Yesterday I put a quart of oil in my car. It was actually an easy task, one that I have been avoiding since…forever, I think. The oil had been sitting in my car since mid-October when I had my snow tires put on. Having gotten caught last year in a late October snowstorm without them, I thought I’d be well-prepared. Probably why we haven’t gotten any snow yet. Anyway, the guy at the shop told me he put a quart of oil in and I would need another soon if I was going to do a lot of driving, which I was. He gave me the oil, and assumed I knew how to put it in. Since this assumption was evident, I did not ask him how to do it. I then drove many hundreds of miles, and have been thinking for some time now, that the oil should have been deposited in it’s appropriate container, somewhere in the engine that I depend on to get me where I’m going. I like this engine very much. It starts every time I push the key (so weird not to say “turn” the key) and moves me along comfortably where I want to go. I love my car. I hope it lasts forever. So why this block against opening the hood? What is it with that?
When I went to buy my first car on my own after the divorce I set about the dreaded task with a mock confidence to conceal my ignorance. I had no idea what I was doing. I wanted a car that was good in the snow, could fit five people comfortably, and started when I turned the key. I still had PTSD from sitting with five little kids in our old car with the engine going radda-da-da. Radda-da-da. Until the battery died (shudder). I didn’t care that a new car lost value the minute I’d drive it off the lot. I wanted a new car. I’d never had one. I wanted new car smell. I wanted a car that no one else had driven. I trusted nobody. I wanted it to be all mine.
Jordan and I went out to test drive cars on a frigid Saturday afternoon. Frigid. Below zero. I wanted to see if that sucker would start when I turned the key. We checked out Subarus because everyone told me to. It seems everyone in Maine has a Subaru. Ok, they were ok. They started. I’m sure they were good cars. But I felt lost in them. Wasn’t the right feel. So we went over to the JEEP place and checked those out. I really loved the look of the Liberty. Knowing full well that is not a reason to buy a car, we went in to test drive one–––the pretty burgundy one sitting pleasantly on the lot. Turned the key. It started. It was warm in moments. I mean in MOMENTS the car was warm. I looked in the back seat at Jordan and nodded. The car is already warm! I’m sure this is not a reason to buy a car, but it seemed perfectly rational that day. We took it for a spin. Beautiful. I loved it. The car turned nicely when I turned the steering wheel. It stopped when I put on the brakes. The radio sounded great. Windshield wipers worked, both back and front. Defroster? Gorgeous. Not a smudge of steam on the windows in the frigid air with me chatting a mile a minute. The dealer was with us trying to sell the car, but I wasn’t listening. I just let him go on. It was his job. The car was already mine. We pulled back into the dealership and stepped out. He asked if I wanted to look at the engine? I stared at him blankly. “Why would I want to look at the engine? I’m assuming if a car cost $18,000 the engine works, right?” What do I know about car engines? Jordan looked at me pathetically and shook his head. Apparently, you’re supposed to look at the engine if you buy a new car. Ok, ok, I’ll do the dance. Bloody freezing out and we are looking at a new engine that just got us around a few blocks quite nicely. It looked good to me. He started describing how it could go through feet of water up to here (he points) with no problem. Jordan beams with off-roading fantasies floating in his little teenage-boy brain. I knew I would never open that hood again. And I didn’t. There are people, very nice people, who are well trained and actually LIKE opening engine hoods and poking around in there. I don’t. If a light goes on, I’ll take it to one of those people, and he’ll fix it. And I’ll pay him. It’s a wonderful symbiotic relationship.
That JEEP lasted a long time and when I wanted something more economical to drive, I donated it to Car Talk. I bought a Mini. I love it. And I love my mechanic, but I just couldn’t bring myself to tell him I didn’t know how to put the oil in. And I didn’t want to learn. I thought he might think less of me. (I was actually worried about what my mechanic thinks of me.) I’m supposed to know how to take car of everything! I thought, over Thanksgiving there will be lots of men here who can do this! I’ll ask one of them (in particular) to do it. He was eager to help out. Why didn’t I write that down? In my confusion with all there was to do, I forgot about the oil! Damn! And yesterday, faced with accumulating anxiety of losing some independence, I saw the oil and it dared me. It just dared me. Fine! I’m doing it! I’d already drained the greenhouse pipes, and ran the lawnmower out of gas to store for the winter, so how hard can it be to put in a quart of oil? I’d watched my father do it. I’d seen that dipstick. You wait until the car cools, then pull it out and wipe it, then put it back in and it tells you if you need oil. Somehow.
After about fifteen minutes of trying to open the hood, I finally got out the manual and on page 159 there is a very nice diagram of how to open the hood. Nice manual! Really nice. And easy to read! Got in there and got distracted with how many pine needles were there. Wow. That took a bit to clean out. Having done that, I looked for something that looked like an oil symbol, because who knows these days what the hell that would look like. There are three prominent places one could put a liquid in this car. I got the windshield wiper fluid one straight off. Not you. There is another one that might be a coolant or something, not sure about that. But then I saw the unmistakable little oil can! Yes a little old-fashioned oil can! I opened it. It looked empty. And there was no little dipstick on it. Hmm, a quick scan showed that the dipstick is separate from the opening where you deposit the oil. Found it. Took it out and had no idea what it meant. There was oil on it. I wiped it with an old kleenex I found on the floor of the car. Put it back in and pulled it out again. Still oil on it, but there was no little line or anything indicating how much. How was I supposed to know if it needed oil? What the hell? Just a little pointy piece of plastic with oil on it. It was getting dark. I opened the quart of oil and poured it in, hoping it was needed. I wondered if it was possible to over-fill it like I did once with the lawnmower. I couldn’t just tip the car over to get it out like I did with the lawnmower. That was a passing fear as the car drank all the oil and still looked like there was room for more. I replaced the cap, tossed the empty bottle in the trash, closed the hood, and called it good.
There. I did not help the Syrian refugees in any way. I did not make any big decision about where I belong in this world, what to do to support myself, how to care for women, or being the perfect partner. I put oil in my car and was happy. That’s how we get through December.