Thursday, January 03, 2008

Ode to Betsie

Betrayal. A cynic would say that it's the inevitable moment that arrives at a distinct point in every close relationship, as unavoidable as a rather large and above all hefty iceberg is to a ship with a hull full of hubris. Now I try to avoid cynicism. Honestly, I do. I think it's an extremely unhealthy way to live, constantly believing that no one is really caring, true or honest. But when your cynical thoughts and expectations start gaining an unnerving level of accuracy, on a spooky-psychic level on par with 'Creepy Old Gypsy Woman', then it's hard not to come to the conclusion that everyone's a back stabbing bastard.

You see, I was betrayed tonight by someone I've loved for almost five years. She was my first. My sole. My everything. I've never been inside anyone else. She made me what I am today, taught me everything I know, and has decided now, at the start of a new year full of hopes and dreams for our relationship, to go and hurt me in such a deep way that I can never be with her ever again. I don't know what went wrong. Admittedly I couldn't spend as much time with her since starting at University. And I've been sharing her with my brother these last couple of years. And I did smack her up quite severely a couple of times. But she knew that was what she was getting from the start. I thought we had a bond. Something that would last at least until I decided to go for a better looking model. Not end with a betrayal as crippling as a drop-kick to the elbow joint. May she burn to death in a scrapyard, the bitch.

Her name was Betsie 'Silver Toy Bullet' Micra and she's dead to me.

Yes, she is 'just a fucking car', so what? I loved that car. It is what psychiatrists call cathexis. The emotional investment of oneself into another person, object or idea. So my absolute devotion and love for an inanimate, pretty shitty, beat-up little Nissan Micra was completely normal and mentally healthy. According to Freud. And if you disagree with Freud then you're clearly insane or in denial. Sad.

From a young age I'd wanted to be a driver. Papa would often take me riding in his automobiles and I remember being picked up from kindergarten by him one day as a special birthday present. Papa ran over an old man at a pedestrian crossing and he laughed about it all the way home. The endless supply of cars added a hint of glamour and mystique to my father who was so often away in foreign countries selling crack to the black man. Until one tragic day when he was found, dead, in the garage. He had suffocated on the fumes after attempting to make love to his new Dodge Viper. How? That secret dies with him. Mother always strongly disapproved of the cars until after papa's death. Then she liked them. At the funeral I distinctly remember seeing her washing the hearse wearing nothing but a pair of pink marigolds. She kept saying it was a 'filthy, filthy car'. But it looked quite clean from over the top of papa's coffin.

So when I turned 17 and could finally have a car all of my very own I was of course extremely emotionally vulnerable. I didn't know what to expect. My driving instructor's car was an evil Honda that had begun to represent the instructor, as these things do. He was an ancient and cantankerous RAF pilot who smoked rollies at a rate that made me think he was having some kind of race against the Honda's rev counter. He used to go on about these memory reading causes which enabled people to read a page in a second and remember it, but he always forgot that he'd told me the exact same thing the week before. One day I was driving in town and he drove up alongside me and started rubbing his car against mine. I tried to drive on and he started nudging my bumper from behind. He was a knackered old man, so was the Honda. I began to worry that my foray into the car world would be one of loathing, revulsion and deep, deep repression.

And then she three-point turned her way deftly into the parking space of my heart. The Honda was angry, bitter, resentful. But Betsie was gentle, with her sleek silver body and license plate that cheekily spelt 'TOY' at the end, in that suggestive way so synonymous with Betsie's style. She showed me what it was to drive. Through her care I learnt the art of shifting gears, the warm embrace of the steering wheel, the inexplicable joy of accelerating smoothly round a long corner on an open mountain road. My love affair with her began in earnest as soon as I gained my license and could finally leave my traumatising memories behind at Boris Johnson's Private Driving School for Young Men. I would take Betsie out on what I liked to call 'thrashings'. It was youthful exuberance, pushing her, seeing how far I could go, how reckless I could be... ar, those first flame-filled months...

That ended soon of course. One day Betsie told me quite plainly it might be a little bit unfair to expect her to go entirely round a corner, or even turn at all, if it's really wet rain and you're going at speeds normally associated with dry, hot summers on neverending race tracks.

