Adult-ish. adjective. Describing a person who is becoming more mature and working towards becoming a Real, Certified Adult. When Real, Certified Adult cars are handed out is unsure: legal drinking age? Marriage? Parenthood? I’m confused. You’ll see.
The current mystery of my universe: I am becoming an adult.
First it was the apartment. Then the sensible shoes. Then the real job, with paychecks and responsibility.
Now it’s the car.
A few weeks ago, I took the final road trip in the Nimbus 2000. I snapped a picture at the gas station before driving onto the interstate. It was awkward.
Six hours later, we cruised into the dealership together. A test drive was waiting for me.
When I left the keys in that old green Alero, my new car smoothly accelerated onto the highway, my brother tested the Sirius XM trial, my grandpa listened from the back seat, and I felt a twinge of sadness.
There was some misplaced affection for that vehicle.
Three summers ago, I had been desperate for a car to drive to my Ed placements. This one had appeared, in need of repairs but within my very small budget. The name was fortuitous. I was rereading Harry Potter, the car was made in the year 2000, it was my first set of wheels like Harry’s first broomstick – we officially dubbed it the Nimbus 2000 on its maiden flight. The car even came with its own set of curses – a malfunctioning security sensor that randomly delayed its starting, jerky acceleration, strange groans that started coming towards the end.
But I could get myself to Target. I had my own bag of sunflower seeds in the console. Wheels were freedom.
I started driving the long road trips home rather than bumming rides that got me close enough. Harry Potter audiobook casettes and Scotty McCreery played through scratchy speakers. When my sister joined me, she would sleep across Minnesota, then we’d tell stories and pass Angie’s kettle corn across the console. When our brother was there, he put up with our chatter and we filled up the trunk.
The car didn’t start once in the winter, the last night before the boyfriend moved out of the dorms and to Washington, D.C. After I’d called my dad in a panic, she started. We drove around the neighborhood, hunting for Christmas lights, then stopped at a park. We sat on the swings, holding hands, hoping she would start again. She did. Mostly.
After the boyfriend moved, I picked him up at the airport every few months. We’d hoist his suitcase into the trunk and hug in the parking ramp. He always wore his sports coat to keep it from wrinkling, and I stashed the airport receipts with pens and lip gloss in the dash.
Things are different now.
Sometimes the long drives home have company. Sometimes my breaks from teaching don’t align with college vacations, and I spend six hours alone with podcasts. The boyfriend lives closer now. His apartment is a 28-minute trek across the city. The drive still feels too long.
The car is different now.
It’s called the Firebolt. It’s pretty. It has a CD player. It requires consistent payments, and hopefully not consistent repairs. It starts reliably.
I don’t know what adulthood is, exactly. But it’s beginning to feel like the pursuit of reliability. Reliable income, reliable relationship, reliable car.
If that’s the case, I’m going to fail.
(We all are.)
I used to joke about the required prayers to start the car in the morning, the encouraging dashboard pat when we moved forward at green lights. I thought those would be unnecessary with an upgrade. I thought they’d be unnecessary when I got my life together.
But cars and lives that haven’t fallen apart are miracles. They sure aren’t my doing. (I’m still not convinced I could change a tire.) I can’t guarantee my shiny new car won’t rust or break down. I can’t guarantee my safety or that of those I love. I can’t guarantee my students will learn. I can’t guarantee anything. Except that I will lose control at some point.
Those prayers are still necessary.
And somehow they work. Things break down. We may wreck things. Very long detours and even longer waits in traffic may delay us. But we still arrive where we were meant to be. Maybe stressed, maybe bruised, maybe late, maybe grateful, maybe dead tired. But we get there.
That’s the mystery I won’t ever solve, no matter how adult-ish I become.