In my family we drive cars for as long as they will last typically. I know some people like to get cars every few years, my husband included, but that was never the mindset I had growing up. The first car I ever drove was my mom’s Nissan Altima (also a fine, loyal car that lasted to the ripe old car age of 200,000 miles and miraculously survived being driven/abused by me and my older brother). I drove that the last year of high school and then to Charleston my sophomore year. My wonderful parents in their kindness told me that I could get a car of my own my junior year of college. And so after a semester in Paris I came home to Richmond and I (my parents) decided on a car. My mom settled on the Focus because of reviews and ratings. And so there was never any real “shopping.” We headed to Carmax and were taken to this car in the lot. I wanted a Prius (because I was in college and wanted to save the world obviously) but they were too expensive. But I liked this little Ford. I liked that it was green and sparkly. I liked it when we test drove it. It had a CD PLAYER (the Altima only had a cassette player, and this was long before USB ports were anything like common place in cars). It had a SUNROOF. It was going to be mine and mine alone.
In general I am a sentimental kind of person. I am prone, as many writers are, to embarrassing fits of nostalgia. And yes, this may all be a little sentimental, to dedicate any words to an automobile, to a composition of metal and plastic and electrical wires. But from the day in that Car Max lot to its last day in the Toyota dealership lot, this car has followed me, has literally carried me through such a vastly momentous part of my life.
The Focus was with me for two and a half years in Charleston. When I was cleaning it out, I found sand in various nooks and crannies. This Focus took me and my friends to the beach countless times, and endured us and our sandy selves and our sandy chairs and gear being thrown in and out. It was parked at Sullivan’s Island and at Folly beach on all those many beautiful warm days, warmed by the sun. It was driven over the new Cooper river bridge when the bridge was still only months old, over that gorgeous structure. We could look up through the sun roof and see those big white beams criss crossing over against the pale blue sky. The Focus also took me to the beach alone, for all of my many soul reviving beach walks. My last few months in Charleston, I was a little directionless. I had graduated, had misguidedly quit my job as a barista and was “nannying” a couple days a week. Mostly I was idle, trying to figure out what to do with my life. And so again and again, I would get into my Focus and drive from our townhouse on James Island to Folly. I would park it with my head full of doubt and uncertainty and then walk on the beach for an hour until my head was clear. I would get back in my car with my sandy feet and feel this persistent gleam of hope for the future as I drove back home, burnished and shined by an hour on the beach.
The Focus followed me through all of those Charleston days and nights, through getting flooded in one of the city’s torrential downpours to a (seemingly minor) fender bender on Broad St that left my poor little Ford un-driveable. The Focus was with me through so many trips back and forth from Charleston to Richmond, for all of those many miles on 95, through all of the back country rest stops, through sheets of rain that slowed traffic to a crawl to backups that went on for miles. I still remember how it felt going both ways, the warmth and security I felt as soon as we crossed into Virginia on my way home, the excitement and brightness I felt the other direction, when I got onto 26, when I saw those faint triangles of the bridge going into Charleston, my other home.
The Focus came with me home to Richmond, waited patiently for me when I ran away to Thailand. The Ford was with me for that hard post Thailand year, when I was stuck in so many ways. I can admit now that my Focus saw a lot of tears in this time. I used to get in the car and drive circles around Richmond some days just so I could cry. For whatever reason I have always felt like I could cry easiest in a car, behind the windshield and a pair of sunglasses, with the music turned up and nothing in front of me but road. My poor Focus witnessed so many of those drives that year without judgement or complaint, simply the reassuring steadiness of its presence, the hum of the engine and the whir of its AC.
My Focus saw me through nursing school, through all of the stress and challenges of that time. When I cleaned it out its trunk was still full of old Power Point slides and binders.
My Focus was right next to me when I had my first kiss with my now husband, in a parking lot in Charlottesville after a Ray LaMontagne concert.
My Focus was with me the first year I worked as an RN. When you work as a nurse (or any job in healthcare I imagine) your commute to and from work takes on a new importance. When you deal with things that we deal with, these huge, literally life or death things, you have to have time and space at the end of a day to breathe, to cry, to shed nurse mode and become a human being again. I have had days where I barely make it to my car, where I can feel the tears and sorrow and anger coming on the walk to the parking deck, and then only when safely inside my Focus I let it out of me. Inside the safe and warm cocoon of my Focus, I have left myself feel the things that I can’t feel when I’m in the walls of the hospital, cry the tears I cannot cry, be weak for the first time in 13 hours. Inside my Focus I was able to do what I have had to do for so many of these shifts to stay sane, to cry until I could get it out of my system, to let myself feel all that pain just long enough until I pulled into my driveway and I could put myself together and leave that all behind back at the hospital. And its carried me through the reverse, going back to the hospital, when I have sat in the garage before work with my coffee and my Luna bar, listening to silly talk radio, savoring those last few moments before I put the nurse armor on.
