We were all trying to avoid this. We’ve been fighting it with everything we’ve got. There had to be another way. We were going to find another way. The reality was no other way was going to work. We had to do what had to be done. There was no other way out.
You know that pesky little late fee we got? I think I might have mentioned it. If I haven’t, well, I have now. We had a late fee because we were so caught up in helping our neighbors out that we completely forgot to get our rent paid on time. It was turned in one day late, so we got nailed with a late fee. Management wasn’t willing to negotiate with us, so we were stuck paying it. I can kind of understand. With all the families leaving they’ve got to make money wherever they can. We kind of had a feeling it was going to happen and it really was our fault. We were given until November 24th to get the money in, otherwise they’d be filing the paperwork the following Monday to evict us. In order to stop it we’d have to pay the late fees, water bill, and court fees.
Our total bill came to $203. We had thought we could make it, but Oz’s hours got cut yet again. He’s barely making more than enough to pay for his child support. We’d considered what we could sell to make ends meet. He tried selling the last of his discs for disc golf, but they had no cash available. He tried selling off his Magic cards, but he wasn’t able to do that. We took it as a sign that they just weren’t meant to go. He’s tried selling off his cards before, so we’re really thinking he’s meant to have them. Unfortunately, we were starting to fear what we were going to have to do. Our last resort was to ask the church for help knowing we’d be able to return the money in time, even if it was just in the form of donations when we could afford it.
For the past few days Oz has really been working as hard as he can to find some alternate way to get the money. He’s been looking for work and doing anything he can. Then he came home with a solution. He could sell the Mazda, but she’d be crushed for scrap metal. Now, everyone knows we don’t have a car, but that’s because our only vehicle blew her engine back in May while we were still living out at Oz’s dad’s house. She was towed back and left in his driveway. This poor vehicle had been through the ringer. She’d been sitting for five years in someone’s yard. She had problems with the battery, shot spark plugs, distributor cap, a flat tire, a broken windshield, needed new windshield wipers, electrical issues, air conditioning that didn’t work, a little bit of body damage, the seats needed to be repaired, a tail light that didn’t work no matter what we did to fix it, had the interior door panels removed, the radio was sitting loose in the car, the trunk wouldn’t stay open unless you propped it up with a piece of wood, and the seal on the trunk leaked. The poor thing was on her last legs when we got her, but she was running. Then her engine just went. She blew a head.
At the time I knew she was done. Fixing her would have meant replacing her from the chassis, because that’s about all that would be left. There was no point to keeping her. She’d done her job and done it well. We didn’t pay much for her, and while I guess you could say we didn’t get our value out of her in miles traveled versus money put into her between purchase, small repairs, and transporting her up to this area, we feel she’d done everything we needed out of her.
When we got the Mazda we’d gone a while without a car. Oz picked her up and she was in rough shape, but she ran. Though she wasn’t legal we were able to get grocery shopping done, which was a small miracle in the situation we were in. When we moved out to his dad’s place he was able to get back and forth to work for a while. He brought in just enough money because of that car that we were able to put ourselves on the right path. It’s led us down the tricky path we’ve been down now, but it could have been a lot worse.
The day after the Mazda came home we knew we had to do something right away. She was filthy from sitting out in the yard for so long. Oz takes great care of any vehicle he uses, so the first mission was to get her cleaned up. Working on cars clears his head and helps him focus on the things we need to do in order to get our lives back in order. What he didn’t expect was having all the kids jump in to help. It became a family project to get her looking as sharp as she could again.
This inspired an idea. One of the problems most women have in being self-sufficient is knowledge about cars. Sure, when I was in auto body in tech school I learned how to change a tire, a good life skill, but all the boys were taught how to change oil. I didn’t want my daughter to grow up with that kind of lack of understanding about cars, or worse. Her step-dad’s a mechanic! At least that’s what he did in the military. Why shouldn’t she have a better start in the world of cars?
So we sat Corde down. We told her if she helped fix up the car, when she got out of college or otherwise proved she was ready for the responsibility if she doesn’t go to college, we’ll give her the car as a gift. She was all about helping Oz out after that point. She wanted to know everything possible about what he was doing and each part he removed from the car to clean and replace. She invested herself completely in that car every moment she had until the engine blew.
