A few years ago, my husband was in a minor fender-bender that totaled his car. He was unharmed and the car was old, so truth be told, the accident was actually a relief. It finally gave us the excuse to upgrade to a truck.
I always intended to write something sentimental when the day finally came to bid that car farewell. It was such a big part of our early life together – the most romantic memories of our relationship are somehow connected to that little two-door Honda Civic.
But when the ordeal finally happened, I was silent. My husband and I had had a big fight. Not that day. Not even that week. It had actually been quite a long time since the fateful argument. But as we all know, arguments are rated on a scale. Some end within minutes. Others take years – not before forgiveness (hopefully), but before everyday moments stop making the irreversible decisions so obvious, a consistent reminder of what was said, as if your life were on some cruel time loop.
When it came time to eulogize the car that had taken us on our first date and driven us from the wedding chapel, I wasn’t really in a place to take a romantic stroll down memory lane.
Life continued and was mostly good. In vulnerable moments, the same argument popped out of dormancy. But eventually, time always makes the needle move, and we were forced around a bend that at least kinda-sorta resembled moving on and letting go.
John and I switched garages last summer. We have two single-stalls in our rural yard and didn’t properly think through which one should be “His” vs “Hers” when we first bought the property. If we’d fully anticipated the amount of work switching would be, we may have decided to just be content. As it was, our yard spent an embarrassing number of days looking like a tornado dump site as we emptied both buildings in order to rearrange.
Like so many middle-class folks, John’s garage isn’t really about protecting his vehicle. Instead, he uses it as a wood shop. Even after we’d finished moving all his equipment over, it took him nearly another month to get fully organized and set up. When it comes to his beloved shop, John is pickier than a homemaker with a Pinterest account.
I have to admit, it looks pretty cool. His squat rack and freeweights are tucked in the back corner. Mismatched, homemade workbenches run along one wall. The opposite wall is lined with his large standing tools – saws, a surface planer, and the like. In the center of the floor, his lathe sits like a kitchen island. Extra wood is stacked in the rafters, with clamps and assorted hooks hanging down for easy access. He’s decorated – if I dare call it that – with old, sentimental items – what this great Miranda Lambert songs affectionately calls “old sh!t.” There are broadswords he made at the age of 12 that he and his brother used to fight with. A boxy, 1970s panasonic radio that once sat in his grandpa’s shop. A cleaned deer skull from a recent successful hunting season. A copper-plate print of a half-mechanical man that his brother made him while in art school. And tacked on the wall above one workbench are the old license plates from his first car – the same one he drove when I met him. The one I never got to fully say goodbye to.
I go out to John’s sanctuary fairly often. Our chest freezer is out there, so sometimes it’s just to grab a pound of beef or frozen pizza. Other times, I wait for our son to fall asleep, then head out with a coat and baby monitor to sit in a chair and watch John work. The meditative scraping of a blade against wood provides a relaxing backdrop. Sometimes we talk, other times I just listen to the intellectual voices of whatever latest podcast has his attention. Each time I go out there, though, those old license plates wink down at me from their lofty perch.
There are so many moments where that Honda Civic was in the background. Its headlights had a front row seat to some of my most cherished memories. Mining those memories would have made for a great essay. So now those license plates make me think of missed opportunities instead of road trips and make-out sessions.
I tried to go back and write an essay about his car anyway. Better late than never, right? The problem is, I have never been very good at re-do’s. Once the inspiration is gone – or the timing has been missed – I never experience it the same way again. John and I are similar-yet-different in that regard. We are both decisive people, but with opposite attitudes. John is an optimist. He makes each choice assuming everything will work out in the end. Mistakes happen, but not without opportunity to correct. Then there is me, who sees little gain in taking a second pass on ground that’s already been plowed.
Lately, John and I have been discussing disappointments and failed goals. What decisions have we made over the last few years that got in the way of previous expectations? Truth is, we lost a lot more from our “Big Fight” (and the many other arguments that happen in marriage) than a sappy blog post that only my Facebook friends would have read, anyway. And it’s not only about fighting; it isn’t just negative choices that come with a cost. Where would be today if we’d taken This Job vs. That One? If we’d had kids at an alternate time? Bought a different house? It can be overwhelming if you dissect your life with too high a magnification.
After examining our past dreams, there are some we decided to pull from the rubble and others that we’ve grown beyond anyway. We are trying to have an attitude that reflects the best parts of our respective personalities. To not write anything off just because it didn’t happen how we originally imaged. To treat life with the hope and freedom that comes from writing in pencil. But to also be people sober-minded enough to feel the weight of each decision. To allow ourselves to feel consequences and make sacrifices so we can fully appreciate the end result.
The Honda Civic was a good car. Perhaps not as safe as a 4-wheel-drive or as comfortable as anything even slightly bigger. But that is what made the memories so entertaining. It would have been fun to write about the adventures in that car, but I don’t want to resurrect that particular idea. Perhaps moribund, I actually like feeling its ghost hover in my computer screen. I will go back and hit “re-do” on other, more important things; with those, I will let go of my propensity to wallow and try take a few pages from my husband’s playbook. But this missed moment is mine to ponder and regret and use as a cautious metaphor.