whoa-oh, black betty

See this car?

This is the 1996 Acura Integra I’ve been driving since May 1999.  My parents got it for me when I was 21.  I drove it in Houston, I drive it in Austin, I drove it all around the country.  If I’ve given you a ride anywhere within the last ten and a half years, it was in that car.  It’s the car I brought Maude home in the day I got her, when she was so terrified she wouldn’t look at me or sit down in the passenger seat.  It’s my favorite car I’ve ever driven, and it has more than 171,000 miles on it, only 40,000 of which are not mine.

Or maybe I shouldn’t call the car it. Her name is Betty. Betty the trusty Acura who, despite a few flat tires and some things that were not her fault, has never ever failed me in any significant way.

Betty’s sick, you guys.  She’s like an old lady who has retained her sound mind even as her body’s falling apart.  The engine runs just fine; I never have any trouble with that. But on Tuesday I went outside, unlocked the car and pulled the handle on the driver’s side to open the door just like I always do.

But the door didn’t open. I pulled harder, and that’s when the door handle broke off in my hand.

Since then I have become one of those people who has to get into their car through the passenger side.

It sucks. It sucks if you’re not wearing a skirt, it sucks worse if you ARE wearing a skirt, it sucks even worse if you’re wearing a skirt and two guys in a pickup truck point and laugh as they watch you try to crawl into your car without flashing anyone.

But this isn’t the first broken thing.  A few weeks ago I was in the car and I turned the little lever that washes the back windshield.  That lever is supposed to squirt washer fluid onto the back windshield and then run the wiper to clean it.  No washer fluid came out, though, so I turned the lever again. And again. Nothing came out, and the wiper kept waving back and forth uselessly. I guess I need to refill the washer fluid, I thought.

When I felt something wet on my shoulder, I looked up to see washer fluid dripping from the dome light.

And before that, I got pulled over downtown on a Friday night. I was on my way to drink one of Paul Rudd’s beers with friends during SXSW, and the cop that stopped me said I had a headlight out.

“Which one?” I asked.

“This one,” the cop said, and he walked over toward the passenger side. When he slammed his hand down on the hood of the car near the headlight, it went back on.

(“Like THE FONZ?” someone asked me later. Yes, it was just like the Fonz.)

The cop wrote me a warning and told me to fix the headlight. Since then I have to Fonz the headlight every now and then.

The fact that I still have this car is one of the many ways in which I’m like my parents, who tend to keep their cars forever. My dad drove both his Chevy Citation* and his Plymouth Grand Voyager into the ground.  The fabric on the ceiling of the Citation came unstuck and was sagging down onto his head, so he put a thumbtack through the fabric into the ceiling right above the driver’s seat so he could see to drive. Then he tore the fabric down, and my sister and I would play with the cracking foamy substance that was left on the ceiling. I used to reach up and trace my name in the foam with my finger and bits of it would rain down on me.

We complained to my father for months about the Citation. The radio didn’t work, the seats were sticky vinyl, and the car itself was embarrassing and probably toxic.  “It’s a perfectly good car!” my dad would say.

The Plymouth Grand Voyager (which I drove to Senior Prom) was fine until it wasn’t. My dad drove it to work one day, and that afternoon he called to ask my mom to pick him up and take him to the car dealership. He left the poor dead Plymouth in the parking lot of his office for the Salvation Army to pick up. He and my mom STILL have the used Ford Explorer they bought that day.

I don’t know what to do about Betty. The little Headley voice in the back of my head says, “Come on, it runs fine! You have no car payment! It’s a perfectly good car!” The other voice says, “It’s probably going to die in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. You can’t keep getting in and out of the passenger seat like that! You’re 31 years old!”

So, readers, I’d like to ask your opinion.  Here are all the facts I can think of:

Car pros:

  • No car payment
  • It’s very comfortable
  • It runs well
  • After 10 years, I’m awfully good at driving it
  • Nobody wants to steal it
  • It’s small and I can park it almost anywhere
  • But when I fold the back seats down it can carry a shitload
  • Its airbags and seatbelts are all good
  • Jeffrey Ross has been in it
  • It gets great gas mileage
  • It’s a hatchback, so I never have to drive a group of people anywhere unless they want to squish into the backseat like sardines
  • NO CAR PAYMENT. Did you get that part?

Car cons:

  • The A/C doesn’t work very well–if it’s over 90 degrees and the sun’s out, I arrive everywhere covered in sweat, which is half the year in Texas
  • It’s a black car, which makes the above much worse in the summer
  • One time I left a pair of boots in there for a few months and they grew mold
  • The anti-lock brake system doesn’t work
  • Washer fluid leaks onto the driver
  • There’s only one door handle, and it’s on the wrong side
  • The tint is all wrinkled so I can’t see out the back windshield very well
  • It’s a hatchback, so I can never drive a group of people anywhere unless they want to squish into the backseat like sardines (Shaun used to say getting out of the backseat of my car was like being born)
  • The retractable antenna started making a CHUNK CHUNK CHUNK sound, so my dad had to replace it with a regular antenna, which is held on with electrical tape
  • There’s no CD player and the tape player doesn’t work, so I have to listen to my iPod through an FM transmitter/charger thing, but the cigarette lighter stopped working so my iPod doesn’t charge while I’m listening
  • Years of parking outdoors in Texas have melted all the paint off the roof

So, do you think I should:

  1. Fix everything I can on it and then drive it into the ground
  2. Get a new (well, newER) car soon and sell Betty for scrap metal or maybe have her bolted to one of those billboards where the crumpled car shows that people survived an accident because they were wearing their seatbelts

Right now I have enough for a small (SMALL!) down payment on an early-aughts Honda/Accura of some kind, but I’d rather not use it now if Betty and I can keep going for awhile.

