I usually don’t put very long stories here. I hope you’ll allow me to indulge myself this once.

This is my car. I got it in 2004 as a present from my parents when I started my first job. It’s the only car I’ve ever owned. Unlike my friends who seemed to change cars every few years or so, my heart has only ever belonged to my Neon.

I had to take my driver’s test twice. I failed the first time. My tester, an incredibly ill-tempered middle aged woman, took me down an impossibly narrow road and requested I do my 3-point turn. Unfortunately, the 3-point turn turned into a 5-point turn, and as soon as I turned the car around, she instructed me to head back to the DMV. “I failed, didn’t I?” I asked her. She told me we’d talked about it when we got back. As I suspected, I had failed because of that turn.

I had to wait a week before I could take the test again. Instead of the same grumpy woman, this time my tester was a pleasant, happy lady who reassured me that I’d do fine and talked about how her youngest son had just taken his test. Her demeanor was so much friendlier and more pleasant. With her, I felt relaxed and passed the test easily.

The first person who ever rode in my car with me was my friend Marissa. She laughed at how tightly I gripped the steering wheel and how strictly I obeyed the speed limit. I sat with my seat straight upright and as close to the wheel as possible. She told me I drove like a grandma. I didn’t care; I was just happy to finally be able to drive.

I was one of only a few people I knew in early university who had their own car. As such, I found myself being the designated driver on all sorts of adventures – parties, concerts, hiking expeditions. Sometimes I got bonus compensation for driving: for example, the first time I saw the Decemberists play live was because a friend of mine wanted to go and needed a ride. In return for my driving, he bought my ticket. I usually didn’t care about being ‘paid,’ though, because I loved driving my car so much.

The university I went to was a five-and-a-half hour drive from my hometown. Some of my favorite moments from those years were from making the drive in between the two cities. Before every road trip I would burn a CD of my current favorite songs, and the drive would turn into an hours-long concert to myself as I sang at the top of my lungs. It was like a tiny vacation from reality; the only thing that mattered was movement, the only thing I could do was keep going forward.

Since I moved to Korea two years ago, I’ve only been able to drive the car a handful of times when I was visiting home. I gave the car to my mom to use for her long daily commute to work. She’s put several thousand miles on the car, and on top of the 200,000+ I put on my Neon, the machine has about met its end. I won’t be returning to the States for at least another year and a half. The car will be gone by the time I get back, traded in for something newer and more reliable.

It feels strange to be so emotional about a machine. In the past few years I’ve really been learning to let go of things and not feel so connected to mere objects. It’s the meaning behind the objects, the memories and the symbolism, which is really important. The object itself is not necessary.

But then again, I’ve never spent as much time with any object as I have with my car. We were together for years. She offered me much-needed escape, taking me down the highway to the beach in the middle of the night when I needed to clear my head. She took me to and from work and school, facilitating the framework of my adolescence. Her hard metal frame protected me as we hit a patch of ice and went spinning in sickening circles down a winding mountain road in the middle of a snowstorm (we both emerged from that situation gloriously unscathed). And she calmly ferried me home time and time again, allowing me the freedom to believe that it is, in fact, possible to return to places and people I thought I’d left behind forever.

Goodbye, my faithful car. Thank you for granting me freedom and autonomy and allowing me to take advantage of new opportunities, no matter where they were. Thank you for never breaking down and leaving me stranded on the side of some sweltering highway, even on the days I pushed you too hard and rubbed your dashboard, whispering prayers and entreaties that you would get us to our final destination. I will think of you every time I insert a key into a different ignition and every time I feel the reverberations of a new engine beneath my fingertips.


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