I wasn’t expecting very much when my parents drove me to the parking lot of my dad’s company on an insignificant day in the middle of June. I thought maybe my dad had forgotten a project he had to finish, or he’d left his briefcase there or something. So when we pulled in right alongside a beat-up Buick Le Sabre with patches of rust all over the body, I wasn’t really thinking anything other than, “I wonder who let THAT happen.”
But people always surprise you, even parents who tell you that they would never in a million years buy you a car. That 15-year-old beater came home with us that day. It needed work, of course, considering its age, but my dad told me that as soon as he was done, I could have it. Not astoundingly, I was overjoyed. It was every sixteen-year-old’s dream to have a car of their very own. I certainly didn’t care what it looked like, or that it smelled a tiny bit like cigarette smoke, or that it had perfect little cylindrical holes in the seats, or even that the A/C didn’t work. It was a car, and more than that, it was my car.
I don’t know if I had ever been so dedicated to anything in my life. Instead of going out with my friends the following Saturday, I stayed at home cleaning the car. I vacuumed the interior, shook out the rugs, scoured the windows, scraped tar off the dashboard, and even tried to take off some of the rust. I had a few mishaps; while trying to scrape the rusty bottom with a broom, I accidentally punched a hole through the entire panel. But I worked, without a break, until it was too dark to continue.
My car became a part of me. Vladimir, as I called him, became not only a tool of my independence, but a fortress of solitude in which I could lock my doors to the rest of the world. I explored new places without having to leave behind the familiar, venturing far beyond where I had ever dared to go alone. In the comfort and solace of the front seat I was free to emote as I wished, screaming in celebration or sobbing in disappointment, separate from the eyes of any others. And somehow, he always seemed to understand what I was feeling, keeping his headlights pinned on the horizon, reminding me to find assurance in what lay ahead. I began to rely on him not only for transportation, but for friendship. He was loyal and dependable, honest and helpful. His presence in my driveway was like the constant presence of an old friend.
However, Vladimir was aging every day; rusting, cracking, squeaking, faltering, breaking. The strength and invincibility I used to feel within his walls started to be replaced with panic and frustration. On the day he died, I stood in the dusty parking lot for hours, attaching and reattaching jumper cables, trying uselessly with everything I had to coax him to come back to me. And at that moment, it hit me: that I had put all my faith and trust in something inanimate, fallible, and unreliable. As much as I had convinced myself of all Vladimir had taught me, in reality I had made my own adventures and judgments, as I could have done with or without him. He was only a vehicle in which I had traveled; everything else that I had made him was my own imagination and wishful thinking. He did not have magic powers, and he was not in tune with my emotions. He wasn’t even a he. I had not lost a friend. All I had lost was a broken 15-year-old beater car with patches of rust all over the body.
Two weeks later, my dad fixed Vladimir, and now he runs as well as he ever did. But I no longer rely on him for all that I used to. I have friends I can call when I need to scream in celebration or sob in disappointment, and they assure me better than just some high-beam headlights. And I still go on adventures, but I know he’s not driving me anywhere. I’m the one driving, I’m behind the wheel, and I get to take charge: I can steer him anywhere I want to go.