“I know it’s going to sound like an excuse,” he said. “But I’ve been reading a lot about Lyme disease lately…and there’s this thing. A…a symptom of the disease…called Lyme Rage.”
I rolled my eyes.
“You’re right. It does sound like an excuse,” I said.
He cleared his throat and tried again.
“No, but people really do…they really do get it. Lyme Rage, I mean. And they just have no…it’s inexplicable.”
His eyes were pleading. He had a hand on my shoulder. He wanted to be let off the hook.
“There’s regular old rage, too,” I said. “You don’t have to be sick to be angry.”
His head dropped and his hands dropped into his lap.
“I know. I know it,” he said. But then he looked up and brightened. “But you should know I fixed it. I fixed it all…every bit of it. It’s all…even better than before. You’ll never believe!”
He grabbed my hands and led me out to the car. I followed. His eyes sparkled. His eyes were pleading. But his excitement wasn’t contagious. I would not be won so easy.
He popped the trunk first and there was a new filing crate with color-coded files all straight in a row and all my work. He pulled out a paper for me to inspect.
“See? You can barely even tell!” he said.
My heart broke when I saw the smudged paper, but my face did not. I remained stony. My heart broke when I saw the crinkled, red-dirt smudged paper that had obviously been ironed by hand in the middle of the night.
“And look…in case you ever get stuck on the road.”
He opened a hinged plastic bin and pulled out new jumper cables, wrenches, rags. It was a homemade emergency kit. He pulled out something that looked like a clear, flat plastic accordion and stretched it out and collapsed it back several times, raising his eyebrows at me and smiling.
“A collapsible gas can!” he crowed.
(Damn. That was pretty cool.)
But no. I would not be moved. I crossed my arms and stifled a yawn and shrugged my shoulders. His fervor was unflappable. He went over every detail of the car with me. The wash and the wax, the meticulously shampooed and vacuumed seats, the spotless nooks and crannies, the gleaming vinyl…the maintenance notebook he made for me to track my car expenditures. I did my best to remain unimpressed.
Then he remembered something.
“I haven’t even shown you the best part,” he said. “This is…you’re really going to love it. This may be my best invention yet.”
He pulled me around to the front of the car, to the driver’s seat. And there on the dashboard — I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before — there was a desktop fan. Just bolted right into the dashboard and pointed toward the driver’s seat like it belonged there.
I was speechless.
“I wanted to fix your air conditioning,” he said. “It’s a dad’s job, you know, to make sure his girls’ cars are working, and I hate to think of you driving around in the heat. I’m sorry I can’t afford to do better.”
I got my words back.
“How did you…where’s the cord?” I asked.
He smiled his clever, pleased-with-himself smile.
“I drilled a hole through the dashboard and…sort of hot-wired the fan to the engine.”
I turned the key in the ignition — and the fan started up, too. The oscillating desk fan. On my dashboard.
My dad looked triumphant and knocked his knuckles against the dash.
“I just knew it would work,” he said. “I did this to remind you that I’ll always be your number one fan.”
And that was it for me. Here’s something to know. My righteous anger can withstand pleading and earnest apologies and heartfelt tears. My righteous anger can remain stoic in the face of begging and flowers and gifts. Don’t bother trying to pacify me with promises or reason or pretty words. But I’ve always been a sucker for a corny dad joke.
I smiled for the first time in two days.
“Thank you,” I said.
That car got me through the rest of grad school and my in-between year and my first two years of teaching at Eastside High School.
Sometimes, people made fun of my fan. Aren’t you too cool to drive a car like that to school my students asked.
“I’m too cool to care what kind of car I drive,” I said. And, this time, I meant it.
When my ’88 Royale finally went, she went all at once. I took her to a shop to find out if, as I suspected, something was leaking. And if it was terminal. I left her overnight and came back the next morning to hear the mechanic’s diagnosis.
“It would be easier if you asked me what’s not leaking,” he said. He was clearly amused with his own wit.
I was game.
“What’s not leaking?” I asked.
“Welp. I think your windshield wiper fluid may be intact. But everything else. Gas, oil, transmission, brake, coolant…power steering. All of them. She’s bleeding out.”
I did not want her to bleed out. Partly because I grow inordinately attached to things and partly because I wasn’t ready to buy an honest-to-goodness big girl car. Even though I had gotten my M.A. and a full-time, steady teaching job and had saved a down payment and bought my first house…I still spent most of my twenties sure that someone was going to show up and send me back to the kids’ table any minute.
“What should I do?” I asked.
“It’s gonna cost at least $3000 to fix,” he said. “Needs a whole new engine. And then you’ve still got a 16-year-old car. I’d walk away.”
“I can find someone to buy her for parts if you want.”
I nodded again.
“You got anything valuable you want out of there before you leave?” he asked.
I had taken all my papers and my tools out before I brought her in. I shook my head and started to hand him my key, then stopped.
“There’s one thing,” I said.
I grabbed a wrench from my mom’s car, unbolted the fan from my dashboard, and yanked until the wire snapped.
I handed my key to the confused mechanic.
“All yours,” I said.
And then I walked out and went to buy my career girl car, my number one fan tucked safely under my arm.