Julia got her first car when she was 31. No, that's not entirely accurate. She got a car of her own for the first time when she was 31.
Growing up Jules shared a Honda CRV with her sister. It was green and they drove that car hard. They hit the biggest pot holes with it, drove it around farms and construction sites, and I'm pretty sure that's the car Jules drove off the road as a teenager when she fell asleep for a split second behind the wheel.
When Jules and I got together, I brought a car into the relationship. It was always seen as my car.
Years later we bought a vehicle together. It was a brand new 2008 Toyota RAV4. Now that we had 2 kids and a dog, the back seat of the Honda Civic was a little squishy. But even then, because I was the one who drove it every day, by default it was seen as my car.
While I was off on maternity leave with Addison in 2011, Jules accepted a new job at Hydro Ottawa. This took her from working in the downtown core, to the south end of Ottawa. What was a 20 minute bus commute to the office, was about to become an hour and half one way with two transfers. She could walk there in the same amount of time.
Just like that Jules ceased to be a transit commuter and became a car owner.
She wanted something little and compact. A vehicle that would be good on gas. She wanted a commuter car of her own. We decided to purchase a 2010 Toyota Yaris in a lovely dark grey colour (because if you knew Jules back then you knew that her preferred colour palette was grey scale).
It was love at first sight.
This little Yaris made Jules' heart go pitter patter. It swelled with pride of ownership. She just loved to be able to come and go as she pleased. She loved that having a car of her own made her self-sufficient. She no longer had to coordinate plans with me. She could go where she wanted, when she wanted and whenever she wanted on her own steam.
I didn't realize until we got a second vehicle how much she didn't feel that the car we purchased together didn't belong to both of us. Despite multiple conversations and repeated reassurances, she saw it as mine.
I'm not sure that a car can launch you into independence and adulthood, especially if you're already married with a house and three kids, but having a car of her own did that in a way for Jules.
She called it her "zoom zoom." She'd light up with delight whenever she talked about her little car.
After Jules died, her little zoom zoom sat in the driveway. Untouched, unused and unloved.
We held little value in material objects, our philosophy is to drive your car into the ground, but Jules' Yaris was more than a car. It embodied her and her essence and her joy.
I couldn't just sell it to someone who wouldn't love it like she did. I couldn't bear the thought of that.
Car ownership can provide economic opportunity. For some folks with lower incomes or grappling with poverty, a car can mean the difference between having a job and not having a job. It means the ability to get to work where transit or a bike isn't a viable option. But it's incredibly challenging to be able to scrape together the money to buy that first vehicle. [Read more about the intersection of cars and poverty here, here, here and here].
I searched for organizations that match a vehicle with a low-income person in Ottawa (or even anywhere in Canada) and I couldn't find one.
I gave a call to the Furniture Bank of Ottawa as I thought they might welcome the donation or in the least be able to help me connect with someone in need of a car.
Emmanuel. Emmanuel was in need of car.
Emmanuel, his wife and 4 children came to Canada in 2009. Originally from Cameroon, he's lived all over the world. Madagascar. France. He used to work in forestry conservation for the World Bank. He's passionate about the forest and the ecosystem.
When he came to Canada, he trained to continue his work here in forestry. But then he got sick. It turns out that Emmanuel had diabetes. And you can't continue to explore the world and work deep inside the forest when your body needs insulin. It's hard to find a fridge to keep your medicine cool in the middle of the woods.
His doctor told him to make the difficult choice - quit his job or die.
Emmanuel gave up his passion and retrained in biomedical equipment repair at CHEO. There was a job waiting for him, only he was told he needed a vehicle to have it. The machines he needed to fix were located in hospitals and medical facilities all over eastern Ontario. They told him to come back when he had a car.
That was a year ago.
For the past year, and I'd imagine many years before this, Emmanuel's wife has been the sole breadwinner. She's a teacher who has secured regular substitute teaching work. His children are now all grown and scattered around the world with families of their own.
In this time, they managed to save up a small sum of money for a new car. Enough to get a very used vehicle, but not enough to buy a reliable used vehicle that Emmanuel could use to get to and from work.
While he wanted to move forward with his life, he was stuck. He was handling his frustration with grace.
I could help Emmanuel. Jules could help Emmanuel. The little zoom zoom could help Emmanuel.
I gave Emmanuel a deal and a payment plan. He's only been driving for 3 years, so his insurance is through the roof. I may have come to admire him even more when he told me he had to talk with his wife to determine what they could afford as she was the only one earning money and it was her money he was going to spend.
We all have magic in us that we can share in the world. This is how you spread it around. Be intentional in your actions.
When the little zoom zoom left our driveway for the last time, my heart ached because it wasn't Jules behind the wheel.
But I was also content. Because this is something Jules would have done.
She was always giving material possessions away because someone always needed it more than she did. We went through quite a few winter coats in the early years of our relationship.
Emmanuel, who only wants to have a better life in Canada, needed a car more than I did. And through him, Jules' life continues to create small ripples in the world.
Footnote: I don't have many regrets from my time with Jules. I'm not even sure if this truly qualifies as a regret.
But at the time, to save money, we didn't buy the Toyota manufactured floor mats. In my mind, a floor mat is a floor mat and that's not where one should want to splurge. But Jules was always wistful about not having the most perfect fitting floor mats in her car.
Let that be a lesson from me to you.
If your partner is in love the idea of having a car of your own, and this car brings a warm, bubbly feeling to her stomach, just agree to buy the manufacturer floor mats. It will make your wife swoon. If the other person has a strong feeling about something they want that they feel will make a big difference in their quality of life, just support it. These little things matter. Always do the little things to make your wife happy.