The car was bought at a Subaru dealership in White Bear Lake outside of the Twin Cities in Minnesota in June of 1999. We chose green, same as the Saturn we had driven up from St. Louis, Missouri, the summer before, and said no to heated seats.
Charlie was diagnosed with autism in July of 1999. He had just turned two years old on May 15th.
It was 90 degrees plus the day we got the report from the Child Development Center of the Children’s Hospital of Minnesota. We lived in a second-floor duplex off Grand Avenue in St. Paul with one air-conditioning unit in Jim’s and my bedroom. The carpet was hot when I woke; my books were hot; the plastic cups that Charlie stacked and knocked down, and stacked and knocked down, and stacked and knocked down over and over and over, were hot. We took long rides in our then-new-car with the air conditioner blasting away. We went to Anoka, we went to Stillwater, we went to Lake Pepin. We drove out to the Jersey Shore listening to two tapes (“Barney’s Greatest Hits” and “Celtic Tides”—Charlie would have no others) and with a cooler stocked with gluten-free waffles and a bag full of boxes of Holgrain crackers. And with Jim driving and me in the backseat beside Charlie, we talked and talked, about what we should do.
The green car was packed to the brim for several of our moves, from St. Paul back to St. Louis in 2000-2001; from St. Louis back to New Jersey in the early summer of 2001; for our moves in 2003, 2006, and 2007 around New Jersey. I guess spending a lot of time in the car is part of the American child-rearing experience; it is certainly a big part of the experience of raising an autistic child who loves motion and had a lot of appointments and therapy sessions all over the place. The odometer rose and rose and the numbers turned over as we drove around New Jersey and up towards New England occasionally and to the shore and around New York City and Philadelphia. Sometimes we just drove because that seemed the only thing to do. Crumbs and soda got spilled; food dropped and thrown; bodily substances of all imaginable types left permanent marks, and scents, on the back seat (especially after one trip through Baltimore during which Barney and Charlie’s clothes almost had to be discarded in a rest-stop restroom…….Jim concluded that water and dispenser soap would do until the green car got us home). A few pairs of prism lenses, shoes, and I can’t remember what else went out the back window.
We got another car—another station wagon—in 2005 and I moved up to the front passenger seat. The green car was relegated to having its back seat folded down and recycling, grass clippings, and bicycles loaded into it; the car slowly acquired a certain mossy smell. Empty soda bottles, plastic straws, pennies, CD cases, dried up leaves were left here and there. But it was always there, reliable if unable to accelerate to get me onto the Pulaski Skyway‘s entrance ramp, when we needed it.
Last winter I started to get calls from Jim: “Well, I was driving and something green started to come out of the car…….smoke was out of the vents.” “Well, it drives but it does not appear that the heat works” (it didn’t, as Charlie and I discovered when we drove the green car one night to the pool). “The car started dying but I got it to a parking lot.” After the last breakdown, Jim got the car to the gas station where he’d had the car tuned up over the years and made plans to sell it to the station’s owner.
We went to hand over the title this morning. I cleaned out the glove compartment and found a 33 cents stamp, the crumbs of some rice crackers, a pack of extra-large wet naps from my aunt, the garage door opener to my in-laws’ house. Maybe it’s ironic, but I think it’s more poetic justice, or just as it should be: The gas station where we left the green car is right across the street from Charlie’s school, where he is, after many moves and many schools and some sad and tough, tough moments, a happy schoolboy: It was Charlie who threw his shoes out the window when, in early 2005, I was driving him to his old school—-I figured this was the only way he felt he could tell us, I don’t want to go there. And now Charlie is where he wants to be.
The green car helped get him this far.