You Can Tell a lot about a Man by the Car He Drives

“And there were very likely people who thought one could not interpret men’s feelings by the cars they drove.

But when they moved onto the street, Ove drove a Saab 96 and Rune a Volvo 244. After the accident Ove bought a Saab 95 so he’d have space for Sonja’s wheelchair. That same year Rune bought a Volvo 245 to have space for a stroller. Three years later Sonja got a more modern wheelchair and Ove bought a hatchback, a Saab 900. Rune bought a Volvo 265 because Anita had started talking about having another child.

Then Ove bought two more Saab 900s and after that his first Saab 9000. Rune bought a Volvo 265 and eventually a Volvo 745 station wagon. But no more children came. One evening, Sonja came home and told Ove that Anita had been to the doctor.

And a week later a Volvo 740 stood parked in Rune’s garage. The sedan model.

Ove saw it when he washed his Saab. In the evening Rune found a half bottle of whiskey outside his door. They never spoke about it.

Maybe their sorrow over children that never came should have brought the two men closer. But sorrow is unreliable in that way. When people don’t share it there’s a good chance that it will drive them apart instead.

Maybe Ove never forgave Rune for having a son who he could not even get along with. Maybe Rune never forgave Ove for not being able to forgive him for it. Maybe neither of them forgave themselves for not being able to give the women they loved more than anything what they wanted more than anything. Rune and Anita’s lad grew up and cleared out of home as soon as he got the chance. And Rune went and bought a sporty BMW, one of those cars that only has space for two people and a handbag. Because now it was only him and Anita, as he told Sonja when they met in the parking area. ‘And one can’t drive a Volvo all of one’s life,’ he said with an attempt at a halfhearted smile. She could hear that he was trying to swallow his tears. And that was the moment when Ove realized that a part of Rune had given up forever. And for that maybe neither Ove nor Rune forgave him.

So there were certainly people who thought that feelings could not be judged by looking at cars. But they were wrong.”

– from A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

The Song of My Saab

A plaintive cry from the garage

You, me, a curve in the road

The whine of the turbo

The rush of air

The wah-wah-wah of some part of the suspension needing attention

The bing of left low beam failure

The ding of airbag malfunction

Hit the clear button and drop it into gear

The mechanic can wait until tomorrow

Tonight is for the sheer joy of driving

Too Much Stimuli

Anxiety = Distraction = Stupidity

That’s usually the formula when I get super-stressed.

Nearing the end of my pregnancy with Julia and a hectic school year, I rushed from my teaching duties to get Bella at daycare.  A tractor-trailer truck making a delivery pulled off the road just enough to make me think in my altered state of mind that I could squeeze through, but not enough for me to actually do so.  My side-view mirror thwacked against the bottom corner of the loading shelf at the back of the truck, leaving an ugly black gash.  The truck was none the wiser, my little car a gnat flying by in great, stupid haste.

A year or two later when I was stay-at-home mom leaving the house solo for the first time for an extended period of days for a writing institute, the mornings were harried to say the least.  I zipped to the adjacent capital city and through the busy streets, late of course.  On one particularly narrow street always lined with cars, I again misjudged my time/space continuum and thwacked that poor mirror.  I’m surprised that poor thing hasn’t just shriveled up and fallen off the car in protest (though the automatic adjusters are not quite as precise anymore).  Perhaps it would have if it’d happened a third time.

Luckily, it didn’t.  This morning, it was almost the front end of the car that got it.  And it was not an inert object on the other end of the deal.  Fortunately – for the mirror, the car, and my marriage – all that occurred were many angry faces directed at me through two windshields worth of glass.

What is it about anxiety that makes my mind go elsewhere?

Postpartum, it was intrusive, irrational thoughts that invaded my consciousness.  My thoughts are no longer reaching those levels of irrationality, but the fact that they’re more ‘normal’ is almost worse.  It’s easier for the distractability to fly under the radar until it’s nearly overwhelming, until it’s almost too late.

Except for the moments when I freakishly self-aware.  The moments when I can feel my thoughts spinning out of control; an energy boiling up under my skin threatening to force its way out and roll on down the street; my mind grasping for one singular thing to hold onto and coming up empty.  At those moments, it’s like I’m at the center of a maelstrom of thoughts, worries, ideas swirling around me with no one stationary object to use as a marker.

Planning meals for the week and writing a grocery list?  Choosing which household chore to do first in the limited amount of time before the kids get home from school?  Prepping the house for a realtor’s evaluation?  Aaahh!  I’m supposed to prioritize in this state of mind?  Choose from myriad options and lists of items?  No wonder I drive into things.  I’m driven to distraction.  Unfortunately the next stop is stupidity.

