My husband surprised me with a car. I did not need one. I did not want one. It was a grand gesture, perhaps the grand gesture of our married life.
Luke is spontaneous, an adventurer and a romantic. He knows that I am afraid of that side of my personality and that I hide it. This was his effort to draw me out as I started a new adventure, a new career at St. Patrick Center.
But this story isn’t all about me. It’s about a car that some would consider a classic and the grand adventure to procure it.
Except for the color and the manual transmission, the car harkens to one my sister drove in the early and mid ’90s. We had adventures in that car. My son, Andy, sat with his favorite stuffed animals in the backseat, eating French fries and drinking soda, foods I otherwise forbade but were absolute musts on an adventure with Aunt Lynne. We sang at the top of our lungs. We launched guerrilla attacks on outlet malls, rising before dawn, hitting the Lake of the Ozarks before the stores opened and returning in time for dinner.
Lynne’s car was a symbol of a happy time.
Luke’s effort to recapture that happy time was near Herculean. He had arranged to fly to Akron, Ohio, the day I left for a theatre reunion with my friend, Carolyn. He planned to take a cab to Orrville, pick up the car and drive it home as a shakeout.
Leave it to Carolyn, though, to screw up his schedule. And, of course, mine. She was supposed to be on a plane leaving at 5 p.m. Even a Midwestern knows that an escape from New York on a Friday afternoon takes more than an hour. And she thought she could make it to the airport at rush hour on something called The Crosstown Bus, which she caught at 4:05 in Midtown. Even the name oozes pokeyness. So, she didn’t make it to the airport on time and had to take a later flight.
Which threw Luke’s schedule out the window. To keep this a secret, he had to leave after me. Wisely, though, he had purchased a refundable ticket. So, I greeted Carolyn on the last flight out of New York at the St. Louis airport after 10 p.m., then drove to Columbia.
Luke took the first flight out Saturday to Akron, caught an $80 taxi to Orrville and picked up the car. All that remained was a 535-mile drive back to St. Louis, which he completed in about nine hours.
But, my new job didn’t start for a week. So, to keep the car hidden, he parked it around the corner and moved it each day, so the neighbors didn’t think it was an abandoned vehicle. He also worked on getting insurance and paying taxes.
And who should he meet at the DMV as he picked up license plates? A friend, who was registering a car for his wife as a surprise gift for their 15th anniversary.
Perhaps the grand gesture isn’t so rare.
My reaction was not what he hoped for. And I am not proud of it. I said nothing for two or three minutes, trying to figure out how to hide my disappointment at his impulse purchase without hurting his feelings. While waiting, he told me how he had been searching since December for just the right car. The money came from a fund that our former employer had started when Luke briefly was an exempt employee, a perk for being pulled out of the union — to the dark side.
I should have cried tears of joy, but wouldn’t allow myself. I’m not worthy of such elaborate schemes, such unselfishness, such kindness. As the realization of my true feelings overcame me, I cried. I had the dignity, at least, to share them with Luke.
“I don’t deserve this,” I said, the tears flowing then, as they are now. I cry because I really believe this, even though I freely admit that it sounds like, as Kramer would say, kooky talk.
I apologized and said that I appreciated all the effort because no one had ever made such a sweeping move simply to please me. I admitted I couldn’t handle it and humbly begged forgiveness. Even now, though, the right words elude me. That sense of unworthiness is so embedded that the joy can’t flow as freely as he and I would like.
At least I have reached the point where I can make a joke of the gift: The car is vintage, as I am vintage.
So, I drive it to work every day and look forward to getting back in it at night, opening the sun roof, sticking my hand out to brush past the wind, hoping that the words of appreciation and gratitude flow as easily as the angst.
Someday, maybe, when the roof is open and the road is twisting and I have a diet Coke in the soda cup holder and “Little Pink Houses” plays on the radio. Someday.