I think she knew then that the car wasn’t going to make it, just like I did. I’m pretty sure Oz even realized it. We all were in denial. We were all keeping hope that we could give that little car the second chance she deserved. Corde saw this as one way she could get closer to Oz, her second dad. She wanted more than anything to feel like they had something special that was just for them. Sure, they had Pokemon, but she could play her card game with other people. That’s not something special for just the two of them.
Moving in here brought other things. She started playing video games, though she hasn’t played any in a while. They’ve watched movies together again. They have other moments every now and then. The car had fallen to the wayside because we all knew we couldn’t do anything about it right now. She would just have to sit. We had other priorities, finding a car that would work from the start was one of them. We couldn’t be sinking the same amount we could spend on a down payment or even the full cost of a new car to get her up and running again, only to have one of the other things that were holding on by a thread fall apart beneath us. We needed a car that could transport the whole family for doctor’s appointments, play dates, emergencies, whatever reason we might have. Then things got tight as Oz’s hours got cut back again and again. The Mazda was replaced in her mind by other things because she knew it would be a long while off.
When Oz came home and made the suggestion that selling the car would save us, I was sad, but had to agree. We kind of knew it was the end when she needed engine work. In theory I could have rebuilt the engine, but the truth is it just wasn’t worth it. By the time we got to it she would have been sitting for so long that we wouldn’t just be looking at replacing parts, but we’d seriously be looking at the frame for rust damage. I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do, as much as it would hurt him, and as sad as I knew Corde would be. We had to suck it up and sell her to be crushed. It was the only way we’d get the money in time without having to pay any additional fees, and we’d even come out a little bit on top.
Then Oz did something I never would have expected him to do. He’d always been very final about making the decisions, but I think it’s a sign that he’s really starting to invest himself in this unschooling idea. He said, “I’ll talk to Corde. It’s her car. We can’t do anything unless she’s okay with it.”
He called Corde in the room and the conversation went like this:
Oz: Corde, come here. Your mom and I need to talk to you.
Oz: You know how we’ve been talking about money lately? We’ve got to come up with that $203 or they’re going to take us to court to kick us out? I have some good news and some bad news.
Corde, starting to look nervous: Okay…
Oz: The good news is I have a way to pay the money so we can stay here without having to worry about coming up with the money anymore, but it would mean we’d have to sell the Mazda to be crushed.
Corde gets that deer in the headlights look she always gets when she’s not sure how she feels about something big.
Oz: We don’t have to do it. I can keep trying to find something else, but the Mazda is in really bad shape. It would just be sitting out in Grumpy’s yard for a really long time because we can’t afford to work on it right now.
Corde in the smallest voice I’ve heard her use in a long time: Yeah, it would be a long time before we can fix it because we’ve got to get another car and all that other stuff.
Oz: But I promise we can get another car, a car that’s in better condition that you and I can work on together, one that doesn’t need so much work and won’t cost so much to fix up.
Corde gave her mock shocked look that’s always so comical: An even better car?
Oz held out his hand, offering a pinkie: I don’t know if it’ll be a better car, but I’ll let you help me find one, okay?
Corde got so excited she almost forgot to lock pinkies, then remembered and hooked hers with his with a big cheesy grin: Okay! Okay! Okay! I don’t want the Mazda to go, but it’s okay. As long as we can work on another one together!
Oz, now smiling though I know giving up the car hurt him too: I pinkie swear we’ll work on another one together.
Over the next couple of days Oz and I talked about it. He had four leads for potential jobs, a yard work gig, and should be going to work for a moving company on a one day job on Monday paying $15 per hour. Running the numbers in my head real quick, we probably could have done everything without having to sell the Mazda, but we knew it was time to let go. It’s not fair to anyone for that car to be sitting on his dad’s land for years because we can’t afford to fix it. With the way costs kept adding up we were starting to think that there was no way it would be something we’d want to give Corde by the time she graduated college! It was really the right thing to do, even though we probably didn’t need to.
