I was driving back from the smog check, and I felt myself fighting just the slightest tears. I felt that lump in my throat, knowing, yes, I have reached the point of no return. I’m paying $50 for a smog check and that means this is it, after much resistance, I am selling Martha, my 2007 Toyota Corolla, a solid presence in my life since 2008 when I bought her pre-owned.
Martha. Yes, she has a name. Do all owners give their cars names, like they give their pets names? Do all car owners get so attached to their cars? I don’t have a pet, or a child, but I named my car. Why would I be crying for 2,800 pounds of metal, steel, and plastic? My friend Liz told me I should write about Martha because I way I talk about her, like she is a person in my life. So I am.
First, some basic facts: who is Martha and why am I getting rid of her? Martha was my first car. I bought Martha when I was 34, relatively old to buy a first. I bought Martha during a period of big change in my life, when I went from writer to Silicon Valley product manager. I made more money and needed a car. Having a car felt like a luxury, a big step up the economic ladder. The name Martha just came to me. I wanted a sturdy, reliable car and Martha felt like a sturdy, reliable name.
Since then my life changed. I left Silicon Valley and I’ve spent three of the last eight years in South America writing, coaching/consulting, and dancing tango. I’ve held on to Martha for all these years, having friends drive her paying the insurance while I’m away, because I loved having Martha to come home to when I would be back in the Bay Area, sometimes as long as a year and a half. Recently I committed to living in Argentina to write a second draft of my memoir. Rationally it doesn’t make sense anymore to keep paying the registration and maintenance. It’s time to let go.
Even so, there is clinging to the past. To Martha! We say change is good but change is also hard. If we are honest, we are to some degree ambivalent about most things. Most things have good and bad in them. Change means giving up some things while you gain others. There’s the job you hate but the paycheck you love. The spouse you love and the spouse you can’t live with. There is a grieving process for most changes whether it’s leaving a place, a job, a person, or an object. Objects too have so many memories and emotions attached to them.
Liz told me Martha was replaceable, “She’s a white Corolla. You can get another white Corolla when you come back. It’s not an uncommon car.” I say, “No, those other cars won’t have Martha’s bumps and scratches. Those particularities.” Liz says, “We can dent the new car with golf balls and scratch it to replicate the damage.” I laugh, “OK, we can do that.”
There is soul in the history of an object, in the meanings we give our things over the years. The history is in those imperfections. I put the dent on the car in the first year when I was clumsy parking in a tight garage in San Francisco. At first I was ashamed that I had messed up my car so quickly. Then I decided the dents and scratches made my car unique. I could recognize her in a parking lot easily. That was an important revelation that made me feel better about my own dents and scratches.
I keep thinking of Liz’s implicit question, why does this car mean so much to me? She was more than a car to me. Martha and I had a long-term relationship of eight years, and a long-distance relationship for three of those years. For three of those years I was in South America. She was okay with me leaving and coming back, she never broke down when I went away. The car was an anchor. It’s the mobility, the status, but also the constancy: Perhaps Martha was one of my rocks. She gave me the freedom to roam and always welcomed me back with open arms.
When it finally came time to post the ad, and start showing Martha to buyers, I was nervous to show her. What if people felt different about her than I did? I posted realistic photos on Craigslist and got 30 emails, I showed her to four people and two out of four her wanted her. There’s nothing like having your car be wanted.
The lucky buyer was Jan, a mom buying the car for her twentysomething son Joaquin. I met Jan and Joaquin on a Friday afternoon to complete the transaction. It was time to hand over the keys.
I told Joaquin, “The car is special, so take good care of her. She is very soulful and she has a lot of care-taking qualities. Her name is Martha.” His eyes widened either impressed or freaked out but his mom Jan seemed taken with the name. “Like George and Martha Washington,” she said, as if this had some meaning to them. Yes.
We walked outside and I passed the key to Joaquin, the official handoff. I said to Jan, “I feel like I’m giving away my baby.”
She said, “We would call Family Services if you were selling your baby for $6600.”
I felt a little embarrassed and said, “I know, but it’s emotional.”
She said, “I know what you mean. When I sold my car I felt choked up too.”
So I walked home four blocks, saying goodbye to Martha, and also, hello to an unknown future. Having grieved already I felt more ready for the new chapter, come what may, whether that includes a future car or not. I felt lighter for having been courageous enough to let go. I felt free.
Goodbye to All that is a nod to Joan Didion’s landmark 1967 essay about leaving New York, “Goodbye to All That.”
I can relate to your experience. I got rid of most of my possessions to move to Chile. My daughter was teaching English there and I decided to join her. It included giving up my car. After two months in Chile, I decided it was not for me due to the cultural differences and moved back to Las Vegas, NV. I do miss my car but don’t want to have to have the car payments and also the insurance costs. So I now use public transportation. It’s taken some getting used to as I depended on my car but you know, you can do without and as I get older I realize it is a “freeing experience”. Sometimes we get more by letting go I think.
Yes to this! “Sometimes we get more by letting go I think.” Thank you for sharing your tale Laine.
It’s Paula White. How are you? Congrats on your car sale!
It’s a long story, but I have been going through some of the same things. I am happy to let go. I consider it movement, progress.
So may it be for you.
Love this post! I name my car too and was extraordinarily attached to my first one – a family hand me down green Hyundai called Freddo. I couldn’t even drive when I inherited him and had to learn fast because all my family disappeared overseas and it was just me and him left. My ownership of Freddo coincided with my first deeply serious relationship at 32 (!) and that car saw me through all the ups and downs including one horrendous night of driving through a thunderstorm for six hours to catch my then partner in a tryst with a woman he’d just met in our new home, thinking I was 550 km away packing up our old home. That car got me there safely, and then turned around and drove me all the way back again a couple of hours later, me crying all the way. I held on longer than I should have to Freddo (longer than to the fickle partner) and was devastated when my family – all returned from their sojourns and eye-rollingly amazed that I still had him – got rid of him while I was working away. He was old, beat up and needed an overhaul but he was my friend and I felt connected to him in a way that probably wasn’t healthy or sensible. Still, I cried and cried for days when I found out and never attached in the same way to the Toyota Starlet they generously replaced Freddo with (called Harley). I now drive a Subaru Forester (called Ruby) and I love this one too but not in the same way I was connected to Freddo. Thanks for this post, I thought this quirk was just me!
Wow, Danae, I love this story! Thank you for sharing. I am amazed by how these inanimate (but mobile) objects can support us during all tumults, ups and downs of life. And I had a feeling at least person would tell me she/he too had the quirk of naming cars.
Thank you for sharing this Sasha. It’s hard to let go of things even when it’s time.
Well put Grace!
One of my most vivid childhood memories: 1979, I was 6 years old, and my Mom sold her absolutely hideous, beat up brown Chevy – a giant barge of a car. I think the new owners were picking it up… or it was being towed… and I stood there on our front lawn, SOBBING, “nooo, no! no! no!” Thinking about it now, I can actually feel the anguish. Heartbreaking – I feel ya, sister. And YES to letting go to create space for more. 🙂
“Take a good look around to see
That you and me were meant to be
You had your time.