Broken Things

Until today, I had an old minivan. It died in April and had been holding court in my garage ever since. In the six months since it came to rest, I had struggled with the notion of fixing it (I really didn’t want a car payment) or donating it to charity. I have two teenagers and until April, three cars so that each of us could get to the places we had to be without A. being late, or B. killing each other. We limped along with two cars through all those months while I drug my feet making a decision.

When school started, my time was up. With new school and work schedules for three people, we really couldn’t make it work with two cars any more. We live in Southern California and public transportation is not something we have, unless you are traveling a distance. Local transportation is near impossible.

Facing the knowledge that I was out of time, I sat down and had a long conversation with myself about the van. I could fix it, replace the engine I had been babying for three years that had finally given up, but what next? The car had a pentient for  shifting into low gear on its own when it got a little warm outside, or when it was annoyed because I was asking it to do too much—like wait in the drop off line at my son’s school. It needed tires and the radiator leaked.

I was kidding myself. I could practically have a new car for what that van could cost me over the next twelve months. In the end, I made the only reasonable choice  and bought a brand-new, highly-reliable car. Phew. Decision made… but not really, because the minivan still lingered in the garage.

A week went by, two, then it was three, and finally a month, but the van still sat there. It was full of legos and weird, forgotten sunglasses. There were straw wrappers on the floor from the fast food stop the last time it had been driven to my mother’s house. There was the spot in the third row seat where I used to strap my son into his car seat and the slightest echo of the voices of my children when they were small, laughing and arguing as we drove to school or swim lessons. The resonance of the snappy, high pitched tones of those teenagers who used to complain that they couldn’t wait to be big enough to sit in the front seat. The memory of my daughters deciding that the car needed a name and that the appropriate name was Peggy, the Pegster, or just Peg.

There were other echoes too, scarier ones. The sound of my silence as my ex-husband drove and I knew I couldn’t stay married to him. The electric fear that still lingered in the upholstery on the driver’s seat from when I left the marriage, my children in the back, flying forward on raw faith, grit, and  the adrenaline created from finally being free.

On the night I finally rolled it out of the garage to the front for the tow truck that was coming in the morning, I sat in the driver’s seat and listened to all the voices that lingered inside. The sound of lullabies sung to three children over ten years. The tears I shed when I drove it for the first time after a judge told my ex-husband he couldn’t have it, that I had to have a car (he owned two others). It was mine. The first thing I had that legally belonged to me and only me in almost twenty years.

I realized, as I thought of all those voices, that ridiculous minivan I had clung to for so long represented my freedom. It cradled the hope I had in providing my children with a peaceful, stable life after years of living with the upheaval created by a deteriorating marriage to a person who could only ever see his own needs and wants. It was my means of escape, and proof that I existed on my own, away from the title of wife and mother.

My heart is still heavy over the image of that minivan rounding the corner away from my house for the last time. I understand it is not the car. It is the newborn baby and his two young sisters. It is the proof that no matter how much I wish it wasn’t so, time pushes on and nothing can stop its progress. The knowledge that sometimes broken things cannot be fixed and that letting go is the only option.

I hope the money raised in the sale of the parts of that car helps the charity I selected. I also hope that some other family benefits from the rims or the battery. That some other mother flies free and feels safe and protected because of some part of that minivan.

Bring good to the world, Peg. I will always miss the time we had together.



Where the heck did September go? It has been a reckless month in the Stanley household. School started, as it always does, and within thirty-five seconds (exactly thirty-five) half the house was sick—me among them. I don’t have little kids any more. How can we possibly succumb to every virus that crosses the threshold of a classroom? I don’t know, but we do.

September also brought a crazy upsurge at work. Like a lot of businesses, the nonprofit I work for seems to come alive when school starts. Everyone is back from vacation and they all need a meeting.

Oh, yeah, and I finished the novel that was driving me crazy.

I am currently on hiatus from those eighty-thousand words, satisfying myself by filling the space with ideas for a new novel and gnashing to get through the six weeks I promised myself I would take to let story congeal before I tore into it again. God, I hope it’s good.

I hope when I open it again I run across at least a few pages, maybe even chapters, where I think, “Wow, that actually works.”

It is a weird time when I revisit a completed manuscript. There is a part of me that is desperately hopeful that I will feel like it’s perfect, but a far more prominent part that can’t wait to shred some darlings and tighten the plot. Are the challenges too challenge-y or not challenge-y enough? When I begin to shred some of those over-the-top descriptions I was lamenting a few months back, will there be enough story underneath to hold it up? And finally, that parental freak out that causes POV to come unwound to facilitate the climax, is it really supported early in the novel or does it come so out of nowhere that it isn’t believable?

So many questions, questions, questions and how lucky am I that I get to answer them.