Have I ever been in love? Yes.
How many times have I been in love? Maybe three, and maybe more.
The truth is that it depends on what we talk about when we talk about love. it’s not that the question has no answer, it’s that it has infinite ones depending on how the light hits it. I have been in love three times in 34 years, and also maybe more, and once I may have been in love with a very small car.
It was a cream-coloured Morris Mini 1000 that belonged to my mother. When she was a single girl in the late 1960s she would use it to dart around Madrid and when she married my father it ended up plonked on our street in Almagro. On my favourite Sundays I went down with a big bucket of soapy water and washed it. They let me sit inside and needed moderate to severe threats to get me out.
It had black race stripes on the bonnet and yellow fog lights in the front grille. On the back, my mother had added a Playboy bunny sticker (when we were old enough to ask her about it she looked aghast for a few seconds. She had no idea it was a Playboy bunny; she just thought it looked cute. “Although that explains a few things”, she trailed off in a half-whisper). It looked so cute and tiny and so bad at the same time with its accidental porn sticker and there was no other car exactly like it anywhere else in the world.
My brothers didn’t seem to care very much about it; they liked big cars, sporty cars, and this one looked like a toy; if asked, my father would occasionally say he loved the way it drove (I am told by those who know that the classic Minis moved like insanely fun go-karts) but otherwise ignored it; even my mother didn’t seem to pay it much attention. I often asked her questions about it and she always responded fondly but unattached. She didn’t drive it for years. I think for her it was just, well, a car she was happy to have owned once upon a time, in a different lifetime when she took care of hundreds of people aboard DC-10s rather than three noisy boys and a husband at home. But just as I loved the little flakes of that other lifetime of hers casually falling off her daily conversation — talking about theatres in Manhattan and earthquakes in Mexico while we peeled potatoes for dinner — I also loved her Mini, our Mini, and I don’t think I have ever truly moved on.
My working definition of love involves forests and trees. Specifically, one particular pine tree in a garden back in the village, to which I kept coming back day in, day out, for a long time. It was a bit secluded and surrounded by a tiny sort of moat that filled up when it rained, and one day when I was maybe seven I found it and decided it was going to be my tree. And to my tree I went nearly every day I spent in the village, sometimes in the morning, sometimes after lunch when the Castilian summer heat was deadly and everyone was having a siesta, just to read or to listen to music, or to daydream and imagine things.
So I saw that tree, and because I saw it, I loved it. And because I loved it, I cannot unsee it. It will remain seen, by me and others like me who love it, amidst the rest of the garden, which I liked but didn’t love. To love is to see. To love is to distinguish, to bracket, someone or something, and hail them — and then if they respond you’re happy.
And so to me our Mini wasn’t a car, but more like a family pet. I would greet it every day on my way to school, and again on my way back, and I made it a rule of sorts that if I crossed paths with another Mini on the streets it would be a very good and lucky day. If I was with my parents and we were heading in the opposite direction, I made them wait while I run to it to say hello; it seemed rude not to. Like the object of love, I forgave it for everything — for the black seats that would get so hot in summer that the flesh would melt off your thighs; for the cramps and contortions from fitting a family of five; for the noise; for how messy it always seemed to be — but I couldn’t forgive it for leaving. And if that’s not love, then I don’t know what love is.
We took it to the village and parked it in the courtyard, and there it stayed among the much bigger cars of the neighbours, and still I washed it when I could and I greeted it always, and it never moved from its spot and it slowly got rusty. Minis, I am told, die of rust. Ours, I am told, had practically dissolved by the end, when my parents had it shipped off in the back of a flatbed truck because it was in such poor shape it couldn’t even be driven to the scrapyard. I was at school in Norway and when they told me about it during our fortnightly phone call I said that I understood, and I did, and that it was the only thing to do, and it was. Afterwards I went to my bed and cried. And cried, and cried, for a car I had never driven, and I would never drive; for a car like no other, that I had loved like no other seemed to have.
I told my roommates I was crying because I was homesick.
That summer, my mother told me the scrapyard paid them 5000 pesetas. Thirty euros, give or take. She looked mortified. She had grown to see it as my car, she said, because of how much I had loved it over the years. That made me happy, knowing that at least emotionally it had been passed on to me.
But I never gave it a name. It was a fucking car.