Sunday, February 11, 2007

25. Of Things Unseen

Once again I drove to the car wash today. Once more to have the mud and grime cleansed from the surface of this car, which was Gregory’s car before it was my car. I’m sure people look at me sideways as I pull in; the little Celica surely looks battered for its 13 years, like a car most people wouldn’t bother to clean.

It has what I euphemistically call “skin cancer.” That is, the clear-coat is peeling off the driver’s side of the trunk and roof, and now is beginning to work its way down the driver’s side.


This is not something that should have happened to Gregory’s car, which he bought new in 1993. For the first five years of its life, the Celica was washed twice a week by hand. If you sat down in the passenger’s seat and perchance a leaf had attached itself to your shoe, Gregory would lean over and pull the detritus off the spotless mats. The Celica was garaged at home as well as at work, contributing further to the riddle of the cancer.

Gregory took the car for service the second he was supposed to. Oil changes on the dot. Tires rotated right on schedule. The car was his pride and joy, and I loved sitting next to him, watching him in profile, feeling him glide smoothly through the gears, the little engine humming through its rpms.

Gregory took the car for service, but he refused to get a physical. Never had an EKG. Never had a blood work-up. He felt he was in control of his body. He ran or walked every morning. He ate the right stuff. He was trim. He looked younger than his 50 years. Who could argue with him?
When we met, Gregory was years past his last encounter with a doctor. He’d had some dental work that had become infected, which he was careful to have treated. And much earlier, he had been shot and nearly died. That’s another story, but it was shocking the first time we made love to see a rough scar running from front to back around the bottom of his left rib-cage. He’d been shot during a robbery and had bled, and when the docs cut into him, niceties like appearance were not on their minds. They were more concerned with saving his life. Which they did.

Also some time earlier, during Gregory’s second marriage, when he was running the liquor store that his dad had left to him and his mom, he had dabbled in cocaine. I would not find this out till after he died and I began peering into some of those compartments he kept discreetly separated from one another.
During one episode, his wife told me later, he had been standing next to the hood of their car and grabbed his chest and crumpled to his knees. He told her that for a moment he thought he was going to die.

So despite Gregory’s intensity about caring for his body and running and eating the right things and having it all under control, there were processes unseen taking place in his body just as there were processes unseen below the surface of his beloved Celica. Who knows what careless hand in the paint booth shortchanged the clear-coat on his/my car? Who knows what was really going on in Gregory’s heart?

Sometimes, it’s just the way the dice tumble.
In the ensuing years since Gregory’s death, I have loved the Celica. Loved the feel. Loved the design. Loved its looks. Loved the fit. Even loved its cranky, unforgiving clutch. But out of nowhere, despite babying, despite keeping it out of the sun far more than letting it sit in the sun, despite coddling it like the creampuff it’s been, the cancer came creeping. The flaw began to show itself.

I suppose the true corollary to a heart attack would be for the engine to blow. But either way, a flaw unseen led to a ruinous outcome. I can’t go back and make Gregory go to the doctor. But now you can see why I push Mario on the point. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much pushing. I still worry.

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