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November 19, 2019

When a Car is More than Just a Vehicle

An essay on how we unknowingly anchor our memories to the tangible, and what happens when it’s suddenly gone.

by Adelia Andani

I never really paid attention to what my boyfriend was driving. It was a black SUV as far as I was concerned, until one day it was not anymore. Its absence from my office’s parking lot made me freeze for a few seconds. 

“Umm, where did you park your car?” I asked him after scanning the whole lot just to make sure.

“There!” he pointed to a white SUV, the only car that was parked there.

Saturday was our dating day. He would pick me up from work around 12 p.m. to go on a date with him. It became a routine that I got so used to identifying him through the presence of his car in the parking lot.

“What happens to the black one?” I asked as we approached the car.

“My parents sold it a few days ago,” he answered me lightly. I climbed the passenger seat and closed the door.

“How come you didn’t tell me?”

Only after I said it out loud that it started to sound like a stupid question. Lucky for me, he didn’t take my question seriously. It was not my business in the first place. The car was not mine, nor was it his. Legally, it belonged to his parents. However, the deprivation was mine to have.

Lots of our romantic memories were tied to that car. Within that black SUV was the first time my boyfriend gave me flowers. We went for dinner earlier, but only when we were in the car did he tell me to look at the back seat where a bouquet was laid. Instead of handing it to me, he told me to take it by myself. As I put it on my laps, I could see that the trunks were not as stiff and the edges of its petals were slightly grey. Turned out he had left it in the car for the whole day before giving it to me. Up until today, that was the only flower he ever gave me.

Later that night, as he stopped his car in front of my house, he told me that he loved me. I liked him too, but I was not ready to put any label on the relationship. I left the car feeling uneasy. His disappointed face was the last thing I saw before I closed the door.

Months later, in early November, we were sitting in the very same car on our way to my house. We didn’t have any plans for that night. He drove me home after work since it was raining that night. The weather was chilly, and thanks to the air conditioner, my hands were ice-cold and shivering. I tucked my hands inside my jacket’s pockets until he took my right hand with his left, slipped his fingers between mine and laid them on the hand-brake. The warmth crawled from his palm to mine, sank through my skin and reached my vein, then floated freely to my heart only to be pumped to my head.

“Ask me again,” I turned to him, but my eyes weren’t brave enough to meet his.

“Come again?”

“Ask me again. I’ll say yes this time.” Then his eyes caught mine.

That night, I left the car with him smiling back at me as the window rolled up.  

Also read: A Princess and a Butterfly: A Love Story

Ever since that night, a lot of things have happened in that car, some were special but most were common. Within that car was where we had our first kiss as well as most of our fights; where we said hello and goodbye for the day; where we made plans for our trips and discussed them later on; where we talked about our secret or didn’t talk at all. We became so comfortable sitting next to each other that we started to do the same thing at restaurants.

Spending much time being mobile is inevitable when we live in a big and dense city like Jakarta. The distance between places and the endless traffic jam made that car our second home. We figured that the space inside a car is normative but intimate at the same time; transparent but enclosed. Its thin metal walls partly isolate us from the rest of the world and protect us from unwanted eavesdroppers. The outside can see us and watch our moves through the glasses, but remain deaf to our flirty conversations or the impassioned way we sing along to some love songs on the radio. The space decides how we should sit, side-by-side, one foot away from each, embraced by a slightly stretchable belt. But we are still within each other’s range, he still can hold my arms and I can lay my head on his shoulder.

That black SUV was the first place where we found this quality. What was once a mere space has become a safe place for our romantic memories to grow.

Looking back to how much memory we had made in that car, I couldn’t help but fantasize that one day, one of us will propose to the other in this very car. When I heard that the car was gone, both the fantasy and memories evaporated. Suddenly, I was in a new place without a chance to say goodbye to the old one or the things inside it. I was not prepared for it. It was even more irritating to me that my boyfriend seemed very casual about it.

I turned to him and watched him closely; trying to investigate what was on his mind. Nothing. There was no tension in his face; his head was straight while his back curved lazily against his seat. He was driving with both of his hands, almost straight from his shoulders to the wrists. Funny, though he looked relaxed, he never drove carelessly.

“What is it?” he asked. I leaned over and rested my head on his shoulder.

“That was where you asked me to date you, remember?” I frowned.

“Which you rejected, remember?” his answer instantly turned my sentiment into a burst of laughter. His fingers then left the wheel to embrace. Just like that, I forgot that I was a newcomer in this space.  

It was not a surprise that in the end nothing really changed. We still talked, laughed, and held each other the same way. Honestly, I could barely even tell the difference between one car and the other from the inside. So I stopped anchoring our moments to the car, but to the space inside it instead, cherishing every moment where I still can sit next to him. Because now that he is staying in another city, 500.000 feet away from where I live, the moments of sitting one foot away to his left are what I am longing for. 

Adelia Andani is a bachelor in architectural design. Four years of studying architecture led her to the awareness that life is bigger than buildings. After graduating, she decided to become a writer so she could explore how life and space intertwined through a different perspective.