Boxcar Bertha #1
I had tried to put it behind me. I loved her so much, she was untouchable, she was perfect to me. She was never reachable even when we shared a bed or a car or 15 states. She was the taste of port and cigarettes and late nights. She was the color of every red and green and yellow pencil in her case when they blended over faceless figures dancing on the beach.
I couldn’t be touched either. I couldn’t stop drinking, I couldn’t stop panicking, I couldn’t stop naming my days after her moods.
I had finally left her. I was in Portland where I had been four months. My lover was upstairs in her room getting ready for the party. I was in a tutu and boom boom shorts putting an abundance of snack trays out. I heard the door behind me, I turned around double fisting dumpstered cheese and there she was, next to another friend I had left behind.
We all started laughing. Had she seen me in anything but carharts and flannels? The cheese was melting into my tattered elbow length gloves before anyone said anything.
The next day she came again. She said she loved me and that she had been a fool. She told me to move back with her, she told me we would start again. At least I swear this is what I heard.
I told her to pick me up the next day. I walked inside and up the stairs and with no notice and no empathy told the person who loved me, who had fed and housed and nursed me, the one who kept the wine coming, the one whose kids were very used to me, that I was leaving the next day.
I was surprised she was upset. I thought it was unreasonable.
She picked me up at the planned time, I thought that was a sign of how things had changed. She picked me up in a ¾ ton diesel van, navy blue called Boxcar Bertha.
Two weeks later she told me she was leaving. She had trained me to take over her job in the office without me realizing that’s what she was doing. No one would have willingly signed on for that job and this was the way she could get out. She moved to the town she had picked me up from.
She left the apartment paid up for a few months to soften the blow.
The blow was not softened.
I drank alone in that apartment, tried to fuck other girls in that bed but could not do it. I did all the work I needed too and nothing more. I listened to one leonard cohen song and one cat power album on repeat for hours. The cake she had bought me for my birthday molded in the kitchen.
At some point she left the west coast all together. Before she did she gave me Boxcar Bertha. I had no license or address or means of switching the title. In those first months it was still in her name and I drove around collecting parking tickets hoping that parking enforcement would find her in the Carolinas and she would think of me.
Bertha had a good long run with me, many parking related accidents, many miraculously close calls with bigger problems. So many people lived in her, traveled in her. All across the country and back through new paint and break downs.
She was built by a company who, in an attempt to compete with other vans of the time, had quickly converted a gasoline car engine into diesel and shoved it in a van body. To touch the alternator with my fingertips I had to have my arm in the engine up to the shoulder. She had a dog house between the front seats that was good for graffiti or for people from the back of the van to sit on during brief visits to the driver.
This is where all of her times with me began….