My Focus has also seen so much joy, road trips with friends to concerts, with 2 people crammed into the tiny backseat, singing along to the radio, eating fast food we picked up on the way. It’s been there to bars in my early 20s, trying to find parking near Three Monkey’s or Buddy’s or Starlight. It’s sat patiently waiting for me on nights where I’ve had to leave it and take a cab. It’s been on day trips to vineyards and outlets, on longer trips to far away beaches. It’s taken kids I’ve babysat for to and from gymnastics and ballet and piano classes. It took me to DC every Sunday night for three months when I nannied for my niece and then back home every Friday, through cherry blossom covered streets and past the White House and national monuments and museums.
It knows Richmond by heart, even without a fancy GPS system, because it has taken almost every road you can take in Richmond, has felt the cobble stones of Monument, the tiny little streets of the Fan, the smooth highways. And it knows Charleston too, has followed behind horses on countless occasions, had its paint weathered by salt air.
It’s been full of boxes and stuff more times than I can count, has moved me in and out of apartments in Charleston and Richmond. It moved me into my current house, the first place outside of my parents’ house that has ever felt like home, because I share it with my husband and best friend.
There are many more words I could write about this car. And of course, I haven’t really written anything about the car itself, about its engine or features or seats. Because really, that’s not why I loved my Focus. It was a good car, a solid car, and it lasted well past the point I think anyone predicted. I probably could have driven it for years more. It has passed its inspections dutifully with minimal work to be done. It’s only major issues stemmed from an accident that I caused. It never complained even when I went too long without changing the oil or went even longer without cleaning it. It fought its way through snow and ice to get me to and from work safely. It was a good car when it comes to all of those nuts and bolts things.
But the reason I felt a pang of sadness, of grief even, when I left it behind at the Toyota dealership had nothing to do with any of that and everything to do with the time in my life I have driven the Focus, with what giving it up seems to represent. I am 29 now. I will be 30 soon. I am so completely okay with that fact. And yet even though I’m fine with getting older, I feel incredibly sad at the thought of saying goodbye to my 20s. Driving away from my Focus felt like the first step in that process, because my Focus and my 20s have been inextricably linked.
I am so eager and excited to see what my 30s bring. I know they will probably surpass my 20s in many ways. I know my Highlander will see me through many momentous things, through (God willing) children and all of the wonderful things that come with being a parent . I know I will love this Highlander too.
But leaving my Focus behind felt like leaving a part of myself, the part that would drive 4 hours home from a Ben Folds concert in Greenville, SC even though I had class the next morning, the part that would drive to bars past 10pm on a Saturday, or head to the beach on a daily basis because I was young and on summer break and had zero responsibilities. Leaving my Focus felt like leaving the part of myself that was blissfully immature and gorgeously naive. I was so young when I got the Focus. I felt like I was old and cool because I finally had my own car. At 20 I probably felt like I knew so much.
But of course ate 20 I knew hardly anything. 9 years later and I know more, nowhere close to everything but more. The journey of your 20s is getting to a point where you realize how comically little you do know and not simply being okay with that but being excited by it, thrilled because it means you have so many more ways to grow. The journey of your 20s is coming to understand how little what you plan turns out to actually come true, but how miraculously, the best things that will probably happen to you are precisely when life goes off the rails and goes nowhere near your plan. The journey of my 20s has been chaotic and strange and funny and sometimes sad and sometimes weird and always, always beautiful. I have been so young and so dumb. I have been brave and strong too. My Focus was there for that journey, through all of those many miles, through so many different roads. I will always be grateful to it. I will always smile when I see one on the roads.
I will hold onto a secret, kind of silly little hope. That maybe my Focus was not dissembled into parts. That maybe it found its way back to a used car dealership, maybe even to Carmax, despite its 100,000 miles. That some 20 year old getting her first car will pick it out with the help of her kind and generous parents. That it will be the car for her that it was for me, a constant presence in a decade of life defined by its insistence on change.
100,000 miles later and 9 years later. It’s gone so quickly. Here’s to the Focus who was there so steadfastly beside me for those years and miles. Here’s to the next 100,000 miles and 9 years, and all the new roads yet to be taken.