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objects in the rearview mirror

We are currently working on selling a car and buying a bigger one. Both cars are used and crappy. The potential difference between their prices is well within the range of our federal tax refund. Which is all to say this should be a low stress transaction. This shouldn't break my ability to cope with normal life.

But Oh God I am so completely stressed out.

The first car I bought was a '91 Toyota Corolla. To say "I bought it" is speaking loosely. The fact is, when I turned 16 my father searched for a used car. He located a good one, went to see it, and negotiated the price. He wrote a check, added the vehicle to his insurance, drove the thing to our house and handed me the keys. My part consisted of turning over $2000 I had saved from my Bat-Mitzvah. I didn't have to write a check because our accounts were linked. This was technically "my money," but it's not like I did anything to earn it. I showed up one day to a party with all my relatives and there was the car money three years in advance.

I learned to drive on that car. I drove it for a year after I got my license. Then I crashed it into the back of a SUV while I was trying to change the song away from "Istanbul not Constantinople." My Dad bought me another used Corolla the following week. No one yelled at me. This is the sort of thing that happens, my parents said. Everyone was glad I hadn't killed myself or my younger brother who I was driving to advanced math class at the time. Really good I didn't kill my brother, actually. He always had a higher earning potential than me.

In college I studied abroad and my parents sold the Corolla to a friend who needed a car for his daughter. My dad called me long distance before I was to return home from France. "I'm thinking of buying a new car for you," he said. "What do you think of a Jetta? All the cool kids are driving Jettas these days."

"Um, okay? Sounds good?"

"You can go online and pick the color."

This is how I obtained the car I am currently selling. A dark green VW Jetta, asking price: not my money anyway. Our new family van will be purchased with the proceeds (a tenth of what my Dad paid for it 12 years ago) plus money my husband earned through his work, or money from an inheritance he got last year, or money we get free from the government for having two cute tax deductions. I can send emails and set up showing times and think about a negotiation strategy, but really I am playing a part I don't deserve in a game that does not need me in it.

I have been called a great many names over the course of my life. People routinely call me fat, for instance. And though this is rude and irritating it does not cut to the core of me, because despite my vile self-mockery on this blog or when I'm naked with my husband, I'm actually secretly happy with my body. But there is one name so terrible that no one has ever called me it. No one has thought to say it because I'm always flitting around cleaning or crafting or making snacks, always working as fast as I can to run away from the label I secretly believe is true. In the dark secret corner of my heart I know that I am USELESS.

Unhelpful. Unnecessary. Not worth my salt. Extraneous to the process, and yet pretending to belong somewhere within it. Selling or buying or owning a car reminds me that this has always been true.

I want to end the blog post here, but perhaps that'd be a bit unfair. It feels EMOTIONALLY true of course, but it cannot literally be so. There are a great many things each of us gets that we don't deserve. The list should probably start with "salvation," but it could also include food stamps or the baby monitor my mom just bought me or the free public wifi network that's available in many parts of the US but not in other countries.

That we have not done something to deserve these gifts merit some reflection, though perhaps not a complete breakdown into self loathing. And that is the rational side of my brain talking. Making itself useful, if you will.

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