On Wednesday night I went for one last drive. Forever.
I’m a little obsessive about cars–and they don’t have to be expensive. I just am particular about, and have a love for, automobiles in general.
Just like a Cowboy from the 1800’s would have felt about his horse, that’s how I feel about four wheels and an engine. But the love ain’t just for any car. There’s a certain enthusiasm I have for some more than others, even a personification of sorts–beyond just the fact that I name my cars.
My second favorite car got totaled in North Dakota at 2am in the middle of nowhere, it was a 560 SEL (his name was Copenhagen) and, wow, how I loved that car. But it was that carnal kind of lustful love, not that enduring stuff.
So I was comforted by the fact that we still had our Toyota Land Cruiser (a fairly gender neutral name; Dune, but I think it was a “she”, right Erica?).ย Now, this Land Cruiser, she even eclipsed my love for the 560 SEL. It was that deep heart-felt like love in an almost emotional sense (you’ll see)–as much as one can love an SUV. In part, this was because she was such an exceptional car in every single way that I could possibly articulate, but even more so because of the spectacular memories embedded in the nearly 10-years we owned her.
Tonight, I went for one last drive in her. Some reckless guy driving a three ton Dodge Ram did just that into the rear end of Dune at quite a speed; ultimately, all I cared about is that Erica and the girls were safe. They were, and for that I am so exceptionally grateful and relieved. And, once again, thankful to Dune for doing her duty to protect my family. One final time.
Now that it’s been weeks, though, the adjusters have come and gone, I’ve haggled with the insurance companies, and it’s time for the wrecker to come tomorrow. Nobody understood on paper the value Dune meant to me, and it was almost with outrage when the adjuster provided a final settlement number. It was then, that I realized, just how much I’d come to love Dune.
A week before the salvage yard was to come, each day I left the driveway she was the last thing I looked at when I drove off, and the first thing I saw when I came home–my familiar and reliable friend, I knew, would soon be gone.
So the night before the wreckers came I went, by myself, to say my final goodbye .And, as silly as this sounds, it was hard. Really hard. Like, almost-tears-in-the-eyes and punch-in-the-stomach kind of hard.
Dune was more faithful and reliable than some friends I’ve had, and for nearly ten years and almost 150,000 miles steadfastly carried us everywhere experiencing nearly every abuse that a family could throw her way.
But what grabbed at my heart were the memories. When we left New Jersey to move to the Midwest, it was Dune that took us there, with little Royce not even weighing yet four pounds sitting in the back on her first ever road trip–we’d just gotten her home from the hospital weeks earlier (after she had been there months having been born extremely prematurely), and I remember being so worried about going on a 10-hour trip while she was still so tiny and premature. And Royce loved every mile in that journey with Dune, looking out the expansive windows across the countryside as we took her first long drive.
And Dune was also the car that I used to take Royce to the hospital right after her 3rd birthday when she could barely breathe due to a lung infection and other respiratory issues. I can still remember looking at her gasping for breath as I kept glancing in the rear view mirror ever while putting my foot on the gas speeding down route 50 in Cincinnati wondering what else to do, or if I should call an ambulance instead. And her seeing the anxiety in my eyes, I can still hear so well Royce barely panting out to me in a whisper “You okay, Dad? You okay? Are you okay, Dad?” which only caused me to have to fight back the tears even more.
Dune was my buddy who brought me and Erica to the hospital when her water broke (Erica’s, not Dune ๐ ) and she delivered Zoe via a c-section. And in the same SUV, two days later, we brought little Zoe safely home.
Dune was there for us when we transported Heidi in the back seat, our beloved St. Bernard for five years who lived with us through the beginnings of marriage and even the devastating attacks on 9/11 when we lived in Manhattan just three blocks south of the World Trade Center, when we had to give her away to another family after she lunged after–and nearly bit–another child. It was hard to give a pet away but something we had to do, and I remember watching Erica cry as we drove off in Dune–just the three of us.
And Dune was the vehicle that faithfully took us on a myriad of fun family adventures all across the United States, her interior having been adorned with boiled peanuts from Florida, peach pie from Georgia, boiled lobsters from Maine, buffalo jerky and rocky mountain fudge from Colorado, and probably what has amounted to gallons (over the years) of spilled coffee–particularly from our most recent years living near Seattle.
My most memorable moment being the drive back from Lamar Valley late one evening in Yellowstone National Park where we camped last summer with Dune and our trailer. It was a very late night drive home to our campsite, yet little Zoe, who was five at the time, was wide awake while Royce was practically asleep in a coma. And Zoe littered me with questions that I would have expected from a teenager, talking about what she wanted to do with her life, asking me questions about God and life on earth and family matters, telling me some of her most sincere thoughts that were wrapped in such an inexplicable maturity.
It was among the most memorable hour-long drives of my life, with the black and expansive Wyoming sky lit up with a spray of stardust, the smell of the warm western winds blowing through the sunroof, Erica at my side wearing a cowboy hat, and Royce sleeping sweetly while Zoe peppered me with both intriguing questions and heartfelt commentary all along the way back riding in the sound protection of Dune. I will never forget those moments.
As I took my final turn in Dune last Wednesday night, one final memory engulfed me. Perhaps this, in addition to all the others, is why saying goodbye is so hard for me.
I remembered the time Erica drove herself to the hospital in Dune while pregnant with Levi at almost 23 weeks, and I can still feel the experience so vividly, so raw with emotions, coming home in Dune without Levi a few days later. And for every year thereafter, I have always looked at the third seat in the second row of Dune and have felt that it was missing our third child. As Royce or Zoe were either fighting or cackling with laughter, or even sleeping sweetly, I would visualize little Levi being in between the both of them to break it up, start it up, or sleep it up. And because I couldn’t have him, at least I cherished the memories, which to some degree were built around Dune and the other memories of my family and all our adventures together. Over so many years of moves and transitions, Dune was one of my faithful companions along the way. So it’s hard to say goodbye.
A flood of these memories, some filled with humor and others flat out desperation, rumbled through my mind during 20 final minutes with Dune as we limped along one last trek. She was a faithful friend for so many years, that gave me an experience that I can’t explain, quite simply because the memories can’t be replaced.
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