That bust-up was the best thing that ever happened to me and Betsie. We soon got back together and she taught me to leave behind my reckless days and move on emotionally. Soon we could be found out gallavanting through country roads. Me with a cigarette and winding road ahead of me, Betsie purring away beneath, the two of us exploring the road together. Sure, she wasn't the best car out there. Her 0-60 was in the double digits, she wasn't exactly pretty and everyone else was intent on mocking her but she was always good to me. Her 1.3L engine and light weight meant that she had an edge over other small cars, and it was immensely satisfying knowing that we were pushing each other to our limits. Not like these poxy Ferrari or Porsche owners who have all this power that they're never able to use. We had a special relationship, and I, fool that I am, thought it would last forever. But tonight, tonight...

The problems were apparent from the start, if only I'd looked harder. I would take Betsie on long trips, we would go to Cornwall, Edinburgh, Scarborough, anywhere our hearts took us. But at the end of nearly every trip, Betsie would feel poorly. It was her heart, that was the thing. After a long trip, her battery would barely even register. She'd need to be defibrillated with a couple of jump leads. I always put it down to exhaustion putting strain on the ol' ticker and never worried too much about it.

Then the squeaking started. At low revs, Betsie would make a high pitched squealing noise like she was in pain. The only way of soothing her was with a few revs which normally perked her up. We were told by doctors that it was her fan belt playing up, but we never worried too much. Betsie always seemed happy enough living with her condition. Then this Christmas my brother remarked that he thought the alternator was making the noise. Suddenly the reasons for Betsie's heart conditions became clear, if there was a problem with the alternator then no wonder she sometimes had little heart upsets.

I decided that I wanted to make one last trip up to Edinburgh with Betsie. I didn't say this of course, but I knew that Betsie was feeling worse than she ever had before. But I had faith in the ol' girl, she'd never let me down before and I knew that she had what it took to last the while. I told her we were going for Hogmany and her excitement melted me inside. The drive up north was a dream. Bestie served me well, and we had a joyful time, larking about on the motorways and gliding round corners. I felt entirely at peace. For New Year's we drove around Edinburgh, partying until dawn and mocking the poor one-way system infrastructure.

Then came the drive back home. Everything was going smoothly until we hit Liverpool. Betsie's battery warning light flashed on. This was the mechanical equivalent of someone noticing their left arm has gone a bit numb and there seems to be a dull aching pain coming from their heart. I tried to sooth Betsie, whispered words of encouragement to her and vowed to do whatever it took to keep her alive. I started revving as high as possible in order to try and charge her battery. But that meant using up more fuel. And as the fuel level got lower and lower and Betsie's battery refused to charge it dawned on me that at some point we were going to have to stop. This wasn't going to be good for Betsie's battery. I cried out, I implored the ghosts of Henry Ford, Ayrton Senna and Colin McRae to come to me in my hour of need.

It was no good. She went for another 100 miles before she started coughing and spluttering. Her whole chassis went into spasms, she refused to accelerate, the lights died and I had to pull over by the side of the motorway. This was it. Betsie had had a full blown cardiac arrest and broken down. She had failed me, and left me stranded on the side of the motorway in the freezing bollock cold, waiting for a repairman to arrive. He confirmed it, the alternator was broken. There was nothing to be done here. She was unceremoniously hauled off the motorway and I felt nothing but hatred and betrayal in my heart. How could she do this to me? She never let me down. That was her promise to me.

But now I realise that my feelings of betrayal and anger were just my way of coping with the grief. Due to circumstances I was going to have to get rid of Betsie soon anyway. I thought it would be a loving parting of ways, where we could look back on a clean sheet of fun and frolics. Instead this last incident has soured our relationship, ended it in the worst of ways. Am I partly to blame? Of course. But in this time of resolution and desires to change ourselves for the better I urge you to learn from my mistakes. Always listen and care for those you love more than you think is humanly possible. Because when they're gone from your life, you're never the same again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From one who has blown more gaskets than she cares to remember, may Betsie rest in pieces. Make an offer for Felicia's car. I don't think Saab do baby seats. Not ones in full leather upholstry, anyway...