Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday Flashback: My First Car

It must have been summertime, and I was all of 15 and 5/6 years old. 

I can imagine my skin glowing with the perpetual tan I had in those days, as well as something else: expectation.  The promise of something waiting around the next corner.  The expectation of something good.  It must have radiated from me like confidence or carelessness did from other teens.   

That summer, I'd been car shopping a few times with my dad.  Used car lots on warm mornings, country lots south of town, towered over by oak trees and strewn about with acorns.  Dad haggled and perfected his poker-face while I hopped and begged around cute little cars, giving all his carefully planned bluffs away.  Leaving one of the lots, I just knew I'd get the car I wanted.  It seemed all tied up in a pretty bow, waiting for me to drive it off into the freedom of an unexplored sunset.  Well, once I turned 16, that is.  A few more months...


At home, some days or weeks later, I moped with all the boredom I could muster, knowing something was going on.  Something I wasn't supposed to know about -- so I played along. 

In the way of memories, this one is fuzzy around its edges.  Who called for me to look out the living room window?  Who was standing by my side as I let the hopeful smile break across my face?  Who else was in the room with me as I looked down into our driveway?  I don't know. 

But I know a few things:  I fully expected there to be a cute little car in the driveway, one that would chariot me away into my expectancy.  I also fully expected to have seen it before.  I knew by my dad's face that he was happy.  (There -- he must have been one of the people in the room.  I imagine my mom.  My brother.  Some friends?)  I also expected to be pleased, but in the back of my head I had politeness in mind, too; I would show gratitude and thankfulness, first thing, even if it wasn't exactly what I'd wanted. 

Peeking over the window ledge, I searched the driveway for my chariot.  What I found was something like this:

If you're thinking I'm stretching the truth, you're right.  It didn't look exactly like this.  Mine was yellow.  Ish. 

A 1979 (or thereabouts) Mercury Marquis Brougham.  An Uncle Buck car. 

My smile froze on my face, strained.  Tears suddenly ached in the back of my throat.  For the very first time I could remember, I was speechless.  I'd been prepared to be thankful, effusive, excited, even if some of that had to be presented falsely.  I knew what a gift it was for my parents to have been able to buy me my first car.  I knew I was lucky.

I also knew I was devastated. 

What happened next might have been this:

My tears overflowed at the same time as my laughter -- nervous and jittery.  I waited for someone to bust out laughing with me, teasing me about how gullible I was to have fallen for this joke, but nobody did.  They watched me carefully, smiling and wondering at my laughter.  Was it stunned laughter?  (Yes.)  Joyful laughter?  (No.)  Confused laughter?  (Absolutely.)

Or what happened next might have been this:

I stood silently for minutes upon minutes, trying to keep my face hidden from the onlookers.  I couldn't trust my reaction to be positive, so I just stared out the window.  Without turning my head, I spoke with a hoarse voice: What?  The question conveyed an innocent sense of being in the dark about what I was actually seeing.  What could mean, Whose car is this, mine? or Are you playing a trick on me? or What response is appropriate here? or When will I wake up from this nightmare? 

I don't actually know what happened though.  I think I lost consciousness as I considered my future: pulling up to the high school parking lot as students lined the sidewalk while I tried to park the behemoth; sitting at stoplights, blushing, while classmates in sleek, shiny vehicles laughed at the rumble coming from my beast; wishing I could wreck the car and use the money -- however little -- to buy a very nice bicycle. 

What seemed like hours -- maybe it actually was -- may have been only minutes.  I stared.  I tilted my head to make sense of what I saw.  I had a discussion with my brother's friend (oh -- someone else to witness my personal hell) about how it would all be okay.  My parents left the room while I stared, leaving me alone to process this car that was mine.  My car. 

In the midst of my dumbfounded staring, someone returned to stand beside me.  Mom, dad, or brother, I don't recall.  Nor do I recall the words they used to tell me that this car was not, actually, mine. 

It was a joke.

