How a hand-Me-Down Equinox taught me the true definition of reliability
By Chelsea Fagan
You never know how much you need a car until you don’t have one. When my first car—the beloved little compact I’d come to adore and rely on—suddenly went out of commission, everything skidded to a halt. How was I going to get to school? To work? To the grocery store? As the public transportation in my area was less than ideal, and local bike-friendly roads wouldn’t get me where I had to go, I quickly began the hunt for a new car.
My aunt, living several states north, heard about my predicament and offered to help. She’d recently purchased a new family car, leaving unused their tried-and-true Equinox. It was a little scuffed up—its backseat having endured several years of kids’ muddy post-soccer-practice sneakers—and it certainly didn’t have all the flashy amenities of the brand-new car I’d imagined driving off the lot in style, but it ran well and was unfailingly reliable. I needed a car and she had one to give me.
We quickly arranged for me to fly up and spend a long weekend so I’d have time to get used to driving around in something that wasn’t quite as small as my compact. The thing was, my aunt and I hadn’t seen each other in a few years. When you live far apart and have large families (with children in different age brackets), getting together can be tough. There was a flutter of anxiety in my stomach as I prepared for the trip. Would the kids remember me? Would I get along with everyone? Would it be hard to reconnect now that I was an adult?
But when I arrived, it was as though no time had passed. We sat down for a barbecue together, laughed out on the porch all night long and walked around their charming little city. Somewhere in between, I learned how to drive a car about twice the size of what I’d been used to. I could feel—in the upholstery, in the way it drove, in the way it sounded—that it was a family car. It was well loved, and cared for, and sturdy because people had taken the time to treat it right. There weren’t the worrisome yawns and bumps that can sometimes accompany age and mileage in a car, especially one used for frequent small trips around town. It was all smooth sailing. And though learning to parallel park and navigate intersections was challenging at first, it felt good to be behind the wheel with family who cared about me and were helping me when I needed it most.
There was a lot to learn on that trip, much more than making three-point turns with a big vehicle on a small suburban side road. Meeting my cousins again after so long, being on long rides with an aunt who was as patient with my driving as she was fun to talk to and getting to experience a weekend away as a real young adult—everything felt at once new and familiar. Though I hadn’t sent them Christmas gifts or called often to see how they were (something I felt greatly embarrassed by when faced with their generosity), I was still family. They were still there to help me out, to teach me what I needed to know. And the renewed relationship we had after that weekend was a real gift.
I hope to be able to do the same for someone else someday, even if I can’t offer a car as nice as that Equinox or be as good a teacher behind the wheel as my aunt.
Cars and families have a few things in common: We live in them and depend on them; they take care of us, in exchange for the care we give them. Like the Chevrolet that took me to every destination without fail for many more years, my extended family was there for me when I needed them most.
Chelsea Fagan is an editor at Thought Catalog. Her writing has appeared in Le Monde, Grantland and The Atlantic, among other publications. Her new book, I’m Here for the WiFi: A Complete Guide to Reluctant Adulthood, will be published this year by Running Press. On Twitter she’s @Chelsea_Fagan.