A late model Dodge Durango has been parked in front of our house for a couple of weeks now. My husband and I live on a short, narrow street in the historical section of Sag Harbor. I have a general disdain of SUVs for obvious, gas-guzzling reasons. I assume their drivers are hoggy, inconsiderate, and motivated by self-entitlement. I rarely admit that I used to own one and loved it. But now, like a reformed smoker (I used to do that too) who hates cigarettes (the worst kind) I have turned on SUVs and their owners with self-satisfied, self-righteous indignation. But my nasty feelings for this particular Durango have more to do with the space it has been claiming on our street.
I want to leave a mean, anonymous note for its owner but I never do. Each day I imagine something clever to say in the note I never write. Like many houses in the village, we don’t have a driveway or a garage. And since there are two major “remodels” happening on either side of us—there has been a shortage of available parking space for those who live on the street.
Who would be so self-involved to park this big honking thing in front of our house and leave it for days? While the rest of us (good citizens, we are) cleared our vehicles from the street for the snow plows to do their jobs last week in the storm, the Durango taunted at the curb. Where was its owner? On vacation? In the city? For days, it sat covered in snow—a parking ticket poking from its windshield. Even when the snow melted it remained—ticket be damned.
I eventually peered through the tinted windows hoping to find some identification. I was ready to call the owner and give him or her a piece of my mind. On the passenger seat was a fashionable pair of sunglasses and a lipstick. Two empty coffee cups sat in the cup holder. A business card from a local hair salon had an appointment written across it. In the rear cab, a cozy old quilt was spread for a dog. The same stuff anyone might find on any day in my car.
Days pass. The Durango is still outside our front door. It sits at the curb like a grudge. It seems to be growing larger, or is that me? I call the local police. They ask and I give them the license plate number. There is a patrol car in front immediately. When it pulls away, I am satisfied that perhaps now the selfish owner will finally move this big elephant. I wonder why I haven’t done this sooner.
Later, as I leave my house, a Sag Harbor patrol car returns. He asks if I am the person who called about the Durango. When I tell him I am, he tells me the car won’t be moved for at least another week or longer. I want to protest but before I can, he tells me the woman who owned the Durango has died. “It was unexpected,” he says. “Her family is dealing with all that needs to be done right now.” He pulls the parking ticket from the windshield and drives off. I stand planted on the street.
It’s funny how quickly nasty feelings of judgment, resentment, and anger disappear when the context changes. I’m immediately ashamed of my self-righteousness. I’m ashamed of my judgments, my impatience. I see the owner of the Durango in a new light. Even the abandoned, hulking car looks different. The items left behind take on new meaning. Sunglasses, lipstick, the dog blanket. The hair salon card with a new appointment on it! The Durango is filled with an ordinary day. An ordinary day interrupted.
I have so many questions without answers. She parked her car in front of our house with the expectation that she would return to the rest of her day. To the rest of her life. What happened? I am left awed by death. One can be fully alive on the earth one day and vanished the next.
At night, I see it below on the street—bathed in streetlight—from our bedroom window. Its lumpish bulk, a steady rebuke of how unexpectedly a life can end. I know this fact. That life is uncertain. I’ve always known it. We all do, don’t we? Yet, in some small, quiet place, I know that when this car is finally moved, its ready reminder of life’s fragility will fade. My days will continue, filled with their busy-ness. I vow to not judge. I promise to release resentment. I will have more patience. And for a time, I may. But after a while, with the Durango gone, I may forget and my understanding of the most basic truth will fade once again.