The car glides to a stop in front of the hotel. Light splashes off gleaming black metal as the valet gets out. He hands the keys to my wife.
Marilyn says, “These aren’t my keys.”
The valet says, “Yes, they are.”
Marilyn says, a little more forcefully, “These aren’t my keys. That’s not my car.”
The valet says, “That’s your car.”
Marilyn’s brow knits in confusion. She looks at the key fob like she’s never seen a key fob before. Then she steps through the crowd of us gathered there on the sidewalk, going to inspect the car this man insists is hers.
It is her 50th birthday, and no, she won’t mind my telling you that, because she’s always been one of those rare women who believes aging a thing to be embraced, not feared. This evening, we’ve had a party for the ages. We’ve eaten fine food, we’ve laughed, we’ve danced to Elvis and Luther, the Tempts and the Gap Band. Now it’s late and we’re out on the sidewalk and the valet has apparently delivered my wife the wrong car.
Got to be the wrong car, she’s thinking. It’s sure nicer than any car she’s ever owned. In fact, it’s her dream car, the one she always told me she wanted to own “someday.”
She said this back when our own car was a red piece of junk that required you to keep a foot on the gas when you were sitting at the light, else the engine would stall.
She said it back when our car was a wine colored heap with a powder blue door and a tendency to struggle going uphill.
She said it back when we didn’t even have a car, when she was pregnant and sick and we had to bum a ride or catch the bus everywhere we went.
Someday, she said. Someday.
At the time – 20 years ago, maybe 25 – someday always felt like a synonym for never, a consolation prize you give yourself when reality smashes your day into little pieces.
As I watch her step dazedly through that crowd of family and friends toward the car, someday feels different. Feels … real. Feels now.
In the movies, this is where they’d fade to black and let the credits roll. But real life is not a screenwriter’s artifice. Tomorrow, we’ll get up and go to work like always.
Still, there is a sense of summation, a sense that here is a moment in which to pause and appreciate what you came through and what you came to. The gospel song puts it best: “My soul looks back and wonders how I got over.” It’s a song appropriate to moments like these, moments redolent of things you hoped and pain you suffered and the realization that the cliches are true: if you hang in there, just keep struggling and stringing breaths together, anything can happen. Anything at all.
My wife starts screaming. “This is for me? This is my car?” Like she can’t make herself believe.
The crowd yells, “Surprise!”
She starts running around the vehicle, hands to face, laughing, crying. I yell out, “Hey, Marilyn, remember how you said you wanted one of these someday? Well, it’s someday.”
Beaming, she climbs into the driver’s seat. They yell at her to start the car. She can’t. It’s got a fancy ignition system she needs a minute to figure out. Even the valet laughs.
It’s just a car, of course. Just metal and rubber and a lot of gadgets and doodads no car really needs. Just another material bauble that cannot follow you into the ground. But sitting there shining under the lights on the evening of my wife’s 50th birthday, it feels like vindication and validation and I love you and thank you for persevering with me. Thank you for never giving up on us.
Everybody’s talking at once. Some are climbing into the car with her.
I hang back, watching, smiling to myself, capturing the memory. It’s enough.
Someday has come.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His e-mail address is: [email protected]