On January 2, 2009, I met one of the loves of my life. I’d spent the previous several days on retreat with dear colleagues at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, enjoying a snowy, bonfirey time of dancing, laughing, catching up, and composting 2008. After our farewells, I headed north in Big Red, my maroon ’92 Jeep Cherokee Sport, towards Gunnison, Colorado on an uncertain adventure.
Unbeknownst to Big Red, we were traveling to meet his successor. It was a four-hour drive through the snow, and my reflective reverie almost devolved into terror as I nearly ran out of gas towards the end. I hadn’t anticipated how mountainous and remote the roads would be, nor how alone I’d be.
But I made it OK, and the journey was worth it. I’d looked everywhere online for the car I wanted, and she’d eventually appeared only 325 miles from home. I sought a 6-cylinder, four-wheel-drive manual transmission with a sunroof — preferably another Jeep. I’d wanted silver or red, but this one was a sort of golden tan. That was good enough.
I liked her right away. Big Red was nearing the end of his journey — he was old, tired, a remnant of my deceased marriage, and not feeling well after his door had a minor altercation with my garage wall. I was sad to leave him behind after our adventures: sleeping in the back with my husband waiting in line for Madonna concert tickets, fleeing from my husband after violence, then trekking around vast red deserts and narrow cliffs with my grad school gal pals looking for the perfect spot to camp out on the mesa. But when I removed the purple and silver Mardi Gras beads from Big Red’s gear shift that day in Gunnison, there was only the slightest bit of regret. At least that’s what I remember.
The new Jeep was a revelation. So strong! So high up! So clean! Such supportive seats! She was a 2005 Jeep Liberty sport with only 45,000 miles on her. The dealer said she’d never seen anyone look over a car as meticulously as I did — all over the dash, all through the cab, under the hood, and under the car. There were some doggie claw marks inside and some rust underneath — her one previous owner lived in Michigan — but otherwise she was in excellent shape. I don’t remember the dealer rushing me or being difficult in any way. I paid my $10,000 and left.
New Jeep and I bonded on the 5 ½-hour drive back home to Albuquerque. I named her Eowyn. Eowyn — the Shieldmaiden of Rohan, the niece of King Théoden and the warrior who slew the Witch-King of Angmar at the end of Lord of the Rings. She of the climactic and prophecy-fulfilling “I AM NO MAN!” line. She who was drawn to Aragorn, but became the bride of the courageous and benevolent Faramir.
I thought the name was fitting because, like her namesake, my Jeep was powerful, yet curvily feminine — and “blonde.” She was definitely a “she” — undeniably feminine and vulnerable, yet also a courageous badass who was honest and a loyal protector. My sister (and fellow LOTR nerd) once remarked that my Jeep and I were like Eowyn and Merry Brandybuck during that final epic battle — looking out for each other and discovering our full selves and true mettle, I suppose.
And discover them, we did. Eowyn became my beloved companion two days before my 39th birthday, and remained my faithful steed throughout my forties. I went to parties in her, had sex in her, drove to my boyfriends’ homes in her, and screamed my head off in her with all the windows closed when one betrayed me. I slept in her, blasted my music in her, drove to mountains and white sands and forests in her, parked alone on the side of remote roads to marvel at the view in her, and almost got stranded in Malpais in her when a belt broke (but she made it!). I drove my friends around in her, drove their kids around in her, and drove my Lyft passengers around in her when I migrated back to California.
That migration happened in 2016, when I towed Eowyn 800 miles behind a large U-Haul across three states to return to my native Los Angeles. That was a journey I never thought I’d make when I left in 1995. Once we arrived, she had to adjust to big-city life — the scarce parking, constant downshifting, fierce drivers, and multiple competing radio stations. I could only listen to my iPod (but not iPhone) in her by using an adapter that channeled my iPod through unclaimed radio waves, but in L.A. there are very few dead channels.
I had to adjust to big-city life too, and it wasn’t smooth. My business tanked after moving to SoCal, but at least Eowyn was paid off, so I kept her. When I got a high-paid corporate job I whispered to friends out of her earshot about maybe selling her and buying a Honda CRV. I decided instead to keep paying down my debt and saving money, so when I was laid off due to COVID two years later, I had savings, a good car, and no car payments.
