
Lucky me. I did inherit some things from my mother—a little money, yes, but also things, like a stuffed bear that I found on her bed after she passed that now lives on my office chair, and a blanket, now tattered and torn, that I still sleep with most nights, wrapped in the memory of her. But I also inherited her rather large collection of jewelry, which I treasure tenderly; those rings, necklaces, bracelets, watches, and earrings are physical manifestations of her that I literally carry on my body, physical talisman’s of my mother’s spirit. In this way, she is with me almost every day. I also have other things, like photographs, and a rose tattoo on my shoulder that I got about the same time that she left me. But what of the T-bird? Apart from some photographs and a tiny piece of bumper, he is completely gone; I can’t visit his burial site. I know, I know: I should be happy that he’s in a better place.