I have dreams on occasion, and often they feature a recurring theme: my first car. It was nothing sexy or memorable – a little station wagon with no radio, airbags, AC or anything at all, frankly. A stripped down little import wagon that my Grandfather had picked up new in the early 80’s. It had ended up in our family after being passed around a few times between aunts and uncles who didn’t really want it.
I had it for about 3 years. It would go through bouts of running rough or needing a repair here and there. I did all the work on it myself, taking care of it as best I was able (for a teenager with minimal income) knowing full well that it was the only rig I had. It represented freedom – something I valued a lot as a teen. This little car was a best friend to me.
There came a day where I was impatient and filled the radiator (which had been leaking) with water instead of anti-freeze. An overnight freeze came and destroyed the engine. It was traumatic. I wanted nothing more than to bring my friend back to life. For my graduation present, I asked my parents for a new motor. I would replace it myself. 2 years of auto mechanics in school had taught me everything I needed to know to pull it off. So, they ordered me a replacement engine. But not a new or even rebuilt one – but rather one that had sat in a junk yard in Japan somewhere for a very long time. When it arrived, strapped to a palette – it looked horrible. Dirt, rust and dried oil everywhere.
I again was impatient. Despite recommendations by the shipper and mechanics, I refused to tear the engine down to see what the insides looked like. Months went into installing it into my little wagon. When I cranked it over the first time, it ran. It sounded really good, too. But there was a problem – it was burning oil and smoking profusely out the tailpipe. It didn’t stop. I tried everything. I even took it to a mechanic who sat on it for weeks until telling me there wasn’t anything they could do. The rings were likely seized and that would require tearing the engine down to fix. I didn’t have that kind of money or patience.
We towed it home and parked it outside. It sat there a long time. I finally sold it for $250 knowing that whomever bought it had a huge project ahead of them. I shed a few tears watching the new owners drive it off, smoking like a bandit. I had already replaced her a few months before with a different car.
So, my wagon – my friend – appears in my dreams regularly. She’s always been there, just waiting for me to find her in the garage and say – ‘Oh! There you area, let’s go for a drive like old times!’ In my dreams, I’ve grown older, but she hasn’t. I hadn’t been impatient with her and treated her poorly. She still runs like the old days and even challenges me to race her around the various neighborhoods I grew up in. I can even hear what that little old motor sounded like and the whining transmission it was strapped to in these dreams.
But, the dreams all end the same – she disappears moments before I wake up and I can’t find her. I wake up sad. I lost my friend again. All I have is her ignition key in my hand.
It’s a constant reminder to not allow my impatience get the best of me. The pain of a preventable loss is one that can haunt a person. I haven’t quite figured out how to find peace with my old friend who is gone. It’s been 20 years and I can still count on this dream at least once a week.