The Storming Bohemian Punks The Muse: Covid Edition #19 – “The Mechanical Consciousness of Deerwhacker: A Story of Love, Loyalty, and Survival”
A few years ago, my husband Jim was driving along a country road in North Carolina when a deer jumped in front of his car. Jim was unable to stop in time to prevent a collision. The unfortunate deer was killed, and its antler shattered the front windshield and a piece of it lodged in Jim’s forehead, just above the eye, along with some shattered glass.
After he was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery, Jim’s eye was saved and he eventually recovered fully from a severe concussion.
Not, however, without having acquired a peculiar mental aberration. He came to believe that his car, which he had now christened Deerwhacker, was endowed with consciousness and, being fearful of surviving a repeat accident, had taken over the management of Jim’s life (and its own).
I did not know of this at the time because, although Jim and I had been a couple many years previously, we had not been in contact for decades.
I would learn the story of Deerwhacker’s mechanical consciousness when Jim returned to his family home in Northern California to take care of his elderly mother. By that time, we had reconnected on Facebook and, because of that, Jim called me on his arrival. We spent an afternoon together, and I felt the old spark between us. Indeed, I had carried a torch for thirty years, to be perfectly frank. We began dating, and I suggested to Jim that, after all this time, we had “an opportunity to unfuck something” and proposed we become a couple once more.
Jim said he was so inclined, but before making a decision, we would have to consult Deerwhacker.
“Um, my car. Deerwhacker’s my car and it has mechanical consciousness and makes a lot of decisions about my life.”
“That old car you brought from North Carolina?” I asked. “But it scarcely runs!” As if that had some relation to its decision-making capacities.
“That car saved my life!” said Jim. “I owe it allegiance. That’s why I had it shipped from North Carolina.”
“I shall never abandon Deerwhacker!” he added, with an emphasis worthy of Mrs. Micawber.
I was enough in love to consider this a charming conceit and agreed to have a talk with Deerwhacker.
“I did not realize,” I told him, “that I would be entering into a polyamorous relationship with a car, but I’m game if that’s what it takes.”
“It does,” said Jim with a smile.
We went to the street where Deerwhacker sat patiently and I explained the situation, hand resting on Deerwhacker’s hood. I told Jim that Deerwhacker had telepathically agreed.
“Really?” asked Jim, with convincing sincerity. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
And that was that. Not long afterward, Jim moved from his family home and I from my rented room and we rented a room together in a house in Rodeo. The decision to rent was predicated on the fact that a driveway would be provided for Deerwhacker.
When we left Rodeo to seek our own apartment in Vallejo, we looked at several places before finding one with which I instantly fell in love.
“No way,” said Jim. “We can’t afford it. And it’s too big.”
“We CAN afford it,” I told him. “We’ll manage. We’ll never have another opportunity for a place like this.”
It was the 2nd floor of an old Victorian and it was spacious, with eight rooms, including a huge bedroom with a gabled roof and multiple dormers with stained glass windows, as well as a large foyer which could function as a painting studio. And the cost, though a bit high for us, was less than the cost of a one bedroom in San Francisco.
The deciding factor was the garage.
“Don’t you get it?” I persisted. “There’s a garage for the Deerwhacker.”
“Deerwhacker,” Jim interrupted. “Not THE Deerwhacker. It’s a name, not a title.” Deerwhacker, Jim once explained, has no gender: “It’s a CAR. It has mechanical, not biological consciousness.”
“A garage for Deerwhacker!” I dutifully amended. “Do you think that’s an accident?”
Jim looked dubious.
“I don’t know. Deerwhacker does want a garage. And this would be a typical Deerwhacker move.”
“That’s right!” I crowed. “You can’t abandon Deerwhacker to the street.”
“Never shall I abandon Deerwhacker!”
And that was that. We took the apartment. As soon as we drove Deerwhacker into the new garage, it died.
For two years, Jim and I lived in that apartment, Deerwhacker safely ensconced in the garage. Jim would occasionally, in fact, sit in Deerwhacker. It seemed to soothe his occasional depressions. It was a very happy time.
