On Friday evening, I got into Serendipity for her maiden voyage.
I’d been scared to drive her after the meltdown just before Christmas.
I was panicking at the thought of the car going haywire in the middle of a main road, causing a crash. I’ve been panicking about a crash since our ill-fated trip to Columbus in September. I had comical nightmares about being trapped in a car plunging down a flight of stairs and crash landing in someone’s basement. But Adrienne needed to go to her martial arts lesson. We didn’t have another ride, and it was too late to take the bus. I bundled her into the car.
The car started just fine. The brake and battery lights were still on, but the Lost Girl had assured me that that was just because the computer needed to be reset after all the electrical repairs her uncle had done. I never did get the uncle’s name. Ms. H has two uncles she consulted about the car, one who used to be a firefighter and one who works in a junkyard .I’ve been calling my mysterious benefactor “Uncle Junkyard” and picturing him as Mr. Fix-it the fox in Adrienne’s old Busytown cartoons.
I opened the windows for the exhaust; we’ll get that fixed when we can afford. Adrienne generously told me to keep warm in the car while she scraped the windshield, so I did. Then I drove downtown on the flattest possible route, taping the brake instead of riding it so I wouldn’t ruin the rotors, whatever they are. We’ll get new brake pads as soon as we can afford. And all the while I gave myself the bootstrappy pep talk: Stop panicking when nothing is wrong. Think of how far you’ve come. It’s January. Not only can you afford to eat and keep the lights on, you’ve got a car. Some years we’ve been much less fortunate. The IRS doesn’t consider you terribly poor anymore and you’ll probably lose Medicaid when the COVID extension runs out. That means you’re doing fine. You have nothing to complain about.
I turned the corner from University Boulevard to North Seventh, nearly in sight of the dojo, treating that brake pedal like glass, cringing every time I got to a stop sign.
And that was when things began to go wrong.
The dashboard lights informed me there was no key, even though the key fob was right next to me on the passenger seat. And then the speed went down, from twenty miles per hour to fifteen to ten to two, even though I was flooring the accelerator. And then we came to a halt.
I barely steered the car into a legally parked position before I could not get it further.
I turned the car off and turned it on again. Sometimes this works for computers. I know only slightly more about computers than I do about cars, even though I need to use both of them daily.
The car insisted there wasn’t a key. I pushed lock and unlock on the key fob over and over again to convince it that there was too a key. I pushed the key fob into the special slot you’re supposed to use when the keyless ignition doesn’t work. The car turned on, but it would not drive more than a mile an hour. I put it back in park.
Adrienne and I walked the last two blocks to the dojo.
Adrienne takes taekwondo, judo and kickboxing lessons in the cavernous foyer of a gorgeous old Methodist church. The sensei, a wiry Appalachian man with long hair and a beard, is saving up to get his own building someday soon. For now the pastor lets him borrow the space. Adrienne hopped into her dobok and sparred with the other children while the sensei bounced around, correcting, demonstrating, encouraging, cracking jokes, in front of the doors to the sanctuary, under the respectable panes of stained glass.
Several other parents were sitting in the foyer on church benches. While he worked, the sensei sometimes bantered with the other parents. I looked up from my phone when I heard him say that they’d all make great Roman soldiers– it turned out he was inviting them to audition for the annual rock opera passion play. The sensei used to play Judas, but he’s got the part of Jesus now. That’s why he’s growing out his hair.
I went back to texting with the Lost Girl and my other car-savvy friends. She concluded that it must be the output sensor. That could be bought. My other friends were texting me that it was probably that wiring harness I knew I needed to get. I probably just need two more parts that might be sourced cheaper than the junkyard. Uncle Junkyard the happy cartoon fox could probably put them in for me, the next time he had a day off. He’s very reasonable. He charges half the price of the part to put it in. It will just take more money and more money and more money.
I tried not to cry. I gave myself the pep talk again.
Stop panicking. Get ahold of yourself. Far worse things are happening all over the country. It’s January and you’re still alive. You ought to be grateful. Something will come up. Maybe by Spring.
After class, I approached the sensei and apologetically asked him if he wouldn’t mind driving Adrienne home while I waited for a tow truck. He did even better than that: he took Adrienne home, then came back for me and drove me to my car. Then he waited while I turned it on to see what would happen.
To my delight, Serendipity started normally.
The sensei followed me up Washington Street and onto Euclid, two miles from the dojo and a mile from home. That was when the car stopped working again, just like before. No key, no accelerator. I parked it in front of a stranger’s house, and the sensei drove me the rest of the way.
That night I walked out one more time to try my luck. The car got me the last mile before she slowed and stopped again– right in front of our house.
I haven’t left my car parked in front of my house for more than a minute since 2021, when the menacing neighbor slashed our tires.
There was the pep talk again. Calm down. Don’t be such a baby. Everyone has car trouble. Your neighbor hasn’t harassed you since early summer. Everything’s going to be fine.
The pep talk did not work.
That’s what I’ve been doing when I should have been writing.
I hope everyone else had a better weekend.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.