We were settling into the weekly A Course in Miracles meeting in the fellowship hall (read: kitchen) of Unity Spiritual Center of Albuquerque. The door was wide open to let in the winds and sounds of outside and the expansive energy of sundown.
Chris had just read some tenets from The Way of Mastery, among them: “It is impossible to experience real loss.” Now Alison was reading. We’d redouble our focus when noise from outside would intrude. Many people used the throughway onto which the door opened as a shortcut from neighborhood to major thoroughfare. A family had just ambled by, conversing in several octaves. We noticed, we filtered.
Shortly after, I heard a familiar engine sound, as a white car drove by the door. I thought little of it, but something in me registered enough recognition to look up. A car like mine. I looked back down. Back it came, the sound, the car passing in the opposite direction. Hey. I felt myself prompted to rise. Not really believing, but just checking, I excused myself, as I walked to the door. “I’m sorry, I just feel like I need to check….” I stepped out the door, a knowing coalescing in advance of belief, and peered at the back end of the white Legacy exiting our parking lot. I knew it was mine precisely for the reason I’d just discovered I could not be sure it was mine: The license plate was missing. I stepped farther into the parking lot, to see if…sure enough, the place I had parked was empty.
I returned to the table of folks who’d suspended their study to await my return. “Someone just stole my car.” I was already laughing. Various appropriate utterances and suggestions issued from the group. Realizing (and appreciating the fact) that I’d half-distractedly made a choice to leave my cellphone at home ( I might have otherwise left it on the car seat), I borrowed Gus’s phone, and and pressed the pre-programmed 911 button. I got a recording perpetually repeating, “Your call will be answered in the order it was received.”
“Glad there’s no gunshot wound involved,” I said aloud.
When someone answered, probably within 30 seconds–which I imagine must be an agonizing stretch in some situations– I reported the apparent, but still not quite real, facts to the dispatcher. After hanging up, I apologized for the interruption to class , and we tried to settle back into reading until officer Ramirez showed up; but this gave such opportunity to exchange anecdotes that it took a while. I was distractedly listening to the reading when an attractive hispanic uniform showed up: A. Ramirez. We wouldn’t be quite on a first name basis.
She took my information and gave me instructions, implying all the while in her apologetic demeanor that it was unlikely I’d see the car again; they were understaffed and this was low priority. She intoned a melody of fatalistic foregone conclusion with lyrics about all the more positive contingencies.
She asked about any identifying features. The dash ornament, a Dancing Shiva statue, was the best suggestion, but how to describe it? I found myself there in the parking lot aping Nataraj, explaining it was a Hindu god….She clamped on to the word brass, brass or bronze; that she could grock. I didn’t go to much trouble promoting the rather small Ganesha on the front bumper!
She left; I returned to the group; and once they had been briefed, we set about finding our way back to Miracles. We succeeded enough that when Gus’s phone rang he was apologetically moving to silence it until I suggested it was the APD. It was. A Ramirez was calling to report that my VIN number wasn’t turning up anything. No such car. I was suddenly faced with having to find my title and fax it later. The conversation turned to questions about my vehicle: Did it have a roof rack? Tinted windows? I sheepishly had to confess that I honestly couldn’t remember exactly how much was on the roof– got the car under stress, hadn’t had it that long, etc. She mentioned that there had just been a robbery in the vicinity, and the car involved was thought to have been a white station wagon. Ah. Assuming that, by robbery, she actually meant burglary, I said that might explain why they chose my car over the other candidates in the lot, some of which were wide open. Mine had, we assume, been locked. But it had cargo space. A 1997 Subaru wagon is not your first joyride candidate, unless you have a lot of friends and it’s snowing hard.
I happened to mention my license plate number toward the end of the chat, and the glitch revealed itself. They’d had that part wrong. That corrected, my and my car’s existence popped back into this dimension. Once I was legitimized, the wheels of bureaucracy were back in motion.
I came back and dutifully briefed the Course group. Chris asked if I had insurance, which reminded me that my insurance agent had called me only that day to ask if I wanted to update my address and policy, and I’d said that things were just pending enough to wait a few more weeks until the premium came due. Eerie.
