March 31, 2005

thelma and louise

There's this dark, bittersweet chocolate moment at the end of Thelma and Louise when they clasp hands with unspoken commitment to unfettered freedom and set sail in that '66 Thunderbird into the wild blue beyond the cliff. The scene is frozen and the movie viewer is left to their tears and sniffles to celebrate their bravery and never sees what happens next.

I know what happens next. You see, last Saturday I sailed off the cliff with Louise and we landed.

I named my 1998 Boxster after Louise. She wasn't plucked off a Porsche lot but carefully considered and ordered. It took a while to deliver. We used to joke, "It was a nine-month pregnancy but a smooooth delivery!" I thought she embodied that wild side of Louise - and top down; she was a beauty just like Sarandon. Together, Louise and I spent 7 happy, content years cruising the highways and byways of Texas, Arizona and California.

Never were we happier than when the top was gently folded down and the wind whizzed by while my free hand planed up and down over the friction, like a 6-year old surfing the breeze. I never lusted after another car. In fact, my license plate holder said, "My other car is...Umm I forget!".

We traveled 92,000 miles together before we sailed off the cliff in the rain. Not without some drama.

Just past where the highway marker says "Now entering Sonoma County". The place where I've always told my husband that the hills suddenly turn beautiful and the oak trees grow more magnificent. Where the hills undulate like waves in an ocean of green that in, just two short months will turn to Sonoma gold.

This Saturday, it was raining and as we dipped slightly through a dell, we began to hydroplane. Smooth as glass but like that teacup ride at the traveling circus, we spun in a 360. Scenery whirled recklessly around us and we veered helplessly off the road. With the grunt and groan of an immovable object attempting to stop a 65mph-moving vehicle, the left front of Louise hit an old redwood stump. Had it been a tree, Louise and our bodies would have been neatly wrapped around it. But as a stump, it merely served as a ramp to flip us upside down to fly down a hill and land upside down 25-30 ft below.

I'm a screamer. Somewhere the lively conversation with my husband froze. The coffee mug that I was holding disappeared from my hands as they waved back and forth in front of my face, trying to erase the unfathomable sight. No one should see the countryside in a hydroplane 360 or long grass wiping against the windshield.

It happened in slow motion. The quiet of the hydroplane. The thud of the redwood trunk. The soft whisper of flying through the air. The incomprehensible crash upside down. I saw it all. But more than that, I felt it all. Like a mother holding a baby to her breast, I felt Louise's seatbelt arms hold me tightly and safely to the contoured seat. Her rollbar held us off the ground and our heads never hit a thing. When we came to a stop, she refused to stop. The engine kept running, the lights kept shining and the CD, unbelievably, kept playing. She refused to quit. Even with a broken axle, she looked regal - a merlot colored queen.

As her battered and bruised body was turned back upright, I was shocked at her structural integrity. She was a shield and she had crumpled in all the right places, held firm and strong and carried us through. She was brave where I screamed and she gently released me from harm. Just cracked ribs and a puffy knee.

I can't ask anyone to understand how much I loved that car. Then again, we're the family that has 4 cats and gives every one of our Japanese maples a name.

I cringed to think of how much we would receive from the insurance company for Louise. I browsed through all the online used car websites seeing if I could get excited about some sedan or a cheaper kind of convertible. I just wanted Louise back. And I couldn't have her.

I thought I would get better in a couple of days. But there is an emotional as well as a physical trauma. Terror, grieving and sadness mixed with way too much adrenalin. At first the tears wouldn't come because of the shock. When the shock wore off, the pain set in. Then the tears. Mercifully modern medicine has invented Vicadin as a pillow to hug onto until one's nerves and bruises begin to heal.

I'm not as strong as I thought I was. My husband was a rock. I took pictures of the accident and then crumbled into a puddle of shaking and shock. He let me out of my seatbelt when I was dangling upside down. He got a coat and put it around me, opened an umbrella and held it over me. He recovered our laptop computer, camera, mobile phones, sunglasses. Oh yeah, he didn't forget those two pretty pair of chopsticks we kept in the passenger door for those spontaneous pops into a sushi place. He was calm, I was amazed. Funny what you learn about your partner in these moments. I really admire mine.

Through the week we waited, kind of in dread, for Allstate to call us with the amount they would give us for the totalled car. I anticipated the worst. It'll be 2,000 lower than Blue Book, I surmised. It wasn't. In fact, they took the higher cost of Porsches in the Bay Area into consideration. They added sales tax and registration. My heart flipped. I looked again at the used car websites. Omigawd, I can get another Boxster. There's 4 or 5 for sale in our price range.

I test drove one today that I think I'll buy. Like Louise, it's been babied. But it had to be a different color -there is only ONE Louise. This one is a deep iridescent blue that hints of regal purple in the sun. Perhaps its time to celebrate the Thelma side of me. The one that can easily cry. The one that feels peaceful about death. The one that values life just a little bit more. The one that sees even more of a hero in her husband.

I'm going to call this Boxster Thelma. Another good 7 years is about to start. Like Chris Smither sings it, maybe I'll be Happier Blue...