Fast Cars and Slow Goodbyes

A couple months ago, our old family car stopped working.

Our beloved rusty-red 1990, velvet-seats-included but no-airbags-included, Camry took a lap around the neighborhood for the last time, and then she purred quiet.

It was in a 100 second spree of scrolling-Twitter-as-fast-as-you-can-before-you-go-to-bed that I found out. I came across my sister’s announcement, which stated that the 26 years of the sweet Camry had ended.

Full disclosure, I loved that car.

I loved that car like I loved my dog. (Context: Boden family dogs are treated as full family members.)

Yes, it was old. It sounded like an entire semi curdling and yelling when it moved, and when you were in the car you felt every ounce and gust of wind that hit or grazed by her metal frame. Sure, it probably wasn’t the safest vehicle in the whole entire world, but I loved that car about as much as you can love an inanimate object.

I loved that it was known as the Boden car. That anyone who came across it in Mason, knew it was Zach, Sophia, or myself behind the wheel. I loved that I felt known in it – I belonged in the driver’s seat. It is the marker of many firsts and lasts and a whole lot of growth in between.

I went home a few weeks ago for a long weekend. When I got home, I pulled on the creaky, mirror-like door handle, bent my neck to not hit the door frame, and curled my body to sit for one final time in those purple-turned-gray velvet seats.

I ran my fingers along the cracked leather steering wheel. The same steering wheel that holds tiny half-moons from my nail marks over the years. From the frustration of after-school traffic when I was terrified of being late to practice, to the desperate grasps of wondering during some of the seemingly-large decisions I was trying to make throughout long car rides, I left my mark.

I looked to my right at the passenger seat. A seat that was rarely empty. With three kids in a large suburban district, it was a seat constantly filled with a body and a heart and a story and a laugh.

Salt.

I tasted salt in my mouth as I realized what was happening. Goodbye was happening.

The tears streamed as I shortly inhaled the air in the small car. The same air that has heard my deepest thoughts and most personal prayers. The air that I’ve spoken into and called out and yelled into and begged God to show up, when I didn’t think He cared about a small girl in Ohio.

They flowed down my face as I remembered the phone calls made in that same air. To boys I liked, to friends I loved, and to parents I missed. The advice I sought and the answers I desperately searched for and the life that was lived within a tiny, tin-can of a car.

I looked at the radio – the one that unexpectedly played Sweet Home Alabama as I drove home from my friend’s house on a crisp April night – when my 17 year-old-self decided that it was some hint from a higher power to put down a deposit and commit to a college.

And then it shifted. It clicked why I was sitting there. Partially because I am softer than I like to admit, full of nostalgia, and hate goodbyes, but much more because the car was a hint of what’s coming.

I’m on my last lap.

I’m a senior at the University of Alabama, and the inevitable, looming end is coming. Like an old car, I know my time is almost up. The faces on campus are different. I am comfortable, settled, at peace with a place that was once so foreign. At some point over the last four years I went from being the girl asking 100 questions, to supposedly now being responsible to provide some answers.

Yes, Alabama has its problems. I spend many days frustrated and confused and wanting to change the interior. I have clutched the wheel in frustration and yelled into the ominous air as I traipse across the quad, but oh, how I also love her.

In the same way I think a new spiffy sports car would be nice (and probably safer) than the Camry, I don’t know if I fully want it. So yes, I believe what we are moving towards is far greater than we can wrap our heads around in this present moment, and it will be far more than our past, but I also don’t know if I fully want it yet.

Between jumping on flights for job interviews and piling into cars for away games, it is hard to be still. It is hard to sit. I’m trying to savor it – I really am – but I also know I’ll never be ready. I won’t be ready for my clock to tick when my time is up.

I want the view of the mountains at my doorstep and my heart simultaneously longs to wake up in the middle of a busy city, but Tuscaloosa has called me the past few years. In May, though, she will hang up (and I will cry).

I will miss walking back to my home on 13th and passing friends on their porch swings or running inside a couple houses on 12th to say hey along the way. Sure, I won’t miss the stress of group projects, but I’ll definitely miss feeling like there’s a team, this infinite network of people whose eye contact means a lot more than just hey, I see you. Eye contact and moments and pauses that mean hey, I see you, and I understand you. I know you, Erica.

So I’m trying to sit. I’m trying to sit and run my hands along the grass while I’m here. I’m trying not to leave too many nail marks behind, but I also know sometimes I’m clutching my wheel a little more than I’m proud of. I want to sit on the quad and eat a chicken biscuit and pause. I am walking slower along the River Walk, spending more time on the patio at Taco Mama, and trying not to be scared of the cool weather that’s coming along the way. Weather that I once looked forward to is now a reminder that the time is passing. It’s fleeting. It’s temporary. But while the clock is ticking, I am here right now, the gas pedal is working, and the adventure is well.

And that’s what the Lord is whispering in these moments. It is well.

He whispers that He has the wheel. That while my little navy-painted nail marks are imprinted in it, He’ll cover them. He’ll guide me. He’ll put me where He wants me.

It may not be written in the sky; it may not be spoken over my life.

But maybe it will be.

Maybe it’ll be sung to me. And like my favorite song that came on the radio four years ago, I’ll be listening.

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