It was like I lost my grandfather all over again.
My grandmother handed down the last car he ever drove, that olive green 1997 Toyota Camry. Man, was that thing tough to look at.
But it was mine, and as I cherished my freedom as a driver I shared it with him in some ways, although he’d been gone for months.
“Opa” left us at about 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009, peacefully, after 87 and a half well-lived years. A month later, I knew for sure that World War II army hero was in a better place; the Yankees were world champions once more.
He was my first friend; there behind home plate in his lawn chair for my baseball games. There to teach me about Yankees legends he’d seen. There to compact seemingly all the chocolate ice cream in the carton into a sugar cone he’d hand to you minutes later with a smile.
Give me any other 12-year-old, 80,000-mile, hideously colored car, and I’d scrape up money for a paint job faster than that clunker can drive.
But not this one, which he and Nana shared for the final five years of his life. Of course, it wore a normal gray coat when they bought it.
It was nearly impossible not to think of him each time I climbed into his old driver’s seat.
That memory of him made it all the more gut-wrenching on that June afternoon. Someone sped up through a red light and slammed into my passenger side as I tried to make a left turn.
Thankfully, my friend in the passenger seat was fine. But the verdict broke my heart; the car was totaled. My run with it was over. When I returned it to our house, tears poured out before I even left the car.
We sold it to a mechanic soon after and moved on.
What if I’d waited two extra seconds before making that turn, or waited 10 more minutes for Dad to come home from work and fix the car door that wouldn’t open, or waited five more minutes before going out to eat?
Sometimes I try to convince myself that it all worked out, that all of my rampant driving since then would’ve completely burned the Camry out. It rarely works.
I wish we had more time together.
That car and its previous driver, both.
Editor’s note: This story is part of our October 2016 series ‘Hundreds of Words about My First Car’
Phil D’Abbraccio is a Long Island native gradually learning to speak slower in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He covers high school sports for a newspaper there. Follow him on Twitter @Phil_DNRSports.