One time, I asked him, gently: “Jim, do you REALLY imagine that Deerwhacker has consciousness?”
Jim giggled. “It found this place, didn’t it? You should be more respectful.”
Jim looked me in the eye. “Of course not. I’m not superstitious. On the other hand. . . I really don’t know. There’s a part of me that kind of believes it.”
I understood. Although Jim had little respect for religious ideas, his sense of the sacredness of all things in his care was one of Jim’s most striking characteristics. He literally couldn’t bear to hurt a bug. Spiders were never stomped on but removed. That’s not unusual. But he took the same care with ants, and moths, and wasps, and bumblebees. And all plants were his friends. Often, when we went out for breakfast, he would insist on driving around to various parts of town where he had befriended a plant. He wanted to visit them and make sure they were alright. Occasionally, he would make a cutting. Many material possessions received the same affection. He had owned for years a platter of Georgian silver. It was beautiful, but had no lid. Jim had cut a cardboard template to size a lid, and carried it with him everywhere for decades — hoping one day to find the right silver in a thrift shop. Jim resisted saying “I love you.” But one day, not long after I asked him why he found this so difficult, he disappeared into his closet and returned, after much rummaging, with an 8 x 10 photograph of me, carefully preserved, dating from three decades past. Without a word, he lay it on the table and looked me in the eye.
“Thirty years,” he said.
The attentive reader will have noticed that I began, a paragraph ago, to refer to Jim in the past tense. You see, after two years in our Vallejo home, Jim was diagnosed with a mass in his chest, and died of lung cancer in less than six months. For his last two months, after a stroke, he was unable to speak at all.
But before that final blow that took away his speech, we talked. Jim had no diagnosis of what ailed him, but we both sensed that he was dying. We’d speak of it obliquely, as Jim expressed concern about securing my future. We often spoke of how happy we were in our home, and would laughingly credit Deerwhacker with having arranged it. We got married, with Jim insisting that it was “only for the insurance” but the pictures we took at the wedding show otherwise.
In his last days, in hospice, Jim would perk up, even without the power of speech, whenever I would reassure him about how people and things would be cared for when he had gone. His eyes shone when he learned that our young roommate had secured a teaching job in San Francisco, and a place to live on the edge of the Castro. He showed clear delight when I told him I had found a new roommate and the rent would be covered.
And he was especially pleased when I assured him that Deerwhacker was safe.
After Jim passed, things did not work out with the new roommate, who had to be replaced. My current roommate, Rob, turned out to be a highly skilled maintenance engineer (with a degree in electrical engineering).
Only a week or so after he moved in, we began to shelter-in-place. Rob, unable to work during the pandemic as he is even older than I, and at high risk, began to take care of the apartment. After fixing the plumbing, and every lock and doorknob, repairing a few holes in the walls, insulating the windows, clearing the yard, and rebuilding the patio, he asked me about the car in the garage.
“Is it yours?” he wondered.
“Yes,” I said. “That’s Deerwhacker. But it does not run, and I’ve been told it’s beyond repair.”
“Well, then, why haven’t you junked it?”
“Paperwork,” I explained. “I don’t have a current registration and Jim’s dead and the DMV is closed and getting someone to take it would be complex. I’m kind of stuck with Deerwhacker.”
“Hmmm….” said Rob. “Let me see what I can do.”
For the next several weeks, Rob worked daily on Deerwhacker. The engine was cleaned. The head was removed and a valve job completed. The interior was cleaned and repaired. I began to wonder, “Did Deerwhacker arrange this?” The thought brought Jim close.
Then, a few nights ago, Rob announced that Deerwhacker had been revived; he’d driven it up and down the alley, and it purred. Would I like to see for myself?
I went down to the garage, climbed into the driver’s seat (Jim’s seat), turned on the ignition and felt the engine’s gentle roar.
It was exactly to the day and close to the hour of the first anniversary of Jim’s death.
I swear, in the engine’s roar, I could almost hear Deerwhacker murmuring in a voice that was a bit like Jim’s: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Bohemian, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
The moral is: Who knows? And, also: I shall never abandon Deerwhacker!
Keep on punking!