My car has a broken heart—I mean, a broken engine.
If she were human, I would say that she is grieving. If she were a dog, I would say that she is sad, that her family abandoned her to a used car dealership and no one ever told her why.
If she could speak, my car would tell you that she feels like an orphan. That she will miss the children, her honorary children, grow up because the family she kept safe all those years has left her to someone else. She would tell you that she feels like trash, like someone’s litter.
My car has silver hair and a big wide nose. My car wears ankle-length skirts in all sorts of rude colors, pink and magenta and night-sky blue. She owns rose quartz earrings and she truly believes that someday, her life is going to change. Someday things are going to get better.
My car is the girl I used to be.
I spend more time with my car than I do with any other being. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I believe she’s a living thing. I named her Cece, after the best friend in New Girl, but that was before Cece took her cheater boyfriend back out of pity. Now my car is nameless.
Maybe I should Holly Golightly it up and call my car, “car.”
Maybe I should sell my car to someone who will love her less, so she can numb out, and then both of us will be loveless by choice. Maybe I should strip her for parts and donate her organs, because I think she wants to die.
The mechanic says she needs open-heart surgery, which it turns out is mind-bogglingly expensive. Don’t laugh, but I asked her if I should let them cut her open. I asked her if she wanted extraordinary measures taken to save her life.
My parents are both afraid of their Judgment Days and so they will both wish for extraordinary measures to be taken to extend their lives. My mother and father will die soon, and I am preparing for how I will feel. I am trying to write a story about their redemption that is my own redemption but the two narratives compete for sunlight and there is never enough to go around. There is not enough of me to feed myself and feed my parents but maybe someday. If I work at it. If I work harder at it. Then harder still.
This working at being a good version of myself, instead of the wicked little tyrant I actually am, is exhausting. I open my legs for no one and so I am a Good Jewish Girl, even if my father is not a Good Jewish Boy—though after all, opening his daughter’s legs up has never yet been a violation of masculine goodness, not in either of the cultures that I straddle.
The exhaustion of my half-life double life is an isolation chamber so I settle myself into the warm embrace of my car and yank up the heat and lie there for a while, or at least, I used to do this. I used to tell her that she could touch me but only sometimes and only if she asked and I said it was okay.
Experience has taught me I cannot expect the same from another human being and so I no longer try. Whatever innocence leads one to romance, hands out eyes open, is gone from my arms.
My car is my connection to the outside world and maybe this means I owe her life. Maybe it means I owe her a life of her own apart from my fantasy of her, and maybe that means I should let her die. Maybe her broken heart is the only way she had of explaining this to me. Maybe I should have asked after her heart sooner.
When I was young and old and older, I thought I wanted to die. I think I just needed to know this was an option, a choice that was mine and mine alone. To me, it is the most basic dignity, to give someone control over their life or their death. To choose the time and place. To collapse with relief around the heart too broken to ever make whole again.
It is the most basic kind of control. And the most difficult to gain.
Trust me, says Winterson (and me). I’m telling you stories.
But a story is not the same thing as a lie.
I am not sure whether a heart can lie, but I am sure a broken heart is not lying about being broken. I am sure about the state of her heart. And my own.
My mother says none of this is a big deal, because my car is just a car. But no choice is ever quite that simple, is it?
Ariadne Wolf’s current project, But it Will Hurt, is a memoir exploring dis/ability, PTSD, ancestral trauma, sexual assault and healing, using the mermaid as metaphor and linking motif. Wolf’s essay, “Mermaids Singing,” has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her short story, “Granny in the Forest,” which appears in Parentheses, has recently been nominated for Best Small Fiction of the year. Wolf’s work has been published in several journals, including Rascal, DIN, and Plot Number Two.