Last week, I mailed the title to my beloved Iron Man to my parents for him to be totaled. I don’t typically attach myself to materialistic things anymore. I recognize more than ever the futility of relationships to material things. As a matter of fact, one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done was to sell or give away most of my possessions and move from my enormous cluttered house in Augusta, Georgia, into a tiny, breezy beach shack in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
But Iron Man is one exception. Iron Man is the name I chose for my 2007 Nissan Xterra, which was a nursing school graduation gift from my mother. That SUV was given to me after three of the most emotionally brutal years of my whole life. I named him Iron Man as a representation of the end of an era of chaos, anxiety, trial, tribulation and suffering, but most importantly, a time of tenaciousness, survival and new days to come. Below is a short excerpt regarding Iron Man, from the book I’m writing about my life.
Nursing school, post-divorce. I was in school loan debt up to eyeballs, working all night in the ER and going straight to class or clinicals the next day, barely passing my classes, approaching a year of averaging about four hours of sleep per day, depressed, enduring routine random panic attacks, mentally exhausted, flat broke, and yet somehow up to date on child support payments.
At that time, around 2012, I had a 1998 Nissan Frontier pickup truck that I loved. But alas, I could not transport my two young children safely in it. So my gracious daddy purchased the Frontier from me, so that I could buy something that would safely transport the kids. I shopped around and found an affordable, zippy little four door sedan that matched what I needed. There was a reason that it was affordable, that reason being that a pile of elephant shit, sitting atop a piece of cardboard, held up by three drunk gnomes and an epileptic miniature pig, would have been a more dependable method of transportation than this destitute, godforsaken atrocity of a car. It was to be my absolute worst personal vehicle choice ever. Over the course of the next year, my student loans and my daddy would fork over more than I originally paid for that pathetic heap in major repairs. Air conditioner, steering, transmission, suspension, a dozen different sensors; you name it, we probably fucking replaced it.
At one point, that mechanical succubus had miraculously made it several weeks without any major problems, when one day, in an upscale Target parking lot, I got into the car and could not physically turn the key. It wouldn’t budge. It was more stuck than dog shit under a toenail. And honestly, thank Christ I didn’t have a pistol or grenade or flame thrower or missile launcher on hand that day, because that was the definitive moment that I would have blown that fucking demonic piece of shit car back into the flames of hell from whence it came. But lacking a proper weapon of destruction, I instead took to the online Ford forums, the members of which, for the number of times I had posted there, quite likely knew this car better than their own husbands and wives.
It turns out that yet another common problem of this particular dumpster fire on wheels was stuck corroded ball bearings around the ignition switch, rendering the key impossible to turn. The fix? Bang the bitch right out of that ignition switch, so as to jolt the stuck ball bearings and turn the key. Well I happened to have a hammer inside the toolbox that I carried for unexpected mishaps. And bang I did. I banged like there was a chance that I could kill this life sucking motherfucker that had bled my finances dry. I banged for my sanity. I banged for justice. I banged for the sheer orgasmic stress relief. I banged because I didn’t give a solitary fuck how many concerned, pink Acai-sipping cheer moms were staring across the Target parking lot at the maniacal meltdown taking place. And it did work. Once. Yeah, you had to do this shit every time you started the car. So I added a little piece of 2×4 lumber to my transport repertoire, and every single time I started the car, I would beat the shit out of that ignition switch. Despite my fury at the situation, it was also strangely therapeutic.
One sunny afternoon, I drove to my parents’ house for a Sunday lunch. I think they had begun to notice my more and more disheveled and tired appearance as the result of my ever-present stress and anxiety, my continued panic attacks, and the chronic deprivation of sweet sleep. I could see the worry and concern in their faces each time I visited. On that Sunday, we ate, spent some time chatting, and they saw me to the garage, where I had parked the car. I hugged them both, and they stood atop the garage steps, my dad’s arm lovingly wrapped around my mother’s shoulder, as I slid into the car.
I casually grabbed my hammer and 2×4, placing the board’s end over the ignition switch, and proceeded to pound that barbaric contraption, as usual. When I had freed the ignition switch, I turned the key, started the car, and backed out of the garage. I still have the image of my mom’s face when I briefly glanced up to wave a final goodbye: a perfect mix of worry, confusion and sympathy. If they had any doubts about my wavering sanity before, perhaps this was the day it became quite clear to them that I was on the verge of losing my goddamned mind.
Several weeks later, by some total fucking miracle of God, I graduated with a Bachelor Of Science In Nursing. My senior superlative was appropriately “Most Likely To Be Late For Graduation.” That I completed nursing school remains one of the great mysteries of my life, and to this day, I cannot completely fathom how I did it. But as long as we’re on the subject, I would like to mention to any classmates who pulled strings, had an inside connection, cast a glance at someone else’s exam, or otherwise cheated the system, that I may have missed nursing school failure by two points, but I did that shit with one hundred fucking percent integrity.
A few days after graduation, I visited my parents’ house again for dinner and stayed the night. The next morning, my mom asked me to go with her on an errand run. On the way to town, she reflected back on the day I’d left their house after going apeshit on my ignition switch.
She said to me, “When you left, I looked at your Daddy and said, ‘I think he needs a new car.'” She gazed at the road reflectively as we cruised down the highway. “Your Daddy said, ‘You can buy him a car. I just paid for two cars with the one he’s driving now.'”
Can you blame him? Still throwing money at an adult son who’s taking his sweet time trying to get his fucking life together. I totally get it.
Shortly afterward, we stopped and stepped out onto a lot of parked cars.
“Pick one,” she said.
Confused, I looked into her face. She smiled with all the love and compassion that only a mother to her son can express. And that was it. I crumbled and wept. I could not find the words to express my emotions in that moment. I could only wrap my arms around her in my speechlessness. We shopped for cars the rest of that day, and I eventually selected the beautiful, red Nissan Xterra which I named Iron Man, as a testament to my having managed to survive three of the most brutal years of my entire life.
And yet, a darker time was still to come.
In late 2021, despite taking meticulous mechanical care of Iron Man while in my possession, I couldn’t get him to start after a Christmas visit to my parents’ house. My mechanical code reader displayed a transmission problem, and ultimately, the cost of a new transmission equaled the approximate worth of the entire vehicle, with over 200k miles on him. I made the tough decision to surrender him to the mechanic to be totaled.
I made so many memories in that SUV. Iron Man took me on more adventures than I can count: down desolate country dirt roads; down countless miles of highway; on road trips with a custom mattress in the back for overnight camping; atop cliffs where I recklessly plunged into the distant waters below; onto numerous beaches where I learned to surf; to bars, shops, concerts, weddings, funerals, gyms, martial arts dojos, hospitals. Iron Man transported me to The Landmark Forum, where I would experience the awakening of my lifetime, and leave my anxieties and depression behind, permanently.
Yes, I know that mechanical contraptions possess no souls. But if ever I owned a material possession that became a spiritual symbol for growth and perseverance, Iron Man was it.
Thank you, Mom. Thank you, Daddy. And thank you, Iron Man.