This week, Rae Ellis, a senior at Woodstock Union High School, writes about losing her friend, a well-used, trusted Volvo station wagon which has been relegated to the scrap heap, clipping her wings and soul in the process. Rae's piece is one of hundreds posted each week at youngwritersproject.org, a civil, online teen writing community.
Yesterday afternoon, I had to visit the remains of my Volvo named Kuzco. I knew he'd been totaled, but since I was not the one to crash him, I had yet to process that he was actually hurt - that somewhere out there was a Volvo with serious damage. But then, there he was. Several tons of butchered metal, with his hood tied in knots and no bumper. The mangled corpse of a 2000 silver wagon. The tears came before I knew what I was looking at.
I have always been someone who feels most at peace when I am in motion. Silence and stillness make me feel empty, but when I am navigating back roads or coasting down the highway, I can't be alone because I'm free. I can't feel abandoned or sad because I am controlling my own actions, running my own time. At any moment I could choose to slam on the breaks, take a U-turn or just drive right past my destination without stopping. I am the master of everything laid out before me, and in my life this is not a frequent sentiment.
This is what Kuzco meant to me. Freedom. Space. Sky. Future. When he first came into my possession, I had a reputation for my somewhat questionable driving, and most people thought I shouldn't be trusted with another vehicle. He never doubted me for a minute. He was used, experienced and savvy, and he knew that there was nothing I could do to hurt him that he couldn't throw right back. It was winter, and the two of us guided each other over countless icy slopes and through dozens of treacherous snowstorms. He stuck to the roads I told him to travel. He kept me safe and warm in my independence. We made a deal from the beginning to trust each other and kept it.
That spring, I dated a boy who often kept me waiting on him, molding my already busy schedule around his. But I never waited alone. As I sat in silence outside the boy's house, or cruised aimlessly around town to kill time, I could always feel Kuzco's presence. He didn't judge, but he worried. He didn't want me driving just to drive; he wanted to help me get places. He didn't like going in circles. He didn't like tears on his steering wheel. Kuzco wanted to know that I was using my freedom to truly be free, and not to adjust to someone else's free will.
In May, my brother spent some time in the hospital, and I was absent from my life. When I sat in class I stared at walls, and when I stood onstage I could feel myself about to take flight or evaporate. Every day after school, I drove to my sacred place, lay on top of Kuzco and cried. I couldn't be with people because I couldn't stand the thought of adjusting my grief to fit their needs. I couldn't go home, because the idleness would make me feel useless in a time when I should have been doing something. But I could be under the sky, and feel the metal roof warming in the early summer sun. I could feel the hum of the engine beneath me and let it recharge my spirit. I could pass the time this way, one day after the next, step by step with my car.
I didn't want to go to Prom. My mother flitted about me that night with makeup and a curling iron, trying to ignite me with the same teenage team spirit that I'm sure she'd had in her youth. But with each lock of limp hair that she twisted, she became more impatient at my lack of enthusiasm. I asked if I could please not go, please not attend this inane ritual with my far too excited friends and far too absent boyfriend. My mother took this as ingratitude towards her, threw her hands in the air in exasperation and left me with half a head of curls. I shrugged, washed my hair out, and grabbed my far too expensive dress and Kuzco's keys. With each mile we drove, I felt the need to go slower, to put off the photo shoots and bad music as long as possible. Halfway to town, I suddenly felt something odd beneath me. Kuzco was slowing, but I had a half tank of gas left. Pulling over, I saw that the front left tire had popped. Call me crazy, but this was his gift to me. His challenge. His way of saying, "If you really don't want to go, then don't go." He left me with no transportation and no cell service for miles, and by the time I got to my friend's house, I'd missed over an hour of photos.
In July, I was the counselor of an elementary school theatre camp, and as the oldest kid there I was given an appalling amount of responsibilities. On the day of the show, I found myself handling about a million jobs; I was making costumes, running lines, doing makeup, setting props and even offering more obscure services like dental advice. In the middle of the busy day, there was one kid who approached me like all the others. He wore a baseball cap with a sequined headband around it for the play, and his hand was wrapped in paper towel. "Rae, could you maybe take me to the hospital?" he asked shakily. Beneath the towel was a deep cut on his palm, the work of an Exacto knife. I was the only kid there in possession of a car, and our director had to stay to supervise the kids. Glancing at the clock, I realized that in order to get him to the hospital and get back in time for the show, I would need to go about double the speed limit through town, where there are always police. Needless to say, Kuzco was up to it. I generally try to avoid speeding because of my reckless history, but this was a desperate measure. We took little shortcuts the whole way there, and pulled up to the ER with a minute to spare. No cops sighted. As the boy clambered out of my passenger seat, he tore off the sequined headband and threw it on my floor so as not to embarrass himself in the hospital. I proudly hung it from my rear view mirror, a medal for my brilliant car.
We lived this way, the two of us. Daring each other to try harder. I pushed him through weather that he shouldn't have been able to face, and he challenged me to be freer. To relish in my aloneness. For a year and a half, that Volvo got me through my life. He stood by me through every bad song I had to sing along to, and every 6 a.m. practice I just couldn't blow off. I know that in high school, every person's car is his or her haven, because we have finally been blessed with our wings, and we don't take this lightly. We cherish the responsibility of filling up the tank every week, and scraping ice off the windshield each winter morning. I know that in the high school parking lot, every single one of those cars means something.
But I don't know them all. I knew him, Kuzco. I knew what it felt like when his brakes gave out, and I knew the satisfaction when they worked again. I knew which lights meant what, and which ones meant nothing at all. I knew the roads he could scale, and the banks he would slide down in an instant. And he similarly knew which 90s tunes I couldn't resist, which tea belonged in the cup-holder, and which streets we would stay on all night. He watched me make mistakes, and watched me hurt. I named him after a Disney character when I should have named him after a philosopher or an astronaut. He was more than I'd ever expected. He was loyal, and I know it's probably silly, but it kills me that I never got to say goodbye. We had a deal to trust each other with our lives, and as ridiculous as this sounds, it kills me that in his final moments on the road, someone else was behind his wheel.
Clearing my things out of Kuzco, I found that for someone who lives out of a car, a surprising amount of my things were complete garbage. I filled several bags with trash, and one with things I needed to keep, and when I sat in the drivers seat for the last time, I took the silver headband which still hung from the mirror, leaving dancing spots of light on the dashboard. I wear it around my wrist now, for him, that beautiful wonderful car that never abandoned me. The two of us never believed in much except the glorious road that stretched out in front of us, but he never lost faith in me. This is for my faith in him.