Cars are a mystery to me. My dad is a mechanic, but I always tell people that doesn’t mean I know a thing about cars. I have a basic grasp of how to put gas in the tank and that’s about the extent of my knowledge. When my car overheated last August, I ended up in the corner of a parking lot with a jug of coolant and no idea how to get the hood open. The inner workings of an engine are things better left inner workings, I once believed. But moving to college has moved me away from my mechanic-on-call, and I’ve had to face the beast of this strange technology for the first time.
And it is a fearsome beast for one who is interested in anything but automotive repair. At 15, I refused to read the parts of the driver’s guide on how to change a tire. At 17, I called my dad for the smallest noise my car was making. And now, at 19, I find that I have to learn to deal with these things on my own. This frightens me and I try to avoid it at all costs.
In my world, my dad always took care of my car for me. I never needed to wonder when the next scheduled maintenance was because my appointment was already scheduled at his shop. I never had to worry about being stranded on the side of the road because I knew the best mechanic in town would drop whatever else he was working on and come to my rescue. Now he cannot come over a thousand miles just because my car is making a strange banging noise. I must learn to open the hood myself and make sure no key parts have come off or come loose, and then I must find a mechanic who will honestly diagnose and fix my car. I must learn where the coolant goes and where the oil goes and where all those other strange fluids belong and learn not to confuse them in a frantic state of emergency. I must learn to do it on my own, without my knowledgeable father watching every move.
It’s all a part of my growing independence and that is why taking care of my car scares me. It is not because all those spark plugs and belts and radiators and driveshafts are frightening in and of themselves, but it is because I am frightened of my own independence. I would rather not be reminded that I am growing up now and I must learn to face things on my own; I want to have my dad take care of everything for me just as he always did. I hate the change and the autonomy that taking care of my own car symbolizes. But trying to avoid that conflict is impossible with a 1993 Escort that insists on malfunctioning, and so I find myself needing to assume more responsibility. The mystery of the hood latch has been untangled and I am becoming more and more independent. But I still miss my dad’s greasy mechanic hands ensuring that I would always be safe on the roads.