An Ode to My Subaru (and the man who bought it for me).

I hate shopping. No, hate is not a strong enough word. I despise shopping. I can handle shopping out of necessity, but shopping for fun has really never been my cup of tea (drinking cups of tea in places where others shop, specifically for books, is something I quite enjoy, however). In this way my husband and I were a bit of a mismatch from the start. My perfect Sunday involves watching football games I care about, and napping through football games I don’t care about, as well as walking the dog at halftime and/or in between games to get some fresh air and offset the calories from all of the football snacks I like to eat.

Travis was generally down for the snacks and the naps (and not completely opposed to the football), but he also had this strange compulsion to spend his Sundays going to places where they sell things, looking at those things, and maybe or maybe not buying those things. He’d then spend even more time thinking about all the things he’d looked at, comparing the cost of related things online and then, on a subsequent Sunday, he would want to return to the places that sell the things and look at them again (and maybe or maybe not buy them). This is a process he would want to repeat over and over and over again with just about every possible purchase you can think of.

At first I was fascinated by this behavior, then frustrated, and finally I decided to use it to my advantage. If I married this guy I would never have to shop for anything, ever again! Sure, there were other reasons that I said “yes!” when he proposed, but the luxury of being the only wife sitting in the “husband seats” that are conveniently placed in between the stores in shopping malls, and relaxing in my car in the Target parking lot playing Words With Friends on my phone while listening to a baseball game on the radio… was a pretty sweet perk. When we needed a new stove I gave him the basic features I was looking for (cooks food and won’t catch the house on fire), along with a general budget ($0 would be great but there’s a little wiggle room, I suppose), and he delivered the perfect stove/oven that did those things and even some more things that I didn’t realize a cooking appliance could do. Paint colors for the bathroom he’d just finished remodeling? I just handed him a blue t-shirt and said “I like this, but as a paint and maybe not quite so loud” and he sourced out the most perfect color combo that gave me the feeling I was showering seaside (and he found it on sale!).

In the months, now turning to years, since Travis died I can’t count the number of times I have appreciated his careful and thoughtful shopping skills. Most of the winter coats I’ve purchased for myself have holes and broken zippers while his look like the just came off of the store rack, and so I have taken to wearing his old coats. I used to think socks were just something you wore as a necessary barrier between your feet and certain shoes, but thanks to his collection of Smart Wool summer and winter hiking socks that I started stealing while he was still alive, I haven’t had a blister in at least 5 years (even while walking multiple marathons during that time). And I think I cook 90% of my meals in his cast iron skillets, which I am pretty sure are older than I am. But, in spite of his best shopping efforts, many of the things he bought for himself/me/us are wearing, breaking and fading. Dishes are chipped and cracked, blankets have holes, and sadly, my beloved 2014 Subaru Forester is showing signs that the year 2021 may be her last in my possession.

My Forester is my first car that was just mine. All of my prior cars were family hand-me-downs acquired by calling my Dad and saying “hey, I need a car, do you know anyone that has a car they’d like to get rid of?” My actual first car, a Ford Escort mini-wagon, was sourced in just this way. My Dad got it from his brother Tom, and when I was done with it (moving to a place where I wouldn’t need a car for at least a year) it went to my cousin Maddie. It’s one of many cars I used to drive that I’d see in the driveway at a family Christmas party and think to myself “wait, am I already here?”

I had a new job with a daily commute of about 100 miles roundtrip, (it was also up hill both ways in the snow and that’s not hyperbole, just google “Cherry Valley, NY”), and my little Hyundai just wasn’t cutting it. I needed something with a little more oomph. But as I reached for my phone to call my Dad and ask him who may be looking to get rid of a car with some oomph, Travis stopped me and informed me that there was another way to acquire cars. A method people without a giant family have been using since the dawn of cars… something called “car shopping.” I cringed at the thought but begrudgingly agreed to go on a few test drives. After dragging me to a couple of dealerships where I rolled my eyes and whined like an ungrateful teenager, we both decided it would be best for me to just give him my list of wants (stick shift, cruise control, can go up hills without dying, unlikely to catch on fire spontaneously, and most importantly, longevity, because I don’t want to be doing this again in two years!), and a general budget ($0 would be great but there’s a little wiggle room, I suppose).

Travis always loved the cars he drove and felt a connection to them, but that had never been my experience. They were just transportation. But my Subaru was different. I could see our future when I looked at that car – kids in the backseat and dog in the rear cargo area, driving to Thanksgiving in Delaware, or on a cross country trip visiting all of the National Parks on our bucket list. I envisioned us bringing our babies home from the hospital in that car, driving them to their first t-ball practices, and I saw myself vacuuming dog hair and goldfish crackers out of the seat crevices. These humble dreams were exactly what Travis had in mind when he lovingly selected this particular car after meticulously reviewing everything that was on the market.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get kid miles. No, we got chemo miles. The car was everything we needed as we drove the 110 mile roundtrip loop to therapy appointments and various treatments on an almost daily basis for the better part of two years (often uphill both ways in the snow). It was safe, reliable, and never failed to get in or out of our insanely steep hillside driveway even after a snowstorm (who knew shopping for a car that had 8 inches of ground clearance was so important??). Instead of bringing babies home from the hospital my Subaru brought Travis home from the hospital after three brain surgeries and a month in the ICU. There were no spontaneous family road trips with our kids, or cross country adventures, but it did deliver us safely to meticulously planned last vacations while comfortably carrying a dog in the backseat and a wheelchair in the rear cargo area. It moved us from New York to Ohio when I needed more help taking care of Travis in his final months of life. And it picked up Travis’ ashes from the funeral home and carried them from Ohio to New Hampshire, and the final resting place he had selected for himself.

For the second time this year my Subaru is in the shop for some pretty major and costly repairs (not surprising for a car with 200,000+ miles). I sadly fear its time to start… shopping. It breaks my heart to think about the joy he would have taken in selecting the right features for our next phase of life. But, harder still is watching the pieces of him that do still exist in my daily life slowly fade and disappear. His coats no longer smell like him because I wear them so much, and his socks now just look like my socks on my feet. The last of the pieces of furniture he picked out for our old house are now in my house, a place where he never lived. The puppy he gave me for our first Christmas together (who he hand picked from a shelter after a painstaking search because I said I wanted a dog who would go on long hikes, and was big but not too big ) is now approaching 13 years old and needs to be helped up onto my (not our) bed at night. And his cat, well the vet assures me that his cat is the kind of cat who is just ornery enough to live forever so I guess some things don’t change…

But the car, my car, has been a bit of a safe space for me these past two years as I have navigated life without Travis. I have kept his sunglasses on the dash right where he left them, since the day he died, because I just can’t bear to take them out (and because the medication he’s on makes him light sensitive so he needs them whenever we go anywhere). I still put my hand on the seat where his legs should be because when I put my hand on his knee he’d put his hand on top of mine and rub my thumb with his thumb, and I swear I can still feel it when my hand is in that spot on the seat.

I was returning home from delivering Christmas presents to the home of a fellow brain cancer widow when the odometer ticked up over 200,000 miles this past December. The baby he never met but that we had always hoped for was sleeping soundly in the backseat, the dog in the rear cargo area. I cried and patted the passenger seat next to me right where Travis’ knee was for the majority of those 200,000 miles. I double-checked the center console to make sure his sunglasses were still there, just in case he needed them, and continued cruising on to mile 200,001.

2 thoughts on “An Ode to My Subaru (and the man who bought it for me).

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