I must get a grip – maybe it just shouldn’t be on the steering wheel till this storm passes.


Escape Has Been Compromised

I’ve spoken before about the nostalgia and melancholy with which I think of the sedan I once drove daily, but which has been consigned to the driveway due to passenger limitations.  My escape vehicle.

When my husband and I bought the car, a Saab 9-3, we asked a mechanic friend for his take on the vehicle.  He told us it was an electrical nightmare.  But I’d grown up hearing stories my father had told with misty eyes about his own Saabs, “you know, the cars we owned before we had you.”  I’d heard the wonders of heated seats with cooled air coming through the vents, uncompromising safety, and cool design.  And they were born from jets, for goodness sake!  What more could one want?  I fired back at our friend the mechanic, who went on to bust me that I just wanted it for the prestige, “our baby will be sitting in the lap of safety!”  Granted, we didn’t have babies, yet.  But when we started our family within the next few years, our vehicle would be up to snuff with the latest safety standards.

We had no worries when Baby # 1 arrived.  Then we had to install the car seat.  Placed in the middle of the backseat, rear-facing, to ensure her ultimate safety, we cracked our heads times innumerable as we bent down to click the infant carrier into the base.  When my belly swelled enough with Baby # 2 to make wedging myself into the backseat to strap her into her now convertible seat nearly impossible and very uncomfortable, we moved it directly behind the driver’s seat.  Soon, we had another seat behind the passenger seat, too.

That’s when my husband started car shopping.  His car, a Jeep Cherokee so old it actually looked like one, was rusting apart on the road.  The girls loved riding in it because they bounced all around the back seat, but even my husband, an off-roading enthusiast, was getting nervous.  He wanted air bags and latch-capability.  He wanted more space.  He did not want a mini-van.  Neither did I – really.  I wanted one when I sat inside it, flipped and folded the seats, slid the doors open.  But when I stood back and looked at the thing, ugh.  I was out-voted anyway.  He decided on a Ford Flex, at the time, a brand-new vehicle from Ford.  We got one with captains’ chairs in the second row, allowing for a pass-through to the third row, where we could put our oldest who was now more self-sufficient, should we need a third seat in the future, you know?

You know how people say the more money you have, the more you spend?  Well, apparently the same goes for cars; the more seats you have, the more kids you will have to fill them.  The Flex hadn’t even lost the new car smell before we found out Baby # 3 was on the way.  Good thing we opted for the family car.

I was ambivalent.  Three kids needing three car seats meant that the mommy who was home with them all day would be driving the RV-like vehicle all the time.  No more Saabie.  When I did drive it, I was filled with such an overwhelming sense of loss – loss of freedom, of my personal desires, of my tastes.  Because I was no longer driving it wherever and whenever I wanted.  Because I very rarely went out by myself anymore.  Because it was cool – and now life wasn’t always such.

The Saab is a five-speed manual.  It has a sunroof.  It has bucket seats in leather.  It is low-slung and hugs the corners.  The Flex is automatic.  It is has cloth seats that sit so high I feel as if I’m suspended above the road.  It is a tank.  Now, in deference to my husband, it is cooler than a mini-van.  It’s got a cool, retro beach-wagon vibe that sets it apart from other vehicles on the road.  It is beautiful and certainly has get-up and go.  But it does not inspire in me a feeling synonymous with winding down a tree-lined road curving into oblivion.

However, that may be a thing of the past as well.  In response to rising gas prices and only two girls needing daily transportation for the most part, we bought an additional car seat for the Saab.  Today was the first day I tried out this new arrangement.  I honestly thought I’d like it because I’d be able to run the Saab about more often and not chance the battery dying or the brakes rusting together.  Plus, I love driving it.

But after looking down on the road from my perch in the Flex, I suddenly felt very small.  The cockpit that always fit me like a glove suddenly felt tight.  I felt claustrophobic as I ducked into the backseat to avoid the rain and fasten the kids’ seat belts.  Little feet could reach the back of my seat and little hands could reach the window and door handles.  Worst of all, my calm had been jettisoned out the window.  That which I usually try to escape had stowed away in the backseat.

Escape has been compromised.

I do have a road trip planned this weekend, though, so we’ll see if I can reclaim some of the former glory of the Saab.  Take-off is scheduled for 7 AM Saturday.  No delays are anticipated.

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