When we were first married, M and I had no money. Our wedding was a simple, courthouse affair in front of our circuit court judge. We had to borrow $60 to pay for our marriage license and the little bit of change we had left over we used to buy a Big Mac (because, we reasoned, we had to). Afterward, we came back to the townhouse we shared with M’s siblings and played video games or watched TV.
M drove a white, 1988 Ford Mustang (fastback). It was the car of a gear head without a lot of money: dicey exhaust, no catalytic converter, covered with bumper stickers, and pockmarked with rust stains. The wiring on the fan had broken long before my time and to fix it, M had rigged up a system where the driver could flip a little switch by their knees and turn it on while idling, lest we be at the Taco Bell drive through and the whole car overheat. The windows worked occasionally, which was great because there was no A/C. Going uphill took all 88 horses (IF you lifted your ass off the seat or, better yet, got out and ran along beside it), which sucked when we had to haul laundry to M’s parents’ house for the weekend. But every weekend, we’d rally and make the journey from our townhouse to my in-laws’ place 50 miles in BF Alabama. M’s siblings would make the trek with us sometimes in a convoy, taking their much nicer, smoother, durable Taurus.
I didn’t mind this aspect of our poverty. My family had a reliable car while I was growing up. Summer or winter, rain or shine, there was always someone outside in the driveway or in the garage under the hood or under the chassis ranting and swearing about the condition of our family vehicle. We also never had the same car for longer than a year or two, so I never bothered to get attached. I grew up in Southeastern Michigan, my family has been connected with the Big Three, but I couldn’t care less about what I rode in.
(Oh, that was another thing. I didn’t drive. Today, I don’t drive for medical reasons; back then I didn’t drive for convenience. My high school was within walking distance. If I needed to go somewhere, someone took me. I didn’t have too many friends, so going “out” with them wasn’t an issue for me. So I didn’t have to get my driver’s license until I was 20.)
Then one day, the doors in M’s Mustang broke.
I recall them both breaking within a week or so of each other. First the driver’s side, then the passenger side. They opened from the inside, but the outside handles refused to budge. Both of us tried futzing with the handles for a little while before M said they’d have to fix or replace them.
“I can fix them,” M declared. “It shouldn’t be too hard.”
Unfortunately, M didn’t exactly jump on the chance to fix the door handles to the Mustang. Yes, money was an issue; we didn’t have it. But M did have time to see what was wrong with the door handles and assess how much it would take to fix them.
So what did we do in the interim?
M had a brilliant idea to tie a length of vinyl strap around each internal door opener and toss the strap over the backseats. That way, all you have to do is pop the trunk, pull the straps, and the doors will swing open.
I stared at M for a long moment after they explained this to me. “Mmhmm,” I acknowledged. “And then what?”
“Then the doors open,” they repeated.
You can guess how well this worked. About the third time for the “pull the strap” method of opening the Mustang doors, the strap slipped off or M forgot to tie them to the internal door handles.
“Shit, let me fix that.”
To my horror, M began crawling in through the trunk of the car.
I trembled in the parking lot of Walmart, a 19-year-old newlywed, watching as my spouse ambled through the back of our only vehicle just so they could open the doors. Of course, this was Alabama and this wasn’t the strangest, nor the most white trash, incident that’s ever gone down in this city — let alone that parking lot. But something inside my tender heart broke and I lost it. Once the doors came swinging open, I ducked inside and began shrieking:
“Ok, I wasn’t going to say anything but you have got to fix these doors as soon as we get home because I AM NOT CRAWLING THROUGH THE FUCKING TRUNK to get into this car!”
We drove home in silence, but M fixed the door handles.
I brought up this memory on our anniversary last week and M laughed. “Yeah, I’m sorry about that. Don’t worry, you’ll never have to do that again.”
Not so fast.
A week after we leased the Tesla, the operating system died and we had to take it back to the leasing office for repairs. We only found out when we got into the car and the monitor didn’t turn on. The car still drove, but the other important stuff didn’t work. The app on our phones didn’t work; only the key card which we keep as a back up let us into the car.
If we didn’t have the backup card, we wouldn’t be able to open our car doors.
Seventeen years later, the problems are still the same. Just different.