My right arm keeps falling down.
(We’ll come back to that.)
For 14 years, I’ve been driving a 2000 Suzuki Grand Vitara. It started out as silver, but over time the paint has faded and worn until becoming a slightly glittery gray.
It’s been relatively reliable over the years, outside of a broken rear main seal costing $15 for the part and $700 for the repair, due to the entire engine needing to be removed.
Or when three of the four oxygen sensors in its two catalytic convertors going bad, preventing it from even running. Once again, the engine needed to be removed, only this time around, no mechanic locally could do the job.
So I hauled it 270 miles to the nearest dealership at the time, left it there, drove 270 miles home, made the same trip back a week later, and returned home once more.
It didn’t cause me many big problems, but as the nursery rhyme states: when it was bad, it was horrid.
Still, it served me well over the years. While I’ve never been one to give cars pet names, it and I have been through adventures sordid and sane, earning it the name of “my Vehicle”.
(My creativity is not always there when I need it … so I settled for capitalizing the V.)
I initially purchased my Vehicle to make my first trip to Wyoming, and that 1,712 mile round trip was made a number of times throughout our history.
With greater familiarity came greater comfort. I knew innately where each bumper ended, how it would drive in varying conditions, what noises to worry about and which to disregard, the way its hood would jitter up and down when driving over a certain speed.
I adapted as my Vehicle changed, learning to live with an open window after the air conditioner died, for instance, but keeping the other windows raised so I could still hear the radio over the noise of the rushing highway air.
For 14 years, I drove with one hand on the wheel and my arm draped up and over the back of the passenger’s seat, the best cruising position my Vehicle had to offer.
It and I became one ridiculous, bionic cyborg when I got behind the wheel.
But now, my right arm keeps falling down.
Vehicular collisions are a singular experience unlike other accidents. We become so accustomed to the feeling of autonomy automobiles give us, that when that autonomy is broken by another object, moving or not, the mental shock is so sudden, so powerful, that time itself splits into different velocities.
The saying “it happened so fast” is a cliché for a reason- it’s mostly true. The actual speed of a wreck is hard to measure. “In the blink of an eye,” or even, “In a split second” doesn’t really fit.
Because while my accident occurred so fast I barely was able to react, it simultaneously was happening slowly enough that I could make out details I’d otherwise have ignored: the feeling of my Vehicle’s brake pedal as I slammed it to the floor.
The tires squealing as they locked and skidded.
The tension in my arms as my elbows reflexively locked, and nearly skidding myself.
The way the invisible autonomobile zone around my Vehicle that was never to be breached suddenly filled with another SUV, and my hood crumpling, and the crash sounding its vulgar, unique tones, and the omnipresent black and white paint dominating my vision, and my seatbelt holding me back as I went from 25 miles an hour to zero, and how my first reaction was to pull out of traffic as well as I could and shut off the engine, and the policeman running up to me to see if I was all right.
And the realization that the vehicle I’d just collided with was his.
(I’d like to formally state that of all the goals I have in life, getting entangled with a policeman via car wreck has never been one of them.)
As I had approached the intersection on a green light, I heard a siren from my left through my open window, yet saw nothing, and assumed it was therefore behind me, not approaching me perpendicularly past two lanes of heavy traffic to my right.
Even if his SUV had had a light bar on top, I wouldn’t have been able to see it any better than the rest of his vehicle.
To wheel out another cliché, by the time we saw each other, there was nothing either of us could do.
He was fine, and I was (mostly) fine – my recently installed titanium chest armor held up nicely. I was shaken and sore, however. Luckily, I wasn’t going fast enough for my airbag to deploy, or I probably would have been left in worse shape.
Even though he repeatedly told me it was an accident, I still felt bad.
Tow trucks and insurance agents were called; pictures and statements taken. While his SUV suffered only from a slightly buckled and dented left passenger door, my Vehicle leaked fluids from its crushed front end.
I’m no mechanic, but I knew I’d never drive it again.
I felt an unexpected loss. I knew, of course, one day it and I would no longer be a team, but this was not the way I expected it to happen.
I was given a ride home. No citations were issued.
The next day, I rented a car, had a doctor check me over, and then went to the salvage yard to remove the rest of my belongings from my Vehicle.
Inanimate objects feel emotion even less than I do, I know; but as I took a last look at its dejected, forlorn appearance, my Vehicle looked like it felt even sadder than I unexpectedly did.
The glint in the headlights was no longer there.
My Vehicle had done its job well, even at the end when it kept me from being hurt as it was destroyed itself.
I sighed and patted it on the hood, thanking it for a job well done.
I drove off in the rental, a four-door sedan. Out of habit, I tried to drape my arm over the top of the front passenger seat.
The seats, however, leaned back further than I was used to after 14 years, and nothing was there when I lowered my arm.
I’ve used the rental for almost three weeks now.
And my right arm keeps falling down.