The 1997 Toyota Corolla has never failed me. I believe in that car like I believe in breakfast. It has been faithful to me, enabling me to flee, find, and roam since my junior year of high school. It often pops up in my personal essays and short stories as an instrument of freedom. I wouldn’t say driving it is a sacrament, but through it I do experience a kind of grace that says you did not design me, build me, buy me nor pay for the gas that is inside of me, but I will go because you say “go” and I will stop because you say “stop” and I will heat you when you are cold and cool you when you are hot, bring you news when you are detached from the world and sing to you when you are sad. The word “love” means many things in the English language. I think it would accurately describe the appreciation I have for the Corolla.
The neighbors across the street love their cars, too. When my family moved to Michigan, we were quite impressed by the intimacy our neighbors share with their automobiles. They know everything about their cars’ inner workings and how to fix them when they fail. I, on the other hand, know nothing about what goes on inside the Corolla. I know how to put gas in it, which is more than I can say for most of my friends from Oregon, and I know how to pop open the hood—what the British call the “brassiere,” according to one of my middle school teachers. (I had to google “brassiere” in order to spell it properly. Lord have mercy.) Once the brassiere has been popped open, I know how to stare at its contents while looking completely lost and confused. I’m an English major.
A permanent retainer or permanent brace is a little piece of wire that is bonded to two teeth in order to prohibit them from drifting apart. The retainer in question here connects my upper jaw’s right wisdom tooth (what the dental people call 1) to its neighbor (2). The two teeth apparently don’t get along too well and were going through a rough patch in their relationship when 2 called 1 some names. I didn’t catch all of it but I heard something like WISDOM tooth? More like SMARTASS tooth. to which 1 replied something like At least I get a name. What are you? Nothing. One would hope that his teeth are capable of more intelligent discourse. Still, their bark is worse than their bite, so they settled their differences with a quiet split. 2 disconnected first leaving 1 to hold on to the hope that their relationship would improve. But 1 too eventually gave up the bond. I spat the brace out.
The orthodontist brought 1 and 2 forcefully back together again with what must have been something like a renewal of vows. I feel more secure and they’ve kept quiet so far.
Later in the day I drove to the ophthalmologist for my annual eye exam (I wear contacts and glasses). I have never been to the same eye doctor twice. This time I visited the vision center in one of those big clothing stores attached to the mall. My appointment started half an hour late. The doctor made the obligatory small talk and began the rituals of assaulting my eyes with puffs of air and lasers. If the eyes are windows into the soul, then eye exams are spiritual warfare. I blinked away the light that was burnt into the blackness under my eyelids. The ophthalmologist told me that I would benefit from a particular eye treatment that has been used for a couple thousand years and I blindly said go for it. I heard her spit and clap her hands together like Mr. Miyagi. Before I could protest she was rubbing dirt into my eyes and yelling something about the healing powers of Jesus. Maybe WWJD isn’t the question to ask when you are an ophthalmologist.
With red eyes I walked back to my car and started the engine. It gave an uncharacteristically pathetic grumble as the engine started. As I pulled out of the parking space I realized that the power steering was gone. I powerlessly steered the car halfway home before realizing that the engine temperature gauge was well beyond hot. The gauge said “hot” but the air coming out of the vents was freezing winter cold. When I stopped at the next red light I saw that smoke was attempting to sneak out from under the car’s hood. I don’t know much about cars, but I know enough about Death to recognize his emaciated hand reaching out for me. I pulled over into a conveniently placed gas station and waited for someone to rescue me.