I’ve always been young for my year, but this generally goes unnoticed. I keep my birthday a perpetual secret, because birthdays bring out the most introverted side of me possible. Everyone thinks this is a ploy on my part, like reverse psychology to get people to throw me a great birthday party. It’s not. And this is evidenced by the fact that I have happily avoided any such celebrations for a number of years now. Secondly, after being able to enter an R-rated movie without having a guardian, there has rarely been much difference between ages in college. This is especially true at Wheaton were, even at age twenty-one, most students don’t drink. My lacking in years is easily overlooked.
But it wasn’t in high school. In fact it was very much known that I was younger than everyone else. Mostly because junior year when all my peers were experiencing the freedom of driving to school each morning, I was still dropped off by my mother in a mini-van. Not hitting my growth spurt or having my voice break until halfway through high school was one thing, but this really challenged the concept of divine benevolence concerning social setbacks.
But one autumn day, late fall of my junior year shortly before I was finally getting my drivers license, my parents made up for all this. Returning from a morning stroll, they informed me that our neighbor was selling their a car. They also agreed to help me buy it. After being escorted to school in a Kia Sedona for the previous four years, I would have taken just about anything. But the car wasn’t just anything. It was a 1997 Jeep Cherokee, forest green, four-wheel drive, and going strong at just over 100k. My parents cut a deal with me in which they bought the car upfront. I then paid it off in monthly installments with cash earned from my summer jobs. I couldn’t have been happier.
The following six years was like an elongated, manly version of The Love Bug. I immediately betrothed the name Betsy upon the Cherokee, and splattered the rear windshield with bumper stickers and decals. She accompanied me from my home in Ohio to everywhere from Indiana, Chicago, Wisconsin, Vermont, Maine and back…and then again. I allotted over 60,000 miles from the tan clothed drivers seat, most of them with music blaring over open windows because the air conditioning no longer worked. As time went on, this wasn’t the only thing that didn’t work.
Other than changing the oil once in a blue moon and filling up on gas, I did nothing in way of maintenance with Betsy. It really began to show. She developed quirky little traits such as randomly stalling out at stoplights, or lurching forward prior to making noises that resembled a dying elephant when changing gears. The rear view disappeared about three years in, and the dashboard lights quit working shortly thereafter. From that point on I never knew how fast I was going at night. Unfortunately, this is not, as it turns out, an adequate excuse when pulled over for speeding.
And this is why I loved Betsy; she had character.
In December, the passenger door hinge broke. For the next couple days, anyone I drove anywhere had to grip the door handle tightly and yell reminders at me to avoid the sharp and speedy whenever I took turns. After a couple days of this, and nearly losing a friend on a forgetful and rapid left-hand turn, I got the doors fixed. This cost me $300, approximately a quarter of the cars value.
Since then I’ve had several other close calls. Betsy stalled out at several stoplights, and a couple times took an uncomfortably long time to start. Furthermore, the tires have nearly no tread, and need to be replaced in about two years ago, which has led to some dangerous encounters on Chicago’s winter roads.
So I had to say goodbye. I traded Betsy in for a discount on a 2003 Subaru Outback. Her name is Ruby, Ruby the Suby if you will. She is Forest Green, just like her predecessor. She gets much better gas mileage, sticks to the road and has a rear view mirror. But this is what scares me. My decision was responsible. And now I’m left wondering when I went from an impulsive reckless teenager behind the wheel of a beat-up SUV to a sensible adult sitting behind the wheel of a car that can’t do donuts on the parking lot.
This, for me, is yet another signal that the end of my childhood is rapidly approaching. Maybe this should have happened a while ago, but remember: I’m young for my year. Betsy was one of the few remnants of my childhood I still had left. I’ve bid adieu to my childhood home, my dreams and aspirations and my high school sweetheart. I’ve lost touch with friends, grown to feel like a stranger in my hometown, and developed a sense of aged perplexity with the once familiar halls of my alma mater. And now, I have said goodbye to my first car.
This is growing up.
But no matter how responsible I may someday become part of me will always be a sixteen-year-old high school student who finally got their drivers license. I will always be the somewhat reckless but sincere teenager who, when in doubt, wants nothing more than to pass the night laying on the hood of his Jeep in the middle of a cornfield. I can deny that adulthood will come all I want, but it turns out that even Jeep Cherokees named Betsy don’t run forever.