Shortly after my husband Paul and I purchased our Ford, I discovered fang marks in the front bumper, as if a python with teeth the size of guitar picks had been hitching. This was unwelcome news. We had just ended a turbulent eleven-year relationship with a Corolla, and I was not about to travel that road again, if you know what I mean. Admittedly, the Corolla served as a rebound, a pick-me-up after my first car died and my first husband traded me in. A bit banged up from the ride, I let my parents convince me that a four-door was constructed less like origami and held better resale value than, say, a red Miata. That, and they fronted the cash. Weak in so many ways, I consented. Fading photographs portray a happy version of me with my arms around the shiny black bomb, m-m-m-my Corolla. A couple of kids in love. How young and naïve we were. Not surprisingly, Toyota does not advertise the true meaning of Corolla. Dictionary.com, source of all truth not covered on Wikipedia, calls it the “inner envelope of floral leaves of a flower.” Who names a car after flower parts? People step on flowers. Mean people, but still. Our first confrontation involved a woman so eager to get to the McDonald’s drive-thru that she drove through my lane, driving me into a hydrant. Weeks later, we, the newly rebuilt Corolla and I, paused in a near-empty parking lot after retrieving theatre tickets. As I left a voicemail for then-boyfriend Paul, I noticed a long boxy car of the Elvis impersonator variety tearing down the lot’s center road. Upon reaching my row, the car abruptly turned. It hit the curb, gaining enough momentum to use my hood as a ramp, drive over the next car, displace a third car, and coast into a space at the far side of the lot. My hood crinkled like a beer can, smashing the windshield but—miraculously—not me. Fused to the seat with fast-drying shock, I tried to figure out what parallel universe I had become stuck in. Two men appeared and asked if I was all right. One looked exactly like Matt Damon, and I kept thinking, wow, he looks exactly like Matt Damon. As we walked toward the runaway car, which had begun to resemble Christine, the back door opened, and somebody’s great-grandmother emerged. She squinted toward the Corolla and then said, “Oh, did we do that?” I exchanged a glance with Matt. Then I dialed my friends at the body shop. The Corolla and I endured other trials: towings to dog-patrolled lots for forgetting to vacate on street-cleaning day, a boot for parking at Burger King but ordering at Einstein Brothers, a shattered rear window from an attempted break-in, a keyed side, and a nastygram calling us parallel parking hogs. Bruised we were, but not broken. After Paul and I married, we all relocated to Northern Virginia and stayed out of trouble for quite some time. Then we moved into DC, and the pixie dust expired. We exacerbated the problem by parking on our street, a bustling ambulance and bus route. If we used our black-diamond driveway, we would likely awaken to learn that our car had sleepwalked into a bus, which, in retrospect, might have been preferable. To prove my point, I asked an economist to calculate the slope of said driveway. When I showed her diagram to Paul, he argued, "It can't possibly be 78 degrees; 90 degrees is straight up." Whatever. It's steep. One evening, as I watched Kevin Kline inform Meryl Streep that he needs her like he needs a case of anthrax, a biliary calculus, pallegra, and encephalitis, the street outside swarmed with police cars, creating a discotheque-type scene in which the Village People might jump out at any minute. A high-speed chase between a stolen minivan and another car had ended only somewhat spectacularly with the minivan hugging our stone retaining wall. When I saw our rusty, dusty hoss curled up and quietly sleeping nearby, I squeaked out a prayer of gratitude and thought, we can't afford to be hit by a maniac. Then I reconsidered: maybe an unlucky strike wasn’t such a bad idea. DC: fulfiller of dreams. A week later, I heard CRASH-SCRAPE-BANG and peered outside to find an SUV, askew. Our pug said, “You better get out there, fast,” so I rappeled down to the street. A distraught, incoherent woman in health care garb materialized. I reluctantly looked over at our Corolla: its entire driver’s side was bashed in, sideview dangling like a cheap earring. The woman confessed that she had ignored a warning light for a couple of weeks, resulting in an untimely axle malfunction precisely where we had parked, though the street was empty for at least a block in either direction. I sensed a pattern forming. We got acquainted with a new body shop. I begged the Corolla’s forgiveness. The second swipe involved a short elderly man in overalls driving a white van, the third a hit-and-run in the night. Having finally received the message, we started parking on a side street, and just in time: the pole outside our house then intercepted an SUV driven by a man tanked on PCP, which is code for stupid. Ne’er-do-wells slowly realized that there was no point in bothering with our car. Even vandals only busted a tiny triangular window, easily fixed with plywood and duct tape, coagulated nectar of the gods. The Corolla was tired. It was time. Scratched, stained, ripped, matted, and dented, virtually no body part had avoided triage. Despite its wounds and imperfections, it had provided, protected, and stayed, which is more than I can say about some people. When Paul and I presented the limping Corolla for trade-in on the Ford, we told the dealer it needed work. After a quick review, he reported, without creasing his plastic grin, “Yes, it is kind of rough,” and offered us $600. We accepted. Before our first payment, Paul broke off the gas cover, leaving a shallow hole on the side of the car. He handed the severed disc to me, I deposited it in the map pocket, and we drove off.
-- Wendy Bilen is an Illinoisan, born (Arlington Heights) and raised (mostly Elgin), though she transplanted to Washington, DC, a few years back. She is the author of Finding Josie, an award-winning biography-memoir about the search for her grandmother’s legacy (throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota). Bilen’s essays, articles, and photography have appeared in several journals and newspapers, including the Washington Post. She teaches writing to young women at Trinity College in Washington.