Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Beloved Betsy: The Wreck and the Empty Parking Space

You always think when you love someone madly that you'll have a funny inexplicable feeling in your gut when something's happened to them, no matter how minor. Well, I didn't. Maybe I have a lazy sixth sense, or maybe it was haywire during my third pregnancy.

Around 7:30am one August morning in 2007, just a few days after My Man's birthday, the telephone rang. I answered immediately, certain it was not a telemarketer at such an hour, thinking perhaps that Matthew needed to tell me he'd forgotten something or that I shouldn't forget to call and make such and such an appointment....


"Honey, I don't want you to worry," said Matthew's voice. "I've been in a car accident, but I'm fine."

I didn't know how to respond. A swell of emotion and confusion had followed those words: car accident.

"Are you sure you're okay?"

"Except for some burns on my arm from the airbag."

He briefly told me that Betsy had not fared as well. There had been sudden braking on the freeway, the domino effect as each car attempted to avoid hitting the car in front. Successful attempts ended with the van behind my husband; it slammed into the rear of Matthew's car, propelling it forward under the SUV directly ahead. Betsy's front end folded up like a paper bag, the air bags bloomed and burst, and the chemicals from the airbag left nasty burns on Matthew's arm. The paramedics gave him some ointment for it, but, thankfully, with no casualties or gravely serious injuries, they fled off to the next scene of rush hour catastrophe. Matthew was stranded at the side of a busy highway, wondering how he'd get to work.

Next time I heard from him he had hitched a ride with a police officer to a gas station. He ended our conversation abruptly when he saw an associate from his company. I heard him call the gentleman's name over the noise of car's engines, and then he told me he loved me, and he'd check in later.

The realization of what could have happened and how lucky we were didn't strike just then. I felt as if I was in limbo. Matthew was okay, thank God, but shaken; Betsy was in bad shape. I roamed around the house with no purpose, restlessly waiting for that next phone call, explaining now and then to our two young children that Papa had been in a car accident, but he was alright.


Everyone told Matthew he needed to take the day off, go home, and work out all the little details thrust upon a person after a sudden event spins life around on the great roulette table of trouble. Matthew finally conceded; he was already spending most of his time on the phone with our insurance company. So I headed north across town with Berto and Ana to pick him up in our minivan. From there we drove to the tow yard where they'd taken Betsy..

I wasn't prepared to see the wreckage. Couldn't comprehend before hand how I'd feel. After many long moments talking to the individuals at the tow yard providing proof of ownership and figuring out just where they had hauled Betsy to, they opened the gate for us and Matthew slowly drove down the center of a wide, full lot of wrecked vehicles. That's when I was hit with the realization that, as King Solomon said, " time and chance happens to us all". Matthew turned the van between two surreal rows of mangled cars and braked.

"There she is," he said.

She was to our left. I saw her, and the sight of her hit me hard; I finally understood from her sad state just what had occurred that morning while Matthew was inside her. Intercepted by the emotion I'd seen in my periphery all day, my full pregnant body shook with it as I stared at Betsy - bent, maimed, compacted...wrecked.

Matthew got out and opened her driver's side door for the last time, collecting CDs, old key rings, papers...finally her dented license plate. A Journey CD played on my van's radio as I watched him and cried. I was remembering life with Betsy - remembering lunch dates to our favorite Chinese restaurant when Matthew and I were first dating, remembering late night conversations and kissing sessions beneath her sun roof that lay open to the stars as her radio serenaded us, remembering carefree trips to San Antonio's River Walk when we were first married without kids, and recalling longer trips to New Mexico and Idaho when her interior was so crammed with kiddie stuff and luggage and Christmas gifts, there was barely room for us and our kids to move. Though the kids and I had long since moved our mobile selves from Betsy to the roomier minivan, I was remembering our life thus far in that sporty little car and how it had unfolded, and I was mourning her future absence from it.

The kids were troubled by my crying as we waited and also fascinated at seeing Papa's car in this strange form and place, so I tried to explain why I was sad and how immensely grateful I was that Betsy, and not their Papa, had sustained most of the injury.

When Matthew returned to the van, I looked back as we drove away from Betsy until we turned and I could no longer see her, and I knew I wouldn't see her again. I held her battered license plate in my hands.

When we pulled into our driveway at home that afternoon, Matthew laid Betsy to rest so abruptly that I was shocked: instead of going left into the van's usual designated parking space, he purposefully drove right up the middle, partially in the van's space and partly in Betsy's.

"Oh, Matthew..." I said in distress, my voice catching. "Right in the-the middle? That's...not...r-right!"

And then I sobbed.

Matthew had said his goodbye in the wreckage yard, for I was mystified by the calm in his voice when he replied.

"She's gone," he said firmly but gently. "It's time to move on."

And so we have.


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