It's my dad's baby, the 1987 car we use, the one that smells like old cigarettes and grease. Four mismatched tires and four seats worn by some other family's bottoms, and the red paint so faded it's almost pink. But it's still my dad's baby. Why else would you love something so ugly if it weren't your own kid?
This is the car that my older brother will not be seen in, and this is the car that we bought when we had to sell the classic Chrysler to pay the mortgage a few months ago. I liked the Chrysler. It was black and silver, with paint so shiny you could see your face in it. And it even had real leather seats. My mom's car. The only thing she ever looked at in her life and said, "I need to have that." She didn't drive - still can't - but she didn't care. She liked how it looked in the driveway, and how she looked in the passenger seat, laughing with her crooked teeth. Made it hers with a plastic rosary on the rearview mirror and hand-sewn blankets over the seats from her cousin Lala in Mexico. Hers.
But one day, with no money in the bank or jobs to fall back on, we had to sell it or else live on the street. And what good is a car if you don't have a garage to put it in? That's what my dad said, and I agreed. So my mom took her blankets and rosary, and a man came and asked, "How much?" And he took it away.
I try not to let it bother me. The red car, I mean. It's who we are now, or else my parents wouldn't have to send three teenagers out to work. It is me. Four tired seats and a light that only works when you hit it. And you have to smack the door really hard twice when you want to get out. And if you're cold, too bad, no heater. Suck it up, hombre. But if you're too hot, that's easy. Roll down the window, stupid! You have to roll a knob around and around with your hand, and every twist makes a strangled squawk.
I'm getting used to it. I'm trying to. It's hard, though. It seems like everyone in school has a car, and a nice one at that. The kinds of cars where kids go damn, but in the good way, and cars that aren't as nice as that but still good, you know? Cars you wouldn't mind saying, Yeah, that's mine, instead of pretending that it isn't.
It's just hard. It won't kill me, but still. You wanna be like everyone else, even though you know you aren't. Silly, I know, but I can't help it. It's just the way it is.
But sometimes, sometimes it's easier. Like the summer day after work, coming home with five big boxes leftover from stocking the store.
"Here you go," I told my dad, and then remembered we only had the red car. No Chrysler. Just this beat-up thing that only holds four people, and even then you have to hold your shoulders and legs tight together, like you were trying to make yourself little. My dad had to squish three boxes into the back seat, and two in the trunk. I had to squeeze into the back seat with the boxes, because we still had to leave the passenger side free for my mom, when we picked her up from the restaurant.
She was already outside, in her white shirt and black slacks, her hands tight from washing dishes for hours. But she was smiling. It was hot trying to drive with five boxes, a mother and a father in the car. So my mom rolled down the window (squawk!), and the air hit my face. I felt better.
I told my parents, "You know, we're poor. I could just have broken down the boxes so it could be easier to take home, but no, Papi didn't want me to. He said we'd have to buy a roll of tape then, but why do that if we could save some money. Only three dollars for the tape. We're poor!"
"Yup," my mom said, resting her head against the seat. "And so what else is new? So what?"
I was shocked. So what? That's all she could say? Crazy. She's crazy. I even told her so. But then when we parked outside our house and had to take the boxes out- Push, pull! Push, pull! Ay! Damn it! - and I fell straight over into the sandy gravel and heard my mom laughing, and my dad laughing at himself trying to open the difficult trunk, I knew, too. So what, is what my mom said, and I saw then. So what. So what. Even if it's for a single minute, I'm happy.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.