a car is not a car: selling the stories of our life.


So many changes erupt after a death. Some of them we can control, somewhat. Others we can’t. Most of Matt’s belongings were divided up in the first months after he died. (do I need to say how deeply unpleasant that was? The insanity of it all? Another day, perhaps.)

But no matter how many of his personal belongings were gone, the stories of our life together couldn’t be taken away. The places he and I had lived, our most personal, intimate spaces, those were not erased entirely. Not in those first months.

After I left our apartment for an interim house, the most tangible intimate space left was my car. The car we drove cross-country, many years before. The car that held endless rambling trips to nowhere. The car we’d driven to the river that day. The car he drove that morning. The car someone else had to drive home.

Four years after he drowned, I was ready to leave where we’d lived. Where we’d spent our entire relationship. The landmarks and familiar places, the streets where I could say: he was here. He was here.

I was moving… on? Forward? Just – elsewhere. Elsewhere is probably the most benign word.

Moving cross-country meant selling my car. It was harder than I’d thought it would be.

Writing without the deeply personal is not the whole story of grief. To give the whole story, to give as many handholds as possible in the steep climb of grief, we need to hear personal stories. Each Friday, I’ll post something from my own experience of grief and love. It’s an inside look at love, at grief, at life. 

This week, a post from just about this time last year, as I packed up, ready to leave the East coast for all new territory.

August, 2013.

Cleaning my car today – more thoroughly than ever in the time it has been mine – getting ready to sell it. Cleaning out the inside, scrubbing off old dirt, I was imagining the kind of ad I might place:

Sweet, much loved car for sale. Most of its miles were earned on adventure: crossing the country from east to west and north to south, piling down dirt roads in search of quiet fishing spots or unmapped hikes. It got a number of its dings going places it wasn’t ~quite~ designed to go, whether down steep river plains in the red lands of Utah, or trying to make a three point turn at the edge of the deep woods.

It has barreled down long farm roads, and pulled over to watch pronghorn antelope. It has sheltered its owners on surprise sub-zero nights when they were supposed to be sleeping in tents. From out of its trunk, it’s offered the makings for tea on the side of the road at sunrise, even when not far from home. It’s safely transported birthday cakes shaped like castles, and trains, and unicorns. It’s carried groceries and seedlings, held countless cups of tea, heard many, many songs belted out by both drivers and passengers.

It has heard so much.

This car has seen more births than deaths, though it has seen them both. It has carried its fair share of raucous laughter, peaceful silence, and screaming cries. It has held it all. And then some: wet dogs, kids being taken to prom, unhappy cats (in carriers). Mundane and ordinary, unique and beautiful.

What I wouldn’t add – what I wouldn’t add:

That I began to cry as I erased your fingerprints and the scuffs from your shoes. I know they’re in there. I’ve never cleaned the car like this, so you are still in there. I found greasy smudges from the dog on the head of the seatbelt cover, and a flood of words and images came back to me: how Boris always wedged his head between the driver’s side headrest and the window when you were driving, wanting to be as close to you as he could, how he’d done this that day, before settling down in the backseat. You said he knew where we were going, and was content to lie down a bit.

He does this now, still – his head between the headrest and the window, but not as much. He is more likely to climb into the passenger seat, laying his head in my lap.

We took this car so many places, you and I. Had countless – and not enough – adventures and road-side tea. We. We. We lived so much in this car, had so much life in here. I can still feel your hand slip under my thigh as you drive, even though I am the only driver now. You drove us to the river that day. Someone else had to drive me home.

This car. This car has seen so much.

And it’s okay to let it go. It doesn’t work for driving cross-country with one big dog and two unhappy cats. Like so many things, once the practical news occurred to me, it became okay to let it go.

But still. But still. Today, at first filled with love for my car I don’t think I’ve ever felt, giggling at how I might write the ad that sells it, adventure story and all, and then filled with so much longing, so much pain and melancholy. It isn’t just a car.

I find myself saying – if you were here, this wouldn’t bother me at all. If you were here, this car would’ve been sold long ago, in favor of your truck and my alleged Vespa.

But a car is not a car, and it is not just dirt I wipe away.

Anyway. This car has a few more adventures left for me, and I must get to them.


How about you? What have you let go of  – whether by choice or not by choice? What stories would one of those things tell? Let us know in the comments, or send me a message. I’d love to hear from you.