The latest installment of Dear Drudgery, a series in which we tell parenting tedium what’s what. The story so far: I was a fun-loving young sprite and then there were three children and also being married can be hard, and for a while I kind of lost the plot. Then I made a Commitment to Fun. Now my life is daisies and nothing ever is the matter! It helped.
My idea made perfect sense to me; I don’t know why everyone acted like I’d lost my mind.
“Sight unseen? On eBay?! In PASADENA? How do you know this car will even drive?”
Well, sometimes you don’t get to know.
My fun program had been baby steps so far, but this was going to be high drama. It had to be, to counter all the emotional unspooling.
You hear sometimes of the breakdown that can happen in a marriage, right around the decade mark. Some marriages survive it, some don’t. But regardless of outcome, an awful lot of marriages tank for a while. Anthony and I proved to be super awesome at the tanking.
That spring was the Spring I Cried. In the kitchen, in the car, in the office. Would I ever not be tired? Did I love Anthony, really, the way you’re supposed to love your partner? Had he ever loved me? Wasn’t marriage supposed to have more movie-montage elation, fewer protracted silences? While Anthony and I were disintegrating, our poor children were busy being ten, seven, and almost three.
I was a wreck, but it wasn’t a job for antidepressants. I wasn’t inexplicably blue; I was blue-with-explication: I was in a marriage, but it felt like it was just me in there. The man brushing his teeth beside me was kind and good, but utterly silent. Well, not utterly.
“Can you drive to soccer?”
“Um…sure. Yeah, that works. You can get to daycare?”
“Yep. Have a good day.”
I loved my children more than breathing, but most mornings I woke up barely able to breathe myself. Evenings, Anthony and I sat on the couch after the kids went to bed, completely spent, not remembering what it was like to have things to say.
Darkened rooms are for amateurs. I demonstrated my ability to fall apart in the chipperest of settings one sparkling May evening. We’d all gone for burgers, then to the playground. Eldest dangled on the swing with her book and Middlest spouted baseball stats and chewed with his mouth open, but Youngest still loved the slide. I put her at the top and launched her with a gentle push – wooosh.
The tears came silently, and without warning or reason. I tried to blink them back; too late. They, too, launched.
And then more. Eldest sidled over and slid her hand into mine.
Over and over. Youngest slid. I cried. Eldest held on. Anthony and Middlest, unaware, talked infield fly rule.
Well. This wasn’t sustainable.
What do you do when you feel the very core of your life isn’t working? You carefully, thoughtfully, examine that core and make changes, right?
That’s a big process. In the short run, could I maybe just keep from losing my shit on the playground?
More everyday joys to get us through, I thought. Big ones, while I figure out what to do with my head and my heart.
I thought about driving, its slogging constancy. Work, practices, orthodontists, school—I covered an endless loop in our ratty used cars, Corolla and minivan, both older than my marriage and about as tired.
I’d never been a material girl, but I suddenly flashed on a way to transform those hours and hours of drive time. It was so out-of-character I knew it must be right. That night, I looked up the bluebook value of the Corolla—$5,000; I could work with that—then drew a circle with a thousand-mile radius, our house dead center… Any location outside the circle was fair game. My driving renaissance would start with a road trip.
I approached Anthony with my plan, explained how it didn’t have to be expensive.
“I think you should go for it,” he said.
(Eventually, I would notice that the quiet I was raging against was simply the frustrating alter ego of this sterling quality: Anthony doesn’t sweat things. Two sides, same coin.)
I opened an eBay account. I practiced entering ridiculously low bids, to get the feel of things. Four days later, when BMWDude456 was auctioning off his – my – convertible, I knew to wait until the final moment.
At 11:29:30 PDT on a Wednesday, I sat in my office with a conference call on mute—just for a minute; it’s not my fault my car was being auctioned during weekly status—and eBay on my screen. I had already typed in my maximum bid of $5,800 and positioned my cursor square on the Bid Now button.
I kept my hand above the mouse, not touching lest I bid too early or start a nuclear war. I held position until 11:29:52, and then I clicked.
Eight seconds later, I was the gasping owner of a 325i. Fifteen years old, condition: “Excellent.” (Cherry red, but fuck the jokes about midlife crisis. I wanted the car much more than I resented the cliché. Anyway, I was only thirty-four. HOLY MOLY! I WAS A MIDLIFE-CRISIS PRODIGY!) I finished my meeting.
When they heard, my friends and coworkers had a collective cow:
“You bought a CAR on eBay?! How do you know it can even make it home? That the guy isn’t a total crook?”
Excellent questions, one and all, I acknowledged, and made a plan to pick up my car.
* * *
I’m pretty sure I met BMWDude456 at a Pasadena strip mall, but I don’t really remember him. My car was so red, so cheerful. It even had those wheels with the super shiny spokes. Twenty minutes later, I waved goodbye to Dude—I think—and headed up the California coast. I’d gone to Pasadena by myself, to be alone for the first time in ten years, to fall to pieces in peace. But as my red car and I tootled up 101, I didn’t feel much like falling to pieces at all.
* * *
Back home, two weeks after my historic mouse-click, I witnessed a kind of magic: The circuit was still there and still endless, but carpool-mom drudgery was replaced by unalloyed glee. Someone always begged to join me, on errands I no longer dreaded. The sun shone down on our upturned faces as we sang along with The Magnetic Fields, shouting our delight into the blue, blue sky. Just going to the dentist became sun on the water, wind in the hair.
When Anthony and I were in the car together, I felt the wind whipping away the miasma that had formed between us. Yes, we still had work to do. But the space between the bucket seats was easier to penetrate than the exact same distance, sitting on the couch.
The red-car atmosphere was pure and fresh, easy to move through. In it, I realized that the laughing, the fun, the lightness—they’d been available all along, just as true and as real as the confusion and the lonesome. I’d been missing the great while I focused on the hard. The hard was still there too, of course, but this car—a car, how ridiculous—drove me right up to all the good stuff, made me stop and look.
The mood of the red car persisted even when we weren’t in it, and I knew: People who say you can’t get joy from material objects have never met the right material object. We zipped around our lives, creating montage after montage.
Illustration by Christine Juneau