Words by Alicja Parlak
By the time I met her, the patina of age had settled around her angular form like a threadbare blanket.
Her skin, once a luxuriant, glossy chocolate, was marred by the history of her adventures: a deep line here, a blemish or two there, and more than her fair share of battle scars.
She took her time rising out of a deep slumber most mornings, her bones creaking in protest. Impatient and ignorant of the trials of old age, I often spoke more harshly to her than I should have.
But this 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier still had plenty of spirit, and she certainly wasn’t above teaching an uppity young girl a lesson or three.
The Chevy came into my life in 1995, as I was starting college. She was eight years old by then and the very first car I could call my own. I didn’t know much about car maintenance back then, and, I was soon to learn, neither did the previous owner; the Cavalier was aged far beyond her years.
Lesson 1: Be prepared.
On an unusually hot late-September day, as I pulled out of the school parking lot, the rearview mirror suddenly landed in my lap. Thinking quickly, I shoved about six pieces of pink bubblegum in my mouth and chewed furiously, my cheeks bulging like a chipmunk’s. I stuck the gum to the windshield and pressed the mirror against it. It held for a few triumphant seconds after I removed my hand, then tumbled straight back down into my lap. Out of ideas, I finally drove home steering with my left hand, holding the rearview in place with my right. And I learned that, although you can’t anticipate everything, going into any situation well prepared will allow you to handle the unexpected with confidence. I also stocked my trunk with tools, an emergency kit and a roll of duct tape.
Lesson 2: Learn to let go.
The Chevy’s paint had faded down to an uneven rotted plum colour in places, but a rebellious pink streak across her hood gave some indication as to her temperament. One day in July, she somehow lost the ability to make right turns. I could still drive straight ahead, but I could only turn left. No matter how blue my language, or how pitiful my begging, this old gal was determined to explore the open road on her terms. And explore we did! I discovered the hidden gems of my old Etobicoke neighbourhood, finding charming shops, out-of-the-way diners and majestic parks. I spent many a kilometre driving with the windows down, enjoying the green blur of trees whizzing by, hearing snippets of laughter on the playgrounds, and catching the smell of freshly cut grass on the wind. I learned to let go of my shyness, and met interesting new people whenever I stopped to ask for directions (no right turns, please). Most importantly, left turn after left turn, I learned that you can’t control every single thing in life. Sometimes, you have to let go, enjoy the ride and trust that you’ll end up exactly where you need to be.
Lesson 3: Never let fear get in your way.
As the years wore on, my Chevy wore down. She hacked and sputtered trying to get started in the morning. Rust spread through her body like a cancer, making her weaker each day. Every trip had the potential for disaster. I was driving in the centre lane of the 401 one afternoon, when my world suddenly went black. Well, actually, it went brown. The hood had popped open, and the speed I was travelling at ensured it stayed that way. I knew if I let my fear take over, I would suddenly slam on the brakes, and cause a crash. Taking a deep breath, I flicked on my hazard lights and gently started to slow down, silently praying that the other drivers would notice my predicament and stay out of the way. After what felt like an eternity, the hood slammed back down with a thud, and I was able to pull the Chevy off onto the shoulder. By the time she spun me in endless slow motion circles, across three lanes of traffic, on her bald tires, or shot plumes of smoke out from under her hood, my nerves were forged in steel. I learned that no matter how scared you are, if you focus on your goals and move forward with purpose, you can accomplish anything.
Four years into our studies, my wise old teacher decided that she had taught her last lesson. She knew I was finally ready to face the open road without her. Unexpectedly, as was her way, she left me in the middle of an intersection, during – what else – a left turn.
Lead image courtesy of www.cardomain.com