Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beloved Betsy: Road Trips, Driver's Ed, and Labor Coach

Betsy, My Man's classy 1998 Acura Integra, got stripped, humiliated, and in the end the guilt, like rotten egg, could be found on my face. Obviously, I didn't intentionally enable the theives who hoisted her up on Matthew's car jack late one night and robbed her of everything they could remove quickly. Still, I had my opportunity to stop them and I squandered it.

It taught me a lesson, though. Now I bug the police about silly stuff just to be on the safe side - "uh, yes...I would like to report a vehicle that's been blocking my mailbox for twenty minutes. It's very suspicious..."

Once Betsy came home to us from the repair shop, pieced back together with new factory parts - her old self only shinier, she played a major part in our lives for six more years. She made multiple trips to Albuquerque with us while Matthew's Kiss CDs blared from her stereo, and I marveled at the barren land that is west Texas between chapters in my book. She was hitched behind a moving truck when we made the long uncomfortable move in July from Texas to Arizona in a U-Haul with broken air conditioning, my pregnant body hyperventilating in the hellish heat that enveloped us as we descended into Phoenix. In mid-September she and Matthew met me at hospital doors, a baby seat wedged in the back seat to welcome our first baby, a boy.

Less than two years later, I was pregnant with a daughter. Before she was born I determined to get a driver's license. That meant I must learn to drive, and as Betsy was our only car, it was left to her and Matthew to teach me. Such grinding of gears and screeching of tires had never before been heard in the parking lots of Phoenix! Betsy's moans and groans of protest kept Matthew in a state of constant stress as he periodically petted her dashboard soothingly. At me he mostly yelled.

"Ease up, Woman!" he'd exclaim.

"Watch the clutch!"

"Slow down on the turn!"

"Stop grinding my gears!"

"What are you doing to my car!?!"

Worst of all was my absolute terror of hills while driving that stick shift. I marveled at the ease with which Matthew let out the clutch and eased in the gas on even the steepest hill, going miraculously and smoothly forward instead of sliding back into the car behind, and all without a bead of sweat on his handsome brow. There were a few times, I confess, when I whigged out completely on an incline coming off the freeway, once even begging Matthew to take over in my rampant panic.

"We're in traffic - just get it together and go!" he cried

The driving lessons weren't good for the health of any of us, so Matthew sent me to driving school with a bunch of listless teenagers to learn to drive an automatic. I would never attempt to drive Betsy again, and she liked me the better for it.

I found a way to permanently leave my mark on Betsy's passenger side, however. On the race to the hospital to give birth to Ana, our first daughter, I had one whopping killer of a contraction and looked about wildly for something to bite. (I don't curse while in labor; I bite.) It would have been most unsafe to rip my husband's hand from the steering wheel for that purpose, so I wrenched down the sun visor from above me and sank my jaws into it with all the unholy force of my pain.

"No, no, no...not the visor!" said Matthew in shock, his eyes wide and pleading as his hands reached out instinctively to protect it. "Not the visor,'re bending it..."

I gave him a look that would strike terror into the heart of any man who found himself alone with a half-crazed laboring woman, and the words died on his lips. He watched despairingly as I brutally twisted Betsy's visor between my teeth and hands with each fresh contraction, his hand involuntarily reaching out toward it in a silent and unheeded plea for mercy.

That visor would never be the same. I broke its metal rod in the act of transferring my pain to it, and an ugly gash rent its upholstery. Matthew patched it up as best he could, but it would always hang limp and crooked thereafter, the metal peeking out dejectedly now and then like a sullen relation reminding us of my blatant mistreatment of it.

Still, Betsy was there for me when I needed her, whether she wanted to be or not. It's part of her legacy, and I will never be allowed to forget that thanks to Matthew's diligence in telling the story.

It's because of such strong memories that I found it so hard to let go of Matthew's car when the time came. But the time to let Betsy go would a distressing and unexpected way.


  1. Well done;
    Love, Papa

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