I was 31 and living in downtown Chicago when I adopted Béla. She was in the far left corner cage of a huge adoption facility, facing the street windows, watching the cars go by.
I had been terrified to adopt a dog. I grew up in the country in central Illinois, and the only dogs in our lives were those that would show up in our yard, asking to be fed before running off again. There was an understanding I had with wild things. They were meant to be free like I was meant to be. Adopting a dog felt like a massive undertaking – one I wasn’t sure I could even agree with. I was going to take this dog and place her in my apartment and she would feel loved? And free?
The day she was scheduled to come home, she was woozy from her spay operation. My partner at the time thought he would just walk her the three miles to our place. I knew she wouldn’t be able to walk that far, maybe not more than a few steps. I searched for a cab that would allow her as a passenger. I couldn’t find anything. Then I saw two magic words: Pet Taxi. The driver delivered her to the door of our home speedily, with no strain on her part.
I had never owned a car. I’d been living in big cities since I had left college and traveled everywhere via public transit or bike. After I brought Béla home, I wanted to give her the world – and to take her everywhere. So, I bought her a car.
I paid cash for the white 1992 Volvo, a model of a car I had always admired, and we began our journeys. We visited dog parks outside of the city, the dog beach, friends in other cities—we went everywhere. Béla was a natural traveler. She stuck her head out of the window and breathed in the scents of a full life.
The Volvo, while a stunner, didn’t have today’s common comforts in a vehicle. No cup holders, no radio, no air conditioning. It was a square box with soft seats and a motor that wanted to keep running. No matter how many times it died, it kept running.
On our drives I would reach over and place my hand on Béla’s butterscotch-hued fur, which blended into the car’s upholstery of the very same color. I felt as whole and as safe as I had ever felt. Staring out the windshield, I knew there was nothing she and I wouldn’t be able to confront together. Alone in the world, I was fragile. With Béla, I was invincible.
Béla and I moved apartments, then states, then across state lines again. We landed in Iowa, a place where our car became the main mode of transportation. Then I had a baby. That’s when the trouble started.
My husband claimed that it wasn’t responsible to drive our infant around in a vehicle that stuttered and whistled like a broken song. The Volvo sounded like it wanted to go to sleep, maybe forever.
So at my husband’s behest, I bought a new car. A white, boxy Jeep Patriot that, ahem, looked a lot like my little Volvo.
The Jeep has a black interior. Béla’s fur covers every seat but the one that holds our child’s car seat. I take her to every drive-thru in town that has dog treats. Sometimes we open the hatch and let Béla and our son wind down after a trip to the dog park. She doesn’t seem to care about the fact that we’re not in our old car anymore, she’s happy just to be riding around, still living a full life.
But I didn’t get rid of the Volvo. I parked it in the garage, waiting for the day I would get to drive it again.
I agonized for two years over the decision, while the Volvo sat there. Should I take out a loan to fix it up? Should I save it for my niece? For my son? Can a car sit for an entire decade and come back from the dead?
A couple of months ago, we moved again. “You’re going to have to sell it,” my husband said. There was nowhere to store it at our new address. I was heartbroken.
He checked the blue book and found the car’s value. He posted it on Craigslist to resounding response.
But I couldn’t do it. No buyer was good enough. Their money felt like blood money. I didn’t want money for my car; I wanted my car. Or something bigger than that. I wanted my memories, intact and safe forever. Proof of how loved I had been and how loving I had become. I wanted to climb into its seats thirty years from now and imagine Béla next to me, the little dog who changed my life in so many big ways.
One day, my husband said to me, “If it would make you happy, you could also donate it to the Humane Society. They will sell it at auction and the proceeds will go towards helping other animals.”
His words came like a thunderclap. Then there was the rain.
I sat down and cried. I was going to be giving up my car, but it was going to be helping other animals find homes. Not only had I bought Béla a car – now she was metaphorically buying a car for other dogs!
I placed the call. I set up the tow. I climbed into the seats to clean them out and to touch them one last time.
I didn’t know I was the kind of person who could get attached to a vehicle. They don’t have meaning, inherently. They take on the meaning we give them.
My Volvo represented the kind of person I didn’t think I’d become – exactly the person I was destined to be. Destined to be attached to things. Attached to a car that stood for commitment, love, and the ability to pick up and move oneself when you need to. Attachment to living things, both bound … and free.