Things are not alive. They don’t have meaning other than that which an individual imbues in them. Things are myriad and ultimately worthless to others but priceless to their owners: A 20-year-old band T-shirt that looks more like a fishnet these days; a favorite cooking pot; a piece of shit lawn mower that should have been replaced years ago but whose quirks are known and familiar; a tiny car that zips between tractor trailers on wet highways but always brings its driver home safe.
Things become more than just Things.
Needs Vs. Wants Vs. Neuroses
I come from a long line of Compulsive Hoarders, and have worked for years at wrangling that particular behavior. Hoarders don’t buy or collect things they need, they buy or collect things they want that soothe them in some way, albeit momentarily. The thing doesn’t matter, it’s being able to get the thing and keep it that does, even if the thing is kept in conditions that harm it.
In the late-90s and early aughts I moved around town quite a bit and each time friends helped carry furniture but also the interminable boxes of random shit that I “needed.”
I’ve also helped dozens of friends move. I have marveled both at how much friends owned (“Are we sure we need to pack these magazines your cat’s been peeing on the last year?”), and how little (“Wow, is this it? Is there more hidden in some closet somewhere?”). I know what it’s like to swelter in place while someone dithers over whether they really need that box of stuff, decide they do, we drive it to the new place, set it down, and then hear them quip ‘And I can always donate it if I decide I don’t need it!’ I had been that person before. My parents are those people. I helped my parents move out of a house they’d lived in for 30 years and my mom was trying to pack a Post-It note from my 10th grade Algebra teacher that just said ‘see me’. My dad’s shed was a nightmare and health hazard, but we packed it. That and other moments culminated in a major life decision: I decided I didn’t want to be that person anymore.
Minimalism – The Least But Not Always the Best You Can Do
“Needs only!” I cried. “I don’t need much, I should be able to move and unpack in a single weekend!” And I tried Minimalism. The needle swung back in a huge way and I got rid of three-quarters of my belongings, a move which would bite me in the ass later. The neurosis of ‘I should keep this in case I need it some day!’ became ‘I will never need this and nor will anyone else the shit you own ends up owning you and therefore I should own nothing.’ An attempt to wrest control over my life spun out and along with all my stuff, I tossed out my feelings and emotional attachments as well.
But minimalism never really took, not completely. I bought a Kindle but also kept my books (got rid of some but never could part with all). I stopped hoarding clothes and now only buy stuff I actually wear, and get rid of anything that doesn’t fit. It helps to blame the clothes and not play the ‘someday I’ll be thin enough to wear these again!’ game. That game is rigged and can go straight to hell.
I don’t own a lot of kitchen gadgets but have plenty of the essentials – multiple spatulas, chef’s knives, mixing bowls, cutting boards. Anything expired or irreparable gets tossed, donated, recycled, or composted.
But somewhere between the Needs and the Neurosis, I rediscovered Wants. I want multiple mascaras. I want multiple pairs of black heels. I want books with big glossy photo pictures and pages to flip through. I want a house full of random stuff for people to look at and explore when they come over, that tells them more about me than simple conversation. “Why do you have so many swords? Is this a real Vodoun mask? Are these your teeth?” And the answers might be boring (Why not? Maybe! Yes.) but they will have been a conversation.
Drive the New, Unexciting 2013 Bare Minimum At Your Local Dealership Today!
By June of 2014, I needed a new car. My used 2002 VW Golf was on its last legs. No AC for four years (murder in Central Florida summers), the interior deteriorating, half the radio buttons unresponsive. Since the transmission was dying Reverse was only sometimes an option, meaning I had to push it out of the parking spot if I didn’t park backwards.
I was suffering from a severe yet high-functioning depressive episode that summer, exacerbated by having to find a new job quickly (laid off), and the continued downhill slide of my relationship. I didn’t have much in savings and car buying wasn’t high in my list of priorities. I knew I wanted a used Fiat 500 Pop, because it checked my bare minimum car requirements. The dealership only had a silver 2013 in my price range, but I was emotionally numb and didn’t care what color I got. I have two memories from buying that car:
- Me cleaning out my old car at a gas station down the road from the dealership, completely sweating through my nice office skirt and top
- The salesman exclaiming ‘Oh that’s your responsibility’ when I leaned over the little hatchback hider in the back and broke it after we signed all the paperwork
But it had a CD player and air conditioning and my 6’3 then-fiancee fit inside, so it was fine. Adequate, even. It fulfilled my need for a car, which in Central Florida is a real thing. Public transit is unreliable and civic plans don’t factor in ‘walkability’ so a car is necessary for life.
Getting to Knoooooow You…And Meeee…
I liked my newish car. It worked fine, had fun little storage pockets, a peppy little engine, and I felt like the girl in the Lady Gaga ‘Americano’ song as I zipped around town. Things weren’t great at home, but my car made things fun.
My aunt died in late August of 2014. It was a huge shock to the whole family, especially my mother. My then-fiancee couldn’t get off work so I drove alone up to my parents’ house and rode with them to Georgia to help my other aunt clean out the house and make funeral arrangements.
[Author’s Note: Sensitive Readers are Encouraged to Skip The Next Paragraph as it Deals with Body Horror]
My aunt died on a Wednesday and spent two days in a 1-room studio with no AC, in the Georgia summer. Her son found her in a horrible state and we had to have a closed casket. Her mental illness got the better of her and she had stopped throwing her trash away a year or so before, so the house was full of garbage. We found that her toilet had broke and she, too embarrassed to bother her landlord about it, had used buckets and cups. These were scattered all around the back of the house, at least 30 of them, and my aunt and I put them in the trash to hide this fact from my mother and nephew.
