It was time to sell Neil’s truck. I had a minor panic attack thinking about it, but I knew it was time. Neil never cared all that much about possessions, but he sure did love that truck, and letting it go was losing another piece of him.
I remember the day he bought it. It was priced higher than he had planned to spend, but it was in perfect shape, in his favorite color, with more luxuries than any vehicle we had ever owned. He and my mom and I walked around the lot, weighing the pros and cons. He was very impressed with the engine and four-wheel-drive; I couldn’t believe it had heated seats and sunroof. With a deep breath and a fair amount of anxiety, he signed the papers, and drove home like a little kid with a new favorite toy.
He had so many great adventures in that beloved truck. I remember how he loved picking my mom up from Pennsylvania for a visit – they got to chat for six straight hours without me interrupting. I remember the tire blowing out on the interstate while we were headed to Virginia Beach. He got it under control and off the road so quickly and easily the girls didn’t even realize what had happened. I remember a vicious sandstorm later that same summer that slowed travel to five miles per hour and pelted the windshield leaving a fog of permanent pits and chips. I remember the times the truck ended up in town overnight when a kind friend gave Neil a ride home after too many drinks at the Palms. I remember our whole family cuddling up in the bed of the truck with blankets and pillows and a cooler at the local drive-in.
And when Neil died, I cleaned the truck up, washed it, vacuumed it, and threw away a literal ton of construction stuff. I put in a whole new instrument panel because it was the only way to fix the broken gas gauge. I spent a small fortune trying to find the source of an incredibly annoying dinging sound that went off incessantly whenever the truck drove faster than 40 miles per hour, only to learn it was a misfiring sensor that cost only $30 to repair. I bought a new handle to replace the broken one on the tailgate – special order of course – only to find out it didn’t work because the tailgate itself was broken. I borrowed a battery charger and kept it on the front seat, because if the truck sat for any longer than 24 hours it wouldn’t start. I had the four-wheel-drive serviced and updated so I could use it in the snow, and then was too afraid to drive it in bad weather.
All the while, I kept asking Neil in my head if he wanted me to keep the truck and wishing we had talked about it before he died. And then I thought of a joke I once heard:
A man was drowning in the ocean. He was very faithful and prayed for God to save him, knowing in his heart that God would do it. A man in a row boat came by and said, “Sir, climb in. I will take you to safety.” The man said, “No thanks, God will save me.”
A while later another man drifted by on a raft. “Climb on my friend,” the man said. “This isn’t perfect, but it is better than floating in the water.” “No thanks,” the drowning man said, “God will save me.”
Gradually it became harder and harder to tread water. He was hungry and thirsty and finally a cruise ship came by. The captain yelled from the deck, “Sir we are sending down a rescue boat and it will pull you up to safety.” “No thanks,” said the drowning man, “God will save me.”
And eventually he did drown. When he got to heaven, he said, “God, I had faith in you! Why didn’t you save me?” And God said, “For heaven’s sake, I sent you a rowboat, and a raft, and a cruise ship – what else did you want me to do!?”
I picture Neil answering my question and saying, “Colleen, I sent you a broken tailgate, an incessant beeping, a dead battery, and a broken gas gauge – what else did you want me to do?!”
And so, I let the truck go, confident in knowing that Neil was more a part of me than he was of that truck. Even though I took pictures of it to help me remember, I don’t really need them at all, and I am reminded once again that things don’t matter, people do.
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