A mean joke, but a joke nonetheless.

Now, I cried.  Sobbed and shook and sniffled.  Hugged and thanked and begged.  Promised and apologized and hoped.  I would be thankful for any car I was allowed to long as I didn't have to have that one.  That long, low, crumbling, rusting, belching, ugly, old thing. 

It wasn't my car after all.  It was a junker.  Something from which my dad was going to salvage a part. 

Cruel.  Unusual.  Funny in hindsight.  Kind of.  But only if I squint and hold my breath and remember how much I love my parents.

Tell me about your first car...or the thing that was presented as your first car that was not actually your first car but which you remember as your first car.  What did you drive as a tender 16-year-old?


  1. My first car was a Plymouth Reliant that sucked gas like there would be no tomorrow. Definitely not pretty, but at least it wasn't huge.

  2. I was truly laughing out loud at this one! I am glad it was a joke though, for the sake of your poor red face!

    My first car was a 1993 Buick Skylark. It had a long pointy hood and my brothers (and dad!) used to tease me that it had a nose like me. Ah, the good ol' days.

  3. I didn't get a car until my senior year of high school, when I inherited the family car ... a 1987 Nissan. Her name was Veronica Maxima, and I drove her till she conked out at 300,000+ miles. Man, I loved that car. No other car will ever measure up.

  4. oh my goodness.. this is hilarious in a NOT funny AT ALL way... I can't stop laughing and I think out of relief for you and for your parents. Because if that had been your car, could they have lived with it? to see the agony in your face every day? lol
    so what was your first "real" car?

  5. I'm with Cristina...good story, but I want to know what the real first car was. Mine was a 1985 Dodge Omni. Laugh if you will, but I loved that heart still skips a beat in the rare moment when I see one still running. I threaten the dear husband all the time that I'm going to find one and buy it.

  6. Oh that is so mean! I was almost in tears for you and so therefore was super relieved that it was a joke. A mean one, nonetheless.

    My first car - 1984 Mercury Topaz. Although it was old, it actually looked pretty decent. And it was red, so that was a plus. The only downside was that I had to put thumbtacks in the ceiling to keep the fabric from falling down.

  7. Mine was a tanish, yellow Ford Thunderbird. It wasn't the cute little car of my dreams, but it was mine and thanks to its unique color hardly every needed washed, something I didn't appreciate at the time, but miss now

  8. That is hilarious. A little cruel, yes, but...hilarious :)

  9. That is hysterical! I drove something similar to that picture except my parents weren't joking. It was an '84 Plymouth Gran Fury that I got from my great aunt who was losing her vision (lucky me!) It was terrible, but the most humiliating thing about it was that passengers couldn't let themselves out from the inside of the car. The door could only be opened from the outside...which meant I had to go around and let my friends out...humiliating :)

  10. Hahahaha. I'm sorry, Sarah. I really am not trying to laugh at your trauma, but I just cannot hold it in. At all. {I think I would like your parents.}
    My first car was a 1995 Pontiac Bonneville. It was red. And it was {kinda sorta mostly} mine.
    And all of my friends called it the bonerville.
    I drove the bonerville.
    {Now it's YOUR turn to laugh at me.} ;)

  11. Hilarious! (And cruel!) But I'm curious, too, what was your actual first car? I wasn't 16 when I got it, but my first car was a '98 Honda Civic...and I drove it until we moved to Italy in 2007!

  12. Well I'm pretty spoiled. My first car was a '95 -I think (it was new) Mazda Protege-it was actually my sister's until I turned 16. I drove that thing until I was married and we bought our first house. I can't remember how many miles it had on it (a LOT) but we did manage to sell it and unfortunately it was totaled shortly after-I did love that car! We replaced it with a new Protege that we still have!
    But, one of my best friends had dreamed of nothing but a hunter green ford explorer, so on her 16th guess what her parents had waiting in the driveway.....a hunter green ford explorer model car (you know one of those toys that you put together) I thought that was pretty cruel!


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?