I returned from my week-long trip to California late on Friday night, exhausted but satisfied that I’d done my best on my visit to support my family, and managed to also make time to spend with friends. Being there stirred up a lot of memories of Ken, of living there with him, and of our last visit there together in 2009. But I did my best to remain in the moment and to try to look forward–for myself and for a family mourning the loss of another family member.
I slept late on Saturday and after a quick instant message conversation with my sister Shelli (who gave me the idea), I decided to head to my folks in Indiana later that day to spend some time with them before the rest of the family descended for Easter. I planned to head out after running some errands, but a monkey wrench was thrown into the works when I hopped gleefully into my car from returning something at Best Buy, turned the key, and was greeted by an until-then-unseen flashing red icon:
After turning off the car and flipping furiously through the owner’s manual, I found it meant “Hybrid System Warning Light.” My only option was to contact the dealer, who couldn’t offer any input without looking at it–including whether I could drive it or not without damaging it further. I made it safely home, but it was late afternoon on Saturday and waiting for a tow truck would have eaten up the rest of the day and prevented me from renting a car and heading down to my folks–which is what I did after talking with them on the phone.
Even before having it towed in on Monday morning I couldn’t stop thinking about the Prius which Ken named Gypsy from the GPS system voice. I had to consider what the maximum amount I could pay to have it repaired–if it was repairable at all. And as I considered it, the number kept going up. Though I wasn’t sure what I’d do if the car were irreparable. I’d lived in Chicago before meeting Ken without a car for ten years. It used to be one of the best examples of what I loved best about living in this incredible city. But somehow, I felt differently now.
When they called me to let me know what the problem was (the hybrid battery was bad and would need to be replaced) I didn’t have to think about it too hard to authorize it, mistake or not for a ten-year-old car. When they called me to let me know it was done, I couldn’t get there fast enough. The sense of relief I felt when I walked in to pay, and saw it sitting outside the door was akin to coming home from a nervous night out, leaving my baby with a first-time babysitter.
After readjusting the mirrors and seat and pulling out of the dealership, my eyes welled up and I ended up blubbering half way home. It was during the deluge of tears that it all came flooding to me, and should have been obvious to me all the while. This is far more than a car to me. It’s an extension of Ken and a life I loved with him. Only a month after we moved to Los Angeles, it was our first major purchase together. It’s a car that Ken was so proud of having. In 2002, hybrids were new. I know I’d never heard of it before, but he’d done lots of research. (After telling my father-in-law about it, he got a skeptical “good luck with that”, but years later a Prius is what my in laws decide to purchase. Coincidence?)
It carried two hand-holding lovers and briny, tired Chow Chow home from a day at the beach. It contained the laughter created by two uncles and two nephews on a trip to Disney Land. It took us to camping adventures, dinners with friends, family holidays, and a cross-country move. Living in LA, we spent a lot of time in this car. And now that Ken is gone and my life is different, I love spending time in it as well. Not having it today was an odd feeling, even though the “L” is only a block away. I felt trapped. And a little gypped being gypsyless.
“No more change,” I told my mom on the phone as I explained my rationale for having my decade old car repaired. But I realize it wasn’t all of it. It wasn’t just that I didn’t want change, I didn’t want anything else to be taken away from me–especially something with such deep emotional value. It was connected to Ken, and if I’d said “no” to the battery replacement, the car would have been done. Finished. I was able to make a decision that “saved” the car–something I couldn’t do for Ken. And I know it’s not the same thing, but it did feel empowering regardless of how ridiculous it sounds.
Since he stopped driving it on a daily basis more than a year ago I have yet to change anything it. The body spray he kept in the console is still in there, and I a reminded of his scent every time I open it. When I opened the glove box to get the owner’s manual out the other day I saw his ancient iPod in there.
The teary-eyed drive home from the dealership was a trip down memory lane. The Sponge Bob floor matts our friend Mindy gave Ken on his 40th birthday were a favorite adornment for him. They still smile up at me:
Ever the “do-er”, he created an extender for the driver’s blind with a file folder and some tape. It would never occur to me to remove it because it comes in handy almost daily:
Even the leash we used to take Quantum into the vet’s office is still tucked into the pouch behind the front seat:
Knowing my obsession with “Knots Landing”, he named our home location on the navigation system:
Welcome home, Gypsy. I hope to keep safe and working as long as I possibly can.