[Sensitive Readers Can Resume]
A week later I went up for the funeral, again by myself, as my fiancee had decided he was uncomfortable attending a funeral amid such upsetting circumstances. In my little Roller Skate car, I sang songs, listened to music, got drive-through, and generally made the best of a shit situation – a shituation, if you will.
Twice I’ve had to clean out the belongings of a recently passed relative. It’s when you’re pulling open the fifth junk drawer and wondering why the hell anyone could need so many dried out pens and broken magnets and half-full scratch pads that you start to see everything as heading for the junk yard. Sure, people try to reduce their plastic use and only use biodegradable items but things still pile up: the aforementioned effluvium, single light bulbs, extra parts from IKEA furniture assembly. And, since I was already in a pretty bad headspace, everything started to become pointless.
The engagement fell apart. I switched jobs. Time passed. Adventures were had – I drove my little car to Miami, to Tampa, to St. Augustine, to Atlanta a few times, to family reunions in south Georgia. It carried me faithfully through traffic jams, merging, and Florida highway driving, which is apocalyptic at the best of times. Sometimes we wobbled in the drafts from tractor trailers or high winds, and many times I completely lost visibility when someone drove through a puddle and covered my windshield. When this happens at 70 on I-95, you breathe out, focus, FREEZE your body of movement, and wait for currents to push the water out of the way.
I passed under lightning storms glowing inside towering thunderheads, and considered how small and fragile we are. I was just a middle aged lady in her little silver pod, witnessing elemental conflict in the middle of nowhere. Many segments of old Florida highways have nothing for miles, so you chase a cone of light through darkened miles of flat swampland with occasional oak stands, praying there’s no metal in the road or headlights that have drifted across the dividing line.
My little car had become a companion. I’d washed him, cleaned him, done maintenance on him (I figured out how to change the cabin air filter ALL BY MYSELF with a Youtube video), changed his various bulbs and cleaned his hubcabs and gotten him serviced regularly. I put a compass on the inside windshield, hung a little cinnamon broom off it and a paper flower someone gave me when I donated to some charity. When I paid Roller Skate off in August of 2019 I finally started putting stickers on him, including ones from the Cloak and Blaster, The Salvador Dali Museum of Tampa, and a local coffeeshop. I also got one of those plastic chrome ‘4X4’ accessories for the back, because it was funny. I joked often that while I might not be able to afford a house, my car was paid off so I’d always have somewhere to live. And that I’d drive him until the wheels fell off.
Year after year, things began to matter to me again. Friends. Family. My job. Writing. The future. And most of all, my feelings.
The Unspeakable Jug of White Evil
One fine May day during the Great Quarantine of 2020, an unexpected gallon of skim milk arrived in my Instacart order. When notified it was not mine, the delivery cart person shrugged and drove away.
“Yay, free skim milk!” I did not say because I don’t drink cow’s milk and especially not skim. Milk is fine for cooking and baking but not drinking because it inflates my stomach like a balloon full of evil and I spend an evening exuding dreadful gasses that upset my cat. But it is useful to other people so I arranged a home it with a friend across town. On the way, rain began to fall.
I dropped the milk off and we chatted from twenty feet away, and then I headed off, content in my life and my evening ahead, which involved video games and pizza. Near the corner of Gaston Foster and Lake Underhill a 21-year-old young man nearly twice my size rear ended my car going about ten miles an hour. He, a giant covered in tattoos, burst into regretful tears that he had hit me. He was in a Toyota Highlander that apparently rolled zero damage. No one was hurt.
We exchanged information, and I returned home. My little car’s damage looked superficial but I had a terrible fear it wasn’t, even though he drove fine. I couldn’t open the hatchback – the rear fender had been pushed up over the lip and the whole thing had been shifted up a bit, although the glass hadn’t broken. I dropped Roller Skate off at a Collision center and my insurance first said they thought it could be fixed, and arranged a rental for me. I was relieved – superficially because I wouldn’t have to dip into my savings to buy a car but also subconsciously because I wouldn’t lose my reliable little chariot. A week went by and suddenly insurance changed their mind when the collision reported more repairs needed within the structure. Insurance called to inform me the car was a total loss.
And I was very, very sad.
A Ship is More Than Sails
Wherever we want to go, we’ll go. That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails, that’s what a ship needs, but what a ship is… what the Black Pearl really is… is freedom. ~ Captain Jack Sparrow, POTC:TCOTBP
I went to the Collision center and cleaned my car of my personal effects. I didn’t cry (I generally don’t in public) but it was a close thing. Soon its worth will be estimated and mailed to me. As if they could calculate its worth in such a way. To them it’s an economical daily driver with 89k miles, newish tires, a rusted antenna, and a few dozen chips and scratches.
It was a Thing, but it was my Thing. And now it won’t be, anymore.
I have enough savings to buy a new car, thankfully, although it means going into my house fund. I already know I’m going to get another Fiat Pop, although definitely a different color than silver. Black is more my color.
I didn’t intend for this post to be so long but once I sat down the words just kept coming. I think because it’s a Thing I can articulate my feelings, as opposed to when I lose a family member or friend and the grief is too large to conceptualize. I didn’t learn the proper and healthy expression of emotions until I was in my early thirties, and I’m still learning. So thank you for sticking with this post until the end, and thank you for listening to me talk about a Thing that was special to me. I appreciate it very much.
Have you ever had a car you loved? What did you love about it? Do you still have it?