E had been my first car. A teal, 1994 Ford Escort. Two-door, hatchback with crank handle windows and automatic seat belts. I named her Elvira after the song with the same title by the Oak Ridge Boys, mostly as a joke between me and my best friend, but it fit. On dreary Oregon mornings, her back window would fog as the heat dribbled out of the vents and the ghost of a previous owner’s window decal would appear, “Cornell College” it read. My dad told me to never brand a car with stickers. He said they made it harder to sell the car later, and were a pain to remove. I would obey his commandment until I turned 21 when I stuck a Human Rights Campaign sticker in the bottom right corner of Elvira’s back window. Elvira was my first taste of liberation, of freedom.
As a high schooler, late summer evenings would cause me and E to cruise to the 24-hour Starbucks near our suburb’s downtown and order frappuccinos with my friends. We’d then caravan to a nearby elementary school and play capture the flag in the empty fields behind the building until the owners of the neighboring houses threatened to call the cops. Mix CDs and movie soundtracks would play over her speakers, our taste in music changing as quickly as the trends that flimsily defined our teenage identities. Sometimes I’d play her namesake, serenading her with a fake twang, “Elvira, Elvira / my heart’s on fire, Elvira.”
After twelve years together, I chose to say goodbye to E. I bought a new car to match my first grown-up job. I couldn’t part with her at the dealership, trading her in was not an option. My dad asked if my brother could have her, Wes and his blended family could use a second reliable car. E was that if nothing else. I agreed to keep her in the family.
Parked in my driveway, I sat in the driver’s seat in E one last time. Just to her right was my new silver compact SUV. Compared to the smoothed curves of the sporty vehicle I had just driven off the lot, E was boxy and stout. Smirking, I remembered the time my best friend’s mom rode passenger and told me riding in E felt like riding in a roller skate. I took a final inhale of her scent. A mix of sun warmed industrial car seat upholstery and exhaust. I thanked her for being the first one to take me places, for being the first place that was all my own. Much of my life was viewed through her front windshield, myself changing only visible in her rear-view mirrors.
Saying goodbye was a little easier with the expectation that could take a ride in Elvira every now and then. But I never got another ride. She disappeared a short while after my dad drove her north and delivered her to my brother. She was stolen from outside his apartment. Thinking of the violation she experienced—broken into, kidnapped—my heart sunk. My dad told me they had filed a report with the police, and the officers said most likely they would never see the vehicle again. A claim was submitted to the insurance company and the money was put toward a new car for my brother.
Her disappearance made me a near vigilante on the road every time I saw a teal Ford Escort from the 90’s. I’d do a double-take, could that be her? My heart rate would quicken as I accelerated to ride alongside the doppelganger on the highway until I saw a racing stripe or an extra set of doors along the side. Not her. Another let down. I finally resolved myself to the fact that Elvira was gone for good. I found myself appreciating my new car, the increased horsepower and automatic windows brought me into the current decade.
Just as Elvira had begun to fade into a comforting symbol of my young adulthood, she resurfaced. Unlike a missing pet, she wouldn’t be returned to us. As a result of the insurance claim, the vehicle was being impounded and put up for auction. In sharing the news, my dad jokingly asked me if I wanted to buy her. Even with all the logical reasons why I shouldn’t, I considered it for a few fleeting moments.
My dad interjected my silence, “you know whoever buys her is just going to use her for parts.”
My stomach churned as I imagined her scrapped in a junkyard. I thought of how she carried me from teenagehood into adulthood, to and from so many moments, mundane and remarkable. She was my voyaging vessel. Was this grief? Yes, I was grieving a twenty-year-old car, one that didn’t have reliable air conditioning and was equipped with a broken automatic seatbelt stuck in the locked position. Abandoning her, letting her find her final resting place, in some way was acknowledging all the versions of myself I also had to let go of—the cutthroat pre-med science student, the short-haired wannabe dyke falling in love for the first time, the evangelizing environmentalist. Nostalgia waxes brightest for our firsts, because they often hold our tenderness.
I never learned the outcome of the auction. My new car had gotten a name, Francis. She would carry me toward a whole set of other mundane and magnificent life moments. Honestly, I probably won’t remember her the way I will Elvira, because memory often compresses the second and thirds and sevenths into mixed images and we are left with the memory of our first, who, like Elvira, lit our hearts on fire.
Corin Bauman, hailing from the Pacific Northwest, currently lives in Houston, Texas with her wife and dog. Always enchanted with stories, she has been exploring her own storytelling voice through local writing workshops and the assistance of a loyal writing critique group.