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The End of a Useful Life

(This happened to me back in January and only now can I summon the courage to tell the tale…)

She was faithful to the end.

Her skin, blemished over the years from constant exposure to the elements, hung limply on her frame, a testament to a full and useful life. Her eyes were dimmed from too many late-night sessions on the road and her tread, once straight and sure, was now helter-skelter, her pigeon-toed gait a sure sign of advancing age.

And yet…

She always took me where I wanted to go, without complaint. Oh, sure, occasionally we would laugh at the shared joke of her high-maintenance lifestyle but, compared to many others I’d lived with, she was more than reasonable. Besides, it wasn’t her fault I’d met her so late in life…

And it was also true that she was no raving beauty. Physical perfection wasn’t her strong point. Often when I was out with her, she’d seem to cringe when a beautiful, young and sexy thing would pass by us, but always I would pat her lovingly and whisper “Don’t worry, sweetheart – you have it where it matters”.

In the summer she was always hot, in the winter freezing cold. Her circulatory system had evidently suffered some indignity or another before we’d met, and no matter what specialists we went to the cause could never be found. And still she went through life unafraid.

The Cold Winds of Valhalla

This winter proved very hard for her. I tried everything I knew to make her comfortable, but I could see the damnable signs of her imminent end. Her reflexes were slowed; I heard creaks and groans when she moved; she couldn’t even wipe away her own tears anymore without my helping her, but it was help that I gave more than willingly.

Yesterday I took her out for a pizza, her favorite food. We’d driven to most of the local pizzerias and sampled all the exotic pies offered, but she always preferred Little Caesars. Just another sign, I suppose, of her simple and frugal nature. We bought two of the Hot-‘n’-Ready Pepperoni pizzas and started back home, under most conditions a simple 15-minute drive. She hadn’t been complaining any more than normal so I had no inkling of what was about to happen.

As we drove along Route 11, she suddenly began shivering. I tried to hold her, to reassure her that no matter what we’d pull through this, but it didn’t seem to help. I threw on the four-way flashers and pulled to the side of the road, trying to close my ears to the gut-wrenching moans that were issuing from her insides. But it was her time.

I of course stayed with her as help was summoned, hoping against hope that she would be up and about as soon as the professionals took care of her. But they had been reciting the same mantra for the entire last year – “she doesn’t have long – go easy with her”. When help finally came and we rode together to the familiar small building with the flowerbeds in front and the gorgeous Japanese maple in the back (where she and I had spent many a happy occasion being reunited) she was oddly quiet, as if accepting her fate. The tears started welling-up in my eyes and I fought them back as best I could, but she knew and, I think, was happy in that knowledge.

I said goodbye to her after the prognosis. We both knew it was her time, but I found it the most difficult thing I had ever done. Yes, she was downright decrepit and ugly; she wasn’t an athlete by any stretch of the imagination; she had a strong will and would often avoid any attempts at helping her, but always she was gentle with me and together we roamed the back roads and unusual destinations of Pennsylvania. “At least she met the kids” I tried consoling myself with, but it was far too little and far too late.

The Final Farewell

It was actually a warm day for January… a day when the thick ice deposited from previous brutal snowstorms was melting, creating vast lakes of gloppy mud. Birds were actually finding their voices again and the sun, hidden for so long beneath angry gray clouds, actually dared to peek out and say hello.
I said goodbye, and hoped that her spirit, if not some of her healthier internal parts, would go on to brighten other lives as she had mine. She was one in several million and I’ll never forget her, and I can only hope that she realized this in the end.

I handed over the keys to the scrap-yard owner, touched her dulled paint once last time and walked away, knowing I’d never have a minivan like that again.


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