Quinn could, as a younger boy, become sentimental about dryer lint, sticks he had collected on the floor mat of the car, candy wrappers. Perhaps he resisted farewells as a response to living in two separate households, and within each household, moving homes several times in his younger years. I would not know, as I was lucky to have one household—a farm!—and it is still the household I return to visit my 48-years-married parents in. So when I’d remove his stick collection from the floorboards to vacuum the car, I’d reverently pile them in a section of the garden where he could visit them if he liked (until we moved again). He has grown marginally more pragmatic about such things as a teen, but I wasn’t sure how he was going to take it when the actual car was the thing we would be saying goodbye to.

The Neon became unreliable in 2023, and I have been opting not to take it on highway 20. This winter I realized the trunk had leaked so much that the seats were now moldy. For a while I cherished the idea of passing this car onto a teen who needed a first car, maybe even Quinn, but the project of its rehabilitation was getting beyond me. Cue several months of avoidance and driveway sitting.

Last Saturday, a young man knocked on the door and asked if I’d like him to remove the Neon from the driveway. He works on cars, knows how to drain the fluids, and would take the car to Dahl’s for the $200 they will give him for it. He offered to split the money with me. I accepted his offer.

Quinn happened to be home, or this would have been a harder decision. I knew he’d want at least a chance to say goodbye.

I thanked the universe for solving my adulting problem with no effort on my part, and told the young man to come back in a couple hours with his trailer. I pulled the last remaining items out of the car, an archaeological dig that tugged its own heartstrings. I located the title. I had the car empty by the time Quinn came outside and I filled him in on its impending departure.


He made me peel the Lisa Frank stickers off the dashboard that B pancake had stuck there years ago, and hang onto the rainbow tie-dye steering wheel cover Rich’s mom had given me and save it, despite the elastic being shot. He reminded me to check the CD player. The battery had enough juice to power the eject button and lo and behold, Brandi Carlile’s Firewatcher’s Daughter had still been in the slot. The Eye is a song Quinn and I love to sing along to together. I would have been very sad to lose it.

Then he asked if I would transplant the tiny fern that has grown for years out of the Neon’s left front fender.

At this point the lump in my throat grew painful. I used two jack-o-lantern carving knives with their skinny blades to carefully extract the roots of the plant from the grungy fender crevice. We found a spot in the corner of the front garden bed to situate the fern in a bare patch of soil.

Satisfied, Quinn and I watched from the driveway as the guy got the Neon started and a black cloud of exhaust emitted from the tailpipe. He stepped out of the car one more time to discuss payment, and I told him to keep the money, he was doing me a favor. Was I sure? Yes, I was sure. He thanked me. He said it sounded like a cracked head gasket. I was glad to know I wasn’t wrong, the car was at the end of its life. 195,120 miles and many memories have accumulated in our fourteen years with the Neon.

After he drove it up onto the pavement to load it on his trailer, earthworms emerged from the ruts where the tires had been sitting.

We went inside and Quinn turned around and blew a kiss through the window at our good little car.

When I was with Quinn’s father and pregnant, we bought a used jeep that was intended to be the “family vehicle” as soon as Quinn was born. But, while I was still pregnant, his father’s truck died and the “family vehicle” became his work vehicle, while I walked and took the bus to my two jobs. Even with a newborn I commuted by public transit, which thankfully was doable in Portland, but let’s just say, less than ideal.

We split up on the eve of moving to Newport. I took the jeep so I could get to my new job and support Quinn. The $800 blue book value of the jeep was a contentious line item in mediation. I could not wait to never drive it again.

I found the Neon on Craigslist. A friend’s mother’s car someone was selling cheap, with low mileage and a stick shift. It was under $2000 and even so, I needed to convince my credit union to give me a loan. Andrew, a lab friend, drove me to Florence to pick it up, and I paid it off a year later.


The Neon is the only car I’ve ever independently bought, you see. Independently buying a car hits differently if your movements and finances have been constrained and controlled by another person for years. The Neon meant more to me than a 2002 car with hand crank windows ought to have meant. With my next tax return, I bought Quinn, who was three, a nice car seat that would keep him safe up to eighty pounds. As my string bean lengthened but did not gain much weight, he held onto that seat until I convinced him he no longer needed it, around second grade. All the beach bird feathers he had tucked into its side pouch were added to the stick collection in the garden.

I don’t have many photos of the Neon, but hunting through photos shows me all the places the little car took us; in a sense, it’s just outside the frame of every picture. It took us to beaches, to hikes, to campouts, to the end of Beaver Creek Road for several years and multiple flat tires. To school and activities and all over town. Loaded to the gills with a canopy and market gear, we drove it to farmer’s market every Saturday.

It was the site of all the Pickups and Drop-offs of Quinn’s two-household/one-driving-parent early life. It was where Quinn learned to blow kisses, as a fundamental building block of the routine to make transitions marginally more okay for him, to help him cope with always being left by the other person he loved. It was always the site of our coming back together again after we had been apart. A car can mean a lot more than you ever meant to let it mean.

1 comment to neon

  • Camp boss

    Ahhhhh…. The neon!!! It had a good life and made your life more special in the process. Cars can mean a lot, and Thank God for them!!

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