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Cars Are for Banging

There are moments in life when you realize you’re different from everyone else. Like fundamentally, even freakishly, different. And that you may never see things the way others do.

I feel that way when people exalt Jack Johnson (I’d yawn if I could summon the energy). Or when they confess that public speaking terrifies them (the mere sight of a podium turns me on). Or when they utter incongruous phrases like, “It’s too sweet for my taste.” (Wha… ?).

Those sentiments don’t fit into the jigsaw puzzle that is my brain. Nor does this one: “Yikes. What happened to your car?”

I hear it a lot. When I pull into a friend’s driveway, see an acquaintance at the gas station, or drive through the school drop-off line.

“Ouch. What happened to your poor car?”

It always takes me a second to figure out what they’re talking about. Then I remember the sizable dent and scrape on the side of my Honda, the result of parking next to a short pole and carelessly slamming into it as I backed out. That was two years ago, and — though the sound it made was otherworldly, causing bystanders to wince and tighten their shoulders up around their earlobes — I’ve scarcely thought of it since. In fact, I only recall it when people gasp and offer heartfelt sympathy, as though it had happened to my face, rather than my fender.

“Oh no!” they say. “Your car!”

And here’s where I figure I’m weird. Because I truly don’t comprehend the concern. I can’t even make myself understand it. To me, a car isn’t something to be protected; it’s there to protect me and anyone else brave enough to ride with me.

I’m an aggressive driver, I admit it. An impatient driver. When my husband is feeling charitable, he says I’m an artist and the road is my canvas. When I drove over a rose bush to extricate myself from a stifling parking space, causing a thick, thorny branch to lodge in my $100 Michelin, he called me something else.

Still, I maintained my thesis: My car is not a red-carpet gown. It’s a stick-shift suit of armor, a highway-rated hazmat suit, if you will. The exterior is scraped, dented, and, um, impaled so that I am not. No one blubbers when an umbrella gets wet, or a helmet gets dinged, right? If a car is damaged and its passengers intact, it means the thing is working.

Some folks, I know, consider their cars to be shiny, Turtle Waxed reflections of their status and style. Not me. In high school, I totaled my car. My grandfather, a sort of mechanical genius with a reverence for function and an indifference to form, kindly fixed it for me. He un-crunched the hood and affixed an old aluminum screen door where the grill had been. I drove it that way for years. My friends had a name for my coupe-turned-jalopy: the Road Warrior. It was a lesson in humility.

That’s why, when I dented my Honda’s hatchback by using my booted foot to slam it closed, I shrugged. That’s why my son is still alive after having scratched his name into the driver’s door with a rock. And that’s why, when people offer their condolences and say, “I know a guy who can bang out those dents for you,” I politely decline for two reasons:

One, if the finish was flawless, I’d have to be careful not to hit anything, and that’s just stifling.

And two, I’m rather possessive about my latest road warrior. No one’s allowed to bang this baby but me.

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