Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Sometime in the very near future I am going to have to say goodbye. Parting ways is always a difficult task for me and I have been awaiting this time for several years now. In fact, I can't believe this specific goodbye didn't take place in 2008. What am I saying goodbye to? If you have read my book you may know that if I start a writing out like this it usually involves a pet, but today I am talking about my 1995 Nissan Maxima.

This car wasn't my true first car, but it was the first car I had to pay for and my 1983 Mazda 626 I first owned was more of an annoyance so in my heart this car is my first true car.

The car didn't start out as my own as my mom owned it before me. One of my first solo driving experiences came in this car when, in 1998, with learner's permit in hand I drove around the small town of Gordon, Nebraska. I didn't drive for long, and of course my mom was seated beside me, but I felt alive and on top of the world. Freedom had a new meaning and I loved it.

A couple years later while I was suffering through the 626 Emily proposed that I buy her brother's car. My dad did so, but on the same day my mom bought a new car and proposed that I buy her Maxima. I did so and in a way I felt like a little tycoon with my three cars, but quickly I went down to just owning one.

In a way my life as I know it started out in that black Maxima. I had my first car trip to an unknown place in 2002 as I drove to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin to meet a Star Mazda team. Before this I had never driven anywhere far except the familiar road between Saint Louis and Indianapolis. At this point in time I was not diagnosed, but nonetheless my dad kept telling me that he was, "so proud of me" for being able to drive up to that track. I don't know what the big deal was as I found it easy, relaxing, and a reminder of how great and special the world is. I instantly picked up the trait of loving long road trips by myself.

My Maxima was with me in 2003 when I lived in Las Vegas for a month as I was an instructor at the Derek Daly Academy. The drive out to Vegas is something I will never forget and I hope to make the road trip again someday. If there was ever a time that I grew as a person and challenged myself it was on that trip and my Maxima was with me the entire way.

A couple months after Vegas I was in Florida and the first realization that I may be on the autism spectrum occurred. I was seated behind the wheel and saw three friends or brothers just goofing off playing keep away with a hat and they were laughing and having an amazing time. I was talking to my dad on the phone and I broke down as it all made sense as I realized I never had, nor probably never will, be able to have that sort of "let loose and have fun" as they were having.

So many of my stories that are in my books took place in that car. I can still remember the final time Emily rode in the passenger seat and the time I drove to Washington D.C. in 2003.

During the time I have had the car the only thing I have had replaced were the brakes. This is a very good thing because for many of the years between when I got it and now I didn't have a job. In a way I am lucky I got this car as when my mom owned it she somehow managed to blow the motor and catch it on fire. As I would find out this car has a "never say die" attitude.

I truly believe my car saved my life. As I wrote last year I hit a horse with my car. If the "A" post would have failed you probably never would have known about me. It was this instance that I thought I would have to say goodbye to my car and was one of the reasons, along with the glass shards sticking out of my scalp and hands, that I had tears in my eyes. Amazingly though with a new hood and new windshield the car drove just like it did before the meeting with the horse.

My car was with me in 2009 as I went to the Indianapolis 500 by myself for the first time, then drove to my aunt's house, and then drove to New York City to have a meeting at Autism Speaks. It was this trip that finalized the foundation to make my passion raising autism awareness and understanding.

I don't know how I am going to do it. How am I going to be able to say goodbye to this vehicle? Over the course of the time I have owned this car the person who I was and the person I am now is probably almost unrecognizable. Through my travels in that wonderful car I am who I am today. How can I say goodbye to that?

Three days ago as I was headed to the office on I-64 my vehicle just turned off while traveling 50mph. This is a bad thing when power steering goes away and the brake pedal becomes as hard as a 10 ton boulder to move. After that experience every time I come to a complete stop my vehicle just turns off. With each time this has happened it has become harder and harder to restart. A mechanic over the phone said it sounds like a clogged catalytic converter (I used to pronounce this a, "Cadillac converter"). This is not cheap repair, and also the right front UV joint is going, it needs new struts, the recent ice storm managed to damage the driver side windshield wiper, and it needs an oil change. The amount in repairs is probably triple the value of the car.

Still though, how can I say goodbye to the vehicle that saw me through the darkest times of my life, but was also there as the light at the end of the tunnel was reached? I don't know how I am going to be able to. In a way this is harder than when I had to say goodbye to my pets as their bodies failed them. I know my car is just a collection of parts and doesn't have a mind, soul, or alive, but in a way it does. I don't know if it is my associative memory system, but my car is more than just a car. It is the collection of all the memories I have experienced on the many miles I have traveled. It represents the darkest of times, and the brightest of times.

But its time is running short. I realize my next drive in that car may very well be my final drive in it. Where will it go? I don't know. One person is interested in buying it, but wherever it may go it will be gone. When I was four and my dad got a new van I cried for hours over the loss of van he used to own. That was then and there were minimal memories in that van, but this car I own now has a decade worth of memories.

Maybe this is an experience everyone must go through; that of being saying goodbye to one's first vehicle. I don't know how other people handle it, and maybe it is a non-event as again, there is no soul or life in a vehicle, but for me this car is more than a car. Maybe it does have a soul, but it is the soul of all the places I have been and people I have known.

Yes, my next drive in it will probably be my final drive. It may me a mile, may be five miles, but my time with that wonderful car is about over. It was a great car and I almost feel guilty for having to say goodbye, but maybe this is one of those life milestones that makes us grow as a person.