Driving Away

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It’d been a fantasy of my son’s to own a vintage Mustang. I had one, and to be quite honest, it was terrible. A real piece of junk. Sure, it looked fabulous. A silver convertible, black leather interior, 289 V8 engine. Its signature roar announced to the world exactly where my 17-year-old self was headed, and that generally was to the mechanic, because something gave out. That, and it got about no miles to the gallon.

Later, in my college years, I switched to something more sensible, an AMC Concorde. It was sturdy, dependable, unimaginative. But every time I turned the key, it started, and that was enough.

Skip to now. After years of trying to cajole Son to get a driver’s license, he finally decides it’s time. He’s 20, soon to be 21. He got his first apartment with two other guys. Yet, he had no way to get to work. Uber was drilling a hole in his pocket. And friends will only give you rides for so long. Forced by circumstance, Son realized he’d be better off providing his own transportation.

Just as I sat down to eat, my phone rings. It’s Son. I can hear in his voice he’s excited. “Guess what I did? It’s a surprise!”

“Well, if it’s a surprise, why should I guess?” I respond.

“Guess what the surprise is,” says Son.

“You’re getting married,” I say.

I can almost envision the face Son is making. “NO. Guess again.”

“You’re pregnant.”

“Aw, c’mon,” Son says, laughing.

“They’ve made you admiral of the fleet?”

“I bought a car!” Son gasps the words, as if he can’t believe he’s gone and done it. “A sports car.”

“Oh, yeah?” I say, hoping it’s not a Mustang. “What did you get?”

“A 2013 Scion…and it has only 94,000 on it. Oh, and it’s a six-speed, too!” He’s giddy with laughter.

“You paid how much for it?” I ask.

“Only $18,000. Cheap. And since I didn’t have any credit, I paid for it with my savings. So now I have credit.”

So, so many things are going through my head right now. Son drained his cash wad to buy a car that he can’t drive for way too much money. They must’ve seen this kid coming.

“WHAT? You paid how much?”

$18,000…it was a real bargain.”

I said, “You paid way too much for a car that’s looking at 100K and is eight years old. You got ripped off. Seriously.”

Son ignores my comment and continues, saying that he did the Carfax thing – only two previous owners and all maintenance has been done. Never been in an accident. And the mechanic at the lot already looked at it for him and said it was fine. Never mind Son doesn’t know the first thing about what goes on in an engine. That, and he couldn’t take it out for a test drive because he doesn’t have a license.

“But I’m getting a permit on Friday,” he says, “and they’re going to teach me how to drive it just as soon as I do.”

Okay, call me an idiot, but I kind of thought one thing precluded the other. What do I know? After a while, we hang up and I go back to eating my dinner. I shake my head. Son’s an adult now, but I wished he would’ve called me or his father first before making such a big purchase. He’s a big boy now and only he can dictate how he spends his paycheck.

The next day, Son calls me back. “So I spoke to Dad. He told me I did the right thing. And his girlfriend texted me too and said I was right.”

Girlfriend? And she’s texting my son about a car? Although it’s not surprising Ex has a girlfriend – he left me for a younger woman but that ended – I wasn’t aware that a replacement came on board. I ask my son about her.

“Oh, Dad didn’t want you to know. And by the way, they’re coming to visit me this weekend. Dad has some stuff he’s bringing for my new apartment.

Now I’m pissed. What a coward. True, I have no business knowing Ex’s business, but saying he didn’t want me to know? For God’s sake, why? Is she on the FBI’s most wanted list? Or is she an former Miss California? Or a well-established writer making large sums of money from her romance-by-the-sea series? Or is it he just didn’t want me to know for reasons only explainable to him?

In a way, it’s almost justice. When I first married Ex, he had an ex of his own. I’m sure she scrutinized me ruthlessly. Her father sure did. A thug of a man, this bruiser tried to threaten me with his unrelenting glare. As a New Yorker who went through 9/11, nothing fazed me. I let him do his thing and ignored the theatrics. After all, he was protecting his daughter and I saw it as such. We came to her house to pick up the kids. I also met them for the first time. Because they were little, they were disinterested in the politics of the situation and cared more about if I would sit on the floor and play with them, which I did. Subsequent visits didn’t involve her father, but I always treated her with respect and deferred to her. I knew my place.

But those kids weren’t adults. Mine is. He is free to associate with whomever he likes. And he loves her – thinks she’s really great. And, it would seem, he values her opinion over mine because it’s the one he wants to hear.

I grew angry – with Son and myself. I don’t want to put him in the middle of an awkward situation. I can’t let go of the feeling that Ex and Girlfriend have entirely erased me from the picture. My status as Mother isn’t important anymore. Of course, these are childish thoughts. I know this. The band-aid has been ripped off the pain I’ve harbored inside and it’s palpable.

Humiliation and shame. Rejection. Shriveled self-esteem. Hurt. Enveloped by emotion, I sink to the couch and will myself to be calm. I feel like I’ve been cast aside or worse, karma has come for me. I met Ex’s ex and she was forced to deal with me. Now I’ve got that little chunk of personal history slapping me.

Son goes on to explain that he spoke to his father about the car, and he called the dealer – a major detail Son left out. And the car actually cost $16,000, but with insurance, title, tax, registration and all the other fees, it came out to $18,000. That made more sense. Said to Son he did the right thing, calling his Dad, making sure this big investment was legit. He spoke to the dealer and the mechanic, even used FaceTime to make sure Son was getting a car that wasn’t a lemon.

All weekend, I tried like hell not to dwell on Ex and Girlfriend doting on Son. Went to Yoga, had my own car serviced, bought new eyeglasses, picked up a few necessities, went to a birthday party. Like a persistent backbeat, my imagination spilled out little scenes of Son, Ex and Girlfriend admiring new car; laughing over dinner; arranging the furniture in his new apartment; taking him to buy sheets and towel and asking her opinion on things. I’d been replaced, even if for a few days. Or I wanted to remember when Ex and I were together and would purchase Son’s things for him. I drove myself crazy. Never been in this spot before. Don’t like it much, either.

Truth is, I don’t want Ex back. He put me through hell and sometimes could be quite cruel to me. I prefer life without him. It just galls me that he continues on as if Son were his idea and he raised him alone. To not even acknowledge that I exist. And lord knows what he told her about me.

I have to let go. It’s true one has to accept the things that can’t be changed. That rock in my chest will become too weighty if I choose to carry it much longer. I don’t want to drive my son away in the process, either.

All I want is to be free.

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