Today was the day the car was picked up. The guy taking her to be crushed picked Oz up and gave him a ride home. He was a really nice guy. Oz came in to the house after unpacking the stuff we were keeping from the Mazda and told us all if we wanted to say goodbye to the Mazda, now would be the time to do it. I sent Corde out to the car with Oz while I kept Beekee behind. I asked him to help me find my jacket so Corde and Oz could have a moment together. Then I came out as they were just starting to walk away so Beekee could say goodbye too. He made some noise and said, “Mom! The car is talking! It says goodbye!” I nearly lost it then. I will admit, I treat many of my items as though they had feelings, and that’s often come back to bite me in the butt. Beekee didn’t seem to understand she was going to be crushed, or maybe he thought of it like Bumblebee in the newest Transformers movies, where he leaves an old, beat-up Camero and returns a brand new one. For me it was tinged with sadness. I wanted to tell him we’d changed our mind, but management won’t allow cars that aren’t street legal on the property and we’re on shaky enough ground. The man who took her said she was being recycled so she could become a new car some day, which seemed to help. I didn’t get my chance to say goodbye to the car, but with all the stress and emotion going around, and seeing Corde with the tears welled up in her eyes, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be a grown woman bawling over a car. I didn’t cry that much any other time I have to watch my cars go out of my life and I certainly didn’t want to start now. I wanted to be strong for Corde.
When we came in the house Oz asked Corde if she wanted to keep the key and the license plates. We put the license plates up on her wall like Oz had with the plates on his first car. His car still had the temporary tags on it when it was totaled by a drunk driver (I still remind him it’s better she totaled the car than him because then we never would have met). He got the plates for his car two days after the accident. Now Corde has the plates from her Mazda to remember it by up on her wall. It may not be much, but it’s a little something to remember it by.
She was so upset that she asked what she could do to take her mind off of it so she wouldn’t cry. She wanted to paint, but it was late and all the kids were too tired. I saw that as a mess waiting to happen. She wanted to watch a movie, but I knew Oz would want to play games for a bit after working and having to watch the car go too. I felt horrible because it was late and there weren’t many options. She didn’t want to read Junie B. or Pokemon. I had no idea what to tell her.
Then it hit me while I was holding Luca in my arms. I told her a story about a car her dad and I loved very much, and what I did to get over it when we lost her.
Your Daddy and I had a car once, a ’79 Oldsmobile Cutlass. It was older than I was, but, man, I loved that car! It was the car your dad had when I met him. That car took us everywhere and never failed us. It was even the first car I drove all by myself with no one else there with me.
One day when you were about Luca’s age we got into a car accident. It was a really bad accident and the car could have ended up in the water with the way we were hit, but she kept us safe. That car was wrecked. Most of the important parts keeping the front of the car together, like keeping the wheels aligned all came apart. The back of the car was hit so hard the frame was bent. That car was completely wrecked, but she got us home safely, and that I’ll always remember.
I loved that car, so it was sad that she died. I couldn’t get past the fact that I’d miss her. Finally I decided to do something that would really take my mind off of her. I started to imagine what kind of car I wanted when we replaced her. I didn’t get what I wanted because your dad was going to get his car first, then I would get my own some day. He needed the car more for work, but it was fun to dream. It made it hurt that much less to know that my dream car would be waiting for me. I might not have been able to get it right then. I can’t even get it right now, but I’ll have it some day.
She seemed to think this was a good idea. We told her that we’d try and get her the kind of car she wanted, even another Mazda mX6 if that’s what she wanted. She told us she wanted a convertible. I told her I think we could manage that. It certainly wouldn’t be new, but you don’t want a new car for a project car. That takes half of the fun out of it! Beekee chimed in to say he wanted “a car with no doors!” Oz laughed and said, “Beekee, what you want is a jeep!” Then the kids started talking about the cars they wanted while Oz got the plates up on the wall. I really think she’s going to be alright.
So, it’s sad to watch the Mazda go, but we all know it’s for the best. She did well by us. She got us where we needed to go. The only time she failed us was on a day Oz went to work against my better judgement, which was for the best because the rain started coming down so bad that he wouldn’t have made it to work safely. It was for the best, and I think she died looking out for him. She was a good car. She will always be remembered as the car that saved us in our time of need. Now she may not be saving the roof over our heads because Oz did find other work, but we now have a little extra wiggle room. She might not have to save our home, but she’s definitely going to be saving Christmas. I don’t know what better gift anyone could give this year.
Goodbye, sweet Mazda. May you find your peace in whatever strange afterlife a car might have.