I also recalled that I’d been consulting bus routes and schedules, ostensibly for a different reason, earlier this very day, and had had wondering thoughts about getting around this sprawling slope of city without a car. I’d mentioned it to the cop, and she’d actually observed that if I was making that a causal or blameful thought (my words), not to go there.
There was more wowing and chuckling. I was offered a ride home. A woman read from her phone how to list your alternate phone numbers so they are most likely to be found and called from a lost cellphone. How the ego loves drama and distraction from A Course in its annihilation. But in wrapping up the meeting, the group thanked me for modeling “It’s impossible to experience real loss” detachment. (I’d already observed in class discussion that I’m wired to fear failure (ego death) more than physical death. So the gone car was not as troublesome as the prospect that this was somehow my fault, warranting financial punishment.)
Once home, thanks to Alison, I was called promptly to bed, though with the phone on. I’d been told that if my vehicle was found abandoned, they’d generally only give me about 15 minutes to respond to their call and arrange to retrieve it from that site before they’d have it towed to impound.
Up early, I began my full day of hoop jumping and conversation with police, insurance, car rental folk, and the occasional sympathetic friend. I laughed often and then showered at the end, to wash off the general dinge of officious and suspicious Institution, to unmatch from the metallic-plastic-armed hearts, talking through occluded lines of communication and possibility.
The last of those conversations was a multi-call and multi-transfer attempt to reach an officer who had called Gus’s phone earlier in the day to report that my license plate had been found.
Phone calls resumed before I was even dressed and dried from showering. Officer Lorraine Lopez Stadler (??) called. After an almost Abbot/Costello rally of introductory orientation, it was established that I was who I was and she had some belongings from my car. Feeling as mortal and lost as I had when I arrived in Albq, I’d had had the foresight to put a card in my glovebox “Newly arrived in Albuquerque. In case of emergency, call…” and I’d listed about the only two friends I had in Albq. When a good samaritan had found trash strewn in front of her house, she’d realized, upon closer assessment, that this was from someone’s car and had names on it. She called APD. Officer Stadler had called my friend and found her way to me. She had, among a few other items, the remains of my mother’s remains, which I’d forgotten had been in the car. “There’s this little can with Rosemary written on it….” I got a little misty! Admittedly, I’d been trying to liberate them for months. Two ash-scattering expeditions later, there were still ashes left. I’d been at a loss for what to do with them. And today they’re baaaaaack, and I’m rather glad.
It was like Jungian dream analysis with props. I sat in our driveway, in the shade of the squad car, like a child engrossed in her sandbox, reaching with latex gloves into Officer Santa’s garbage bag, and taking stock, letting the emotional flavors, the general curiosity and wonder, wash through. It was uncanny, the random precision of– the subtle messages divined from– what the car-nappers had cast off: some of the groceries I’d bought just before the theft (probably a little too green granola for those guys); some kissing winged pigs from my dash board; a bundle of vetiver and some sweetgrass and copal; the paperwork on the car, including owners manual; maps; my can of Rosemary (ashes–which I quipped to a friend could not be resold; they weren’t a complete set); my multicolored chico fleece; one CD and one book among the many in my car…. I didn’t keep all of what was in the bag. I signed for the items I kept and we threw the bag in a dumpster.
Later, as I sorted through the kept items again, I couldn’t help but sense that the odd fact that the owner’s manual and paperwork came back to me was a clue that the car would too, for better or worse. I had found myself almost refreshed last night by the prospect that it wouldn’t, that I’d be liberated to a more suitable car.
It was late, I was hungry. None of the returned groceries made a meal, so I got on the bus and duplicated the rest of last night’s purchase. I’m still hungry.
Despite all the inconvenience of its loss, I have not lamented about the car nearly as much as my camping gear: a tent, a camp-stove, some sleeping pads, including the one snugly covered in my own Bambi bedspread from childhood; and a Cannon AE-1 Program camera outfit that I intended to get rid of, but on my own terms.
And I’m also sorry for all the folks in the library’s Hold queue behind me that the audio-copy of LIfe of Pi, which I was almost finished listening to, will not be available to them.
The story of Gauri (my car) is not over, her ministry is does not feel complete. I simply wanted to collect and post details while they were fresh and so I don’t have to repeat the tale quite so many times in coming days. Stay tuned….