But this June, after 12 ½ years together, Eowyn’s air conditioning compressor died. I take excellent care of my vehicles — like me, they often look younger than they are due to good diet and maintenance 😊 — but this was a deal breaker.
With the demeanor of a doctor coming out of the operating room with bad news, my mechanic Emad explained that the compressor was a $1000 part, and other things were starting to go. Like the time I went in to get new headlights installed, and a random piece in the steering column suddenly broke. Like the time my window suddenly fell down into the door in the Target parking lot. Like the time I went in to get my transfer case fluid replaced, and it turned out my differential was flapping around.
“It’s time,” Emad said. I knew he was right, and I also knew the long L.A. summer would be literal hell driving around with no a/c during global warming, record temps, smoke from record wildfires … and ongoing hot flashes. It was time.
But 12 years is a long time in car years. The car buying landscape had changed dramatically since 2008. Not only was much more shopping and research done almost entirely online, I could no longer buy a car like Eowyn because they no longer exist. This is one reason I held onto her for so long: 6-cylinder, four-wheel-drive manual transmissions with sunroofs are no more.
However, I did find a handful of 4-cylinder, four-wheel-drive manual transmissions with sunroofs. After weeks of daily online searches and annoyingly persistent salespeople, a highly-rated 2016 Subaru Forester manual with a panoramic sunroof, 71,000 miles, one owner and no accidents appeared online. It was red. And unlike all the others popping up on the east coast, it was nearby. In New Mexico.
So last Monday I drove back across the desert to Las Cruces to trade in Eowyn and buy a Subaru. Unlike Big Red, she knew she was going out to pasture. I’d told her this was our last oil change, our last visit to the car wash, and now our final adventure together.
And yet she remained faithful. We traveled across 800 miles of desert in 100-plus degree July heat, with no a/c. When I arrived in Las Cruces, I changed my shirt in a gas station parking lot so I wouldn’t look like a sweaty crazy lady trying to negotiate with salespeople. I’m now 51, not 38. I need all the advantages I can get.
The buying process was as different from my experience in Gunnison as the Las Cruces summer weather is from winter in the Rockies. It was long, stressful, and confusing. I toggled between shaking with nerves and numbing out. I was overwhelmed by my unfamiliar ignorance about financing and the process of buying a car in another state — even though I’d somehow done both before. Halfway through, my rep abruptly left to go “help his mom” in El Paso, and my new rep was clearly displeased to have been burdened by my contract. I had to stand up for myself at one point to get some answers. I wondered how I was even able to speak given my profound sleep deprivation.
The whole ordeal lasted for 4 ½ hours and made me late for an important work meeting, but I was unwilling to frenetically yank all my shit out of Eowyn’s bowels, throw it into the new car and burn rubber. She required more care and respect than that.
I parked the Subaru next to Eowyn and moved all the big stuff over from the back — tools, car maintenance stuff, emergency supplies. I transferred the contents of the door pockets, console and glove compartment — maps, tire pressure gauges, pens, notebook, paperwork, tech adapters, hand sanitizer, face masks. From the gear shift, I carefully removed the red and silver Mardi Gras beads. From my rearview mirror, I carefully removed Captain Bad — a string doll gifted to me by my sister — my patron saint of adventures and ARRRR since grad school and Big Red. He had a new ship to skipper.
I caressed Eowyn’s dashboard and took pictures of her odometer. 135,747 miles, and almost 91,000 with me. Moved by a sudden urge, I climbed into the back and hugged the driver’s seat from behind. I started to cry — again. I told her I would miss her, I thanked her, and I wished her well on her next adventure. I was glad it was late and there weren’t many people around, but if there had been they wouldn’t have deterred me. This was a sacred moment not to be rushed or denied.
I closed and locked the doors and patted Eowyn’s hood, and when I drove away in my “new” Subaru, I blew her a kiss. The next day when I passed the dealership on my way back to the highway, I saw she was no longer parked out front. I was oddly relieved.