What would you do?

*who names a car after a ticket?

a little history

While I’ve alluded to my depressive history on this site, I’ve never outlined it in specific detail.  I think this is partly because I’ve been maintaining this site since early 2000, and while August 2001 can now be considered part of such a history, it wasn’t history when I wrote about it then.

Duh, you say. Fair enough.

It’s also partly because I can’t outline it in detail without recalling certain painful time periods, painful occurrences, and painful people I’d rather not think about.  Additionally, said people probably don’t want to be mentioned on this site any more than I want to write about them, and I think everyone should get to choose how their own story is told.  So I’ll never mention them by name or include any identifying details.

And (with the exception of Effexor) I don’t like to talk about what medications I’ve taken. I’ve never wanted to have a comments discussion about which drugs worked for whom and when, and I’d hate for someone to take what works for me only to discover it doesn’t help them at all.  The way anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications work on different people is so very personal that a free-for-all discussion isn’t likely to be useful to anyone.

So those are the rules. I won’t talk specifics about the people in my life, and I won’t talk about what medications I’ve taken. Also I’m not your doctor or your lawyer or your psychic or your life coach or whatever.

Also, I hope you’ll forgive me for not plumbing the depths of my extensive archives to find old posts that correspond to these events. I don’t like doing that. If you’re so inclined, you’re welcome to find them yourself.

As best I can recall, I suffered from depression even as a child.  My parents sent me to therapy a few times in junior high, which is probably an indicator, but more than that I just plain felt sad all the time.  In junior high especially, I would pretend to be sick when I was too depressed to face going to school.  I remember thinking that my life couldn’t possibly turn out to be any good, because I wasn’t any good.

I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t really know you could.  A close family member had been in a mental hospital for awhile, I knew, but that sort of thing was for adults, and my family member was much worse off than I was. Right? It was probably just teen angst. Right?

Things got a bit better in high school. I didn’t have the junior-high bullies to worry about, and I joined some groups (school ones and church ones) that sometimes made me feel like I might fit in.  I had several close friends.  My senior year, when I fell in with the theatre crowd, spent lots of time in jazz choir (yes, really), and had an after-school job as a grocery cashier was the best school year I’d ever had.  Except maybe for kindergarten, but that didn’t really count.

I was, however, woefully unprepared for college.  I arrived at the University of Texas as an undeclared liberal arts major and found that the school was intimidatingly large, I’d never learned how to study properly, I wasn’t too good at making friends, and my roommate didn’t speak any English.  She was nice enough, but we couldn’t communicate, and sitting in our room watching her watch her Spanish soap operas was lonely and boring.  I didn’t study much, either.  I wasn’t any good, so what was the point?  Outside of taking in the occasional class, I hardly ever left the dorm.

This is already a little hard to write about.

Long UT story short, by the end of my freshman year I’d been put on academic probation.  Over the summer my parents took me to a doctor.  She was this sort of cross between a psychiatrist and a career counselor and a person who diagnoses learning disabilities, whatever you call that.  She diagnosed me with depression, a mild learning disability, and gave me some ideas for solutions for both.

I started taking anti-depressants and going to therapy during my sophomore year of college.  Things began to get a tiny bit better, but my grades weren’t improving much, and I was losing a lot of weight. A series of mid-sized interpersonal setbacks (see what I did there?) later that school year led me to drag my sad ass back home to Houston.

After that I felt much better. I got a job waiting tables (which I loved) and took some classes at community college (which I liked for the most part).  I weaned myself off of the anti-depressants in late 1998. Then I got a job as a web designer and decided that since I was fine now, the bout of depression had been due to college, moving to Austin, or some combination of both.

But August 2001 brought with it job dissatisfaction and a particularly painful breakup, and the bottom fell out.  I went to the doctor, who diagnosed me with the same old depression and some new anxiety and prescribed me anti-depressants and sedatives.  She told me that with my two depressive episodes to date, it was likely I’d be on medication for the rest of my life.  I went to my parents’ house and didn’t leave their couch for three days.

When I sat up from the couch, I formulated a plan. I would quit my job and go back to college.  So I enrolled as an English major at the University of Houston, and to my surprise I loved it. One of my friends recommended a therapist I ended up liking quite a bit.  I switched medications once, and took a sedative here and there for bad anxiety attacks, but I was all right until after the summer of 2005, when I began my Unemployed Year.

I’m going to stop for now.  I can only write about this sort of thing for so long, you know.  Hopefully my future posts about depression will be all uplifting and shit!

i thought my life would be different somehow

I turn thirty-one tomorrow. Tonight I vacuumed my apartment, washed the dishes, dusted the furniture, dyed my hair, painted my toenails, and put all my clothes away. I was thinking about what it was like when I was a kid and I would always feel different on my birthday.  I would wake up on May 6 feeling as though some subtle thing about me had changed overnight. I wasn’t nine anymore, I was ten, and that meant something.

I miss that feeling. Maybe waking up to a clean apartment and pretty red toenails is the next best thing.

These days I have a hard time focusing on the good things in my life. I have a great apartment, an adorable dog, good friends and family, a job, a car that works, a city in which I finally feel at home. I can make almost anything that doesn’t involve welding or a saw, my hair looks great, and sushi is readily available.  These are things I need to remember.

Oh, nine-year-old website, what will I do with you?