This week, Rae Ellis, a senior at Woodstock
Union High School, writes about losing her friend, a well-used, trusted Volvo
station wagon which has been relegated to the scrap heap, clipping her wings
and soul in the process. Rae’s piece is one of hundreds posted each week at
youngwritersproject.org, a civil, online teen writing community.
afternoon, I had to visit the remains of my Volvo named Kuzco. I knew he’d been
totaled, but since I was not the one to crash him, I had yet to process that he
was actually hurt – that somewhere out there was a Volvo with serious damage.
But then, there he was. Several tons of butchered metal, with his hood tied in
knots and no bumper. The mangled corpse of a 2000 silver wagon. The tears came
before I knew what I was looking at.
have always been someone who feels most at peace when I am in motion. Silence
and stillness make me feel empty, but when I am navigating back roads or
coasting down the highway, I can’t be alone because I’m free. I can’t feel
abandoned or sad because I am controlling my own actions, running my own time.
At any moment I could choose to slam on the breaks, take a U-turn or just drive
right past my destination without stopping. I am the master of everything laid
out before me, and in my life this is not a frequent sentiment.
is what Kuzco meant to me. Freedom. Space. Sky. Future. When he first came into
my possession, I had a reputation for my somewhat questionable driving, and
most people thought I shouldn’t be trusted with another vehicle. He never
doubted me for a minute. He was used, experienced and savvy, and he knew that
there was nothing I could do to hurt him that he couldn’t throw right back. It
was winter, and the two of us guided each other over countless icy slopes and
through dozens of treacherous snowstorms. He stuck to the roads I told him to
travel. He kept me safe and warm in my independence. We made a deal from the
beginning to trust each other and kept it.
spring, I dated a boy who often kept me waiting on him, molding my already busy
schedule around his. But I never waited alone. As I sat in silence outside the
boy’s house, or cruised aimlessly around town to kill time, I could always feel
Kuzco’s presence. He didn’t judge, but he worried. He didn’t want me driving
just to drive; he wanted to help me get places. He didn’t like going in
circles. He didn’t like tears on his steering wheel. Kuzco wanted to know that
I was using my freedom to truly be free, and not to adjust to someone else’s
May, my brother spent some time in the hospital, and I was absent from my life.
When I sat in class I stared at walls, and when I stood onstage I could feel
myself about to take flight or evaporate. Every day after school, I drove to my
sacred place, lay on top of Kuzco and cried. I couldn’t be with people because
I couldn’t stand the thought of adjusting my grief to fit their needs. I
couldn’t go home, because the idleness would make me feel useless in a time
when I should have been doing something. But I could be under the sky, and feel
the metal roof warming in the early summer sun. I could feel the hum of the
engine beneath me and let it recharge my spirit. I could pass the time this
way, one day after the next, step by step with my car.
didn’t want to go to Prom. My mother flitted about me that night with makeup
and a curling iron, trying to ignite me with the same teenage team spirit that
I’m sure she’d had in her youth. But with each lock of limp hair that she
twisted, she became more impatient at my lack of enthusiasm. I asked if I could
please not go, please not attend this inane ritual with my far too excited
friends and far too absent boyfriend. My mother took this as ingratitude towards
her, threw her hands in the air in exasperation and left me with half a head of
curls. I shrugged, washed my hair out, and grabbed my far too expensive dress
and Kuzco’s keys. With each mile we drove, I felt the need to go slower, to put
off the photo shoots and bad music as long as possible. Halfway to town, I
suddenly felt something odd beneath me. Kuzco was slowing, but I had a half
tank of gas left. Pulling over, I saw that the front left tire had popped. Call
me crazy, but this was his gift to me. His challenge. His way of saying,
"If you really don’t want to go, then don’t go." He left me with no
transportation and no cell service for miles, and by the time I got to my
friend’s house, I’d missed over an hour of photos.
July, I was the counselor of an elementary school theatre camp, and as the
oldest kid there I was given an appalling amount of responsibilities. On the
day of the show, I found myself handling about a million jobs; I was making
costumes, running lines, doing makeup, setting props and even offering more
obscure services like dental advice. In the middle of the busy day, there was
one kid who approached me like all the others. He wore a baseball cap with a
sequined headband around it for the play, and his hand was wrapped in paper towel.
"Rae, could you maybe take me to the hospital?" he asked shakily.
Beneath the towel was a deep cut on his palm, the work of an Exacto knife. I
was the only kid there in possession of a car, and our director had to stay to
supervise the kids. Glancing at the clock, I realized that in order to get him
to the hospital and get back in time for the show, I would need to go about
double the speed limit through town, where there are always police. Needless to
say, Kuzco was up to it. I generally try to avoid speeding because of my
reckless history, but this was a desperate measure. We took little shortcuts
the whole way there, and pulled up to the ER with a minute to spare. No cops
sighted. As the boy clambered out of my passenger seat, he tore off the sequined
headband and threw it on my floor so as not to embarrass himself in the
hospital. I proudly hung it from my rear view mirror, a medal for my brilliant
lived this way, the two of us. Daring each other to try harder. I pushed him
through weather that he shouldn’t have been able to face, and he challenged me
to be freer. To relish in my aloneness. For a year and a half, that Volvo got
me through my life. He stood by me through every bad song I had to sing along
to, and every 6 a.m. practice I just
couldn’t blow off. I know that in high school, every person’s car is his or her
haven, because we have finally been blessed with our wings, and we don’t take
this lightly. We cherish the responsibility of filling up the tank every week,
and scraping ice off the windshield each winter morning. I know that in the
high school parking lot, every single one of those cars means something.
I don’t know them all. I knew him, Kuzco. I knew what it felt like when his
brakes gave out, and I knew the satisfaction when they worked again. I knew
which lights meant what, and which ones meant nothing at all. I knew the roads
he could scale, and the banks he would slide down in an instant. And he
similarly knew which 90s tunes I couldn’t resist, which tea belonged in the cup-holder,
and which streets we would stay on all night. He watched me make mistakes, and
watched me hurt. I named him after a Disney character when I should have named
him after a philosopher or an astronaut. He was more than I’d ever expected. He
was loyal, and I know it’s probably silly, but it kills me that I never got to
say goodbye. We had a deal to trust each other with our lives, and as
ridiculous as this sounds, it kills me that in his final moments on the road,
someone else was behind his wheel.
my things out of Kuzco, I found that for someone who lives out of a car, a
surprising amount of my things were complete garbage. I filled several bags
with trash, and one with things I needed to keep, and when I sat in the drivers
seat for the last time, I took the silver headband which still hung from the
mirror, leaving dancing spots of light on the dashboard. I wear it around my
wrist now, for him, that beautiful wonderful car that never abandoned me. The
two of us never believed in much except the glorious road that stretched out in
front of us, but he never lost faith in me. This is for my faith in him.