I mentioned that Eowyn was (is) one of the loves of my life. A car. Even though it’s true, I feel a bit sheepish admitting this. Such a sentiment feels so materialistic, so privilegey, so pathetically lonely. Perhaps it is. And what it also is, is a statement about love.
I loved Eowyn because I knew her. I knew every square inch of her. I cared for her — kept her immaculate, applied Armor All to her soft parts, checked her tires and oil, and took her for regular checkups. I listened to her, took her complaints seriously and respected her limits. I patiently bore her weaknesses (Jeeps have notoriously bad cooling systems) and proudly celebrated her strengths (V6 engines are da bomb.)
Like cars, life is movement. That which is not moving is not alive, and movement means change — constant change. Once upon a time, Eowyn was a step up. But as the Earth turned, that became less so. She declined, and my needs changed. Her faults gradually loomed larger than her virtues, and became more expensive to manage. I could have kept going with Eowyn, but she was increasingly no longer good for me. She was struggling to keep up as my growth outpaced her limits. One day she might even have ceased being safe — despite her best intentions.
I don’t love the Subaru. Don’t get me wrong, she (yes, also “she”) is a great car. She’s great at being who she is, and she’s everything she claimed to be. But something’s missing. Something soulful, substantial, intimate, personal. Driving her feels like being with a new lover who’s skilled, but still makes you miss the familiarity and comfort of your ex’s lovemaking. There are too many bells and whistles, too many gadgets that run themselves without asking.
When I first drove her, my right hand kept aiming for the height of Eowyn’s stick and hitting the “infotainment” screen. In the past few days, I’ve stalled a couple times because the Subaru’s smooth ride makes me sometimes forget I’m driving a manual. “This feels like a rental car,” I thought — both in her sterile techy newness and the this-isn’t-mine feel.
I haven’t yet hung Captain Bad from the Subaru’s rearview mirror. I haven’t yet placed any beads around her gear shift. She hasn’t earned them. I don’t know her well enough, yet.
I couldn’t bring myself to leave behind the thick folder of Eowyn’s records in Las Cruces. It makes no logical sense, but it felt like the dealership didn’t earn that level of care, so I brought her paperwork home like a box of cremated ashes. I placed Eowyn’s beads and her spare key — her dog tags — on a makeshift altar in my living room. It’s her velorio.
Before this trip, I already knew our culture sucks at grief and grieving. I already knew 2020 was a really, really hard year for almost everyone. But what I didn’t fully understand is that grief accumulates and compounds. I’ve stepped over much of the tremendous loss and grief in my life, and it hasn’t gone away. I’ve swallowed much of the tremendous pain and anger, and so it lingers. Each new loss or violation isn’t getting easier to navigate as I age — it’s getting worse because each is added to a mountain of unprocessed emotions. Time does not heal all wounds, and some wounds never heal.
And so I will grieve my Jeep — not just the end of our relationship and adventures together, but what the passed time represents. I’m getting older. I’m becoming more tired, more vulnerable. I’m feeling more fearful and disillusioned. The civilization I inhabit is moving away from so many of the values and norms I cherish. They don’t make Jeeps like Eowyn anymore. We don’t make much of anything like we once did — with the care, attention, time and commitment required to create anything valuable and enduring.
The same is true of people and human relationships. But I will continue to strive to be the best human I can, despite the odds. I will continue to explore grief, anger, loss and love — in all their forms.
Maybe one day I’ll fall in love with my new car — hell, her maker’s slogan is “Love, it’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru.” But I’ve always preferred to love the scruffy and disheveled underdog — apartments, houses, causes, organizations, people. There’s something about work and sweat equity that earns my heart and makes me invested.
Perhaps I don’t know what I’m missing in the ol’ scruffy and sweaty until I experience the upgrade. Or maybe I’m getting too old to be impressed by the unfamiliar and unnecessarily complex. However, I do admit that cruising through 110-degree desert heat in a climate-controlled cabin was … heaven.
Farewell, beloved companion and faithful steed. Thank you for your loyalty, perseverance, and companionship. They don’t make them like you anymore.