Replacement Value

Written by Liz Eisen

“I hate this car!” screams out Melissa. She is trying to adjust the passenger seat of the used SUV we just bought to replace our old car. “I really liked the Acura,” she says. “I wish we still had it.”

I wish we still had our Acura MDX also. But the driver of the car that made an illegal left turn into us had a different idea in mind. Melissa, the Acura and I were all the victims of another driver’s poor judgment that resulted in enough damages to deem our beloved car a total loss. We clung to each other and cried when we saw our mangled car being loaded onto the flatbed tow truck as a police officer swept away glass to reopen the intersection. My daughter and I walked away from the accident with no significant injuries, except for a very sore neck, shoulders and back that still trouble me now some 3 months later.

For weeks following our car accident, every time I closed my eyes, I saw the crash replayed in my mind like a horror movie on a constant loop. I could see the white van hitting square into my door and felt the collision and spin that turned us 180°. I heard the loud thud of the impact and the piercing squeal of the tires moving in a rotation they weren’t meant to. I smelled the pungent odor of the brakes I had pressed hard down on and the fluids that flowed from the engine. When we stopped moving, I watched myself checking Melissa and then climbing over the center console to follow her out of the crumpled car, the driver’s door crumpled and unopenable.

Upon hearing of our accident, everyone, from family and friends to insurance claims adjusters, made the same comment: “At least you’re okay, a car can be replaced.” That really is the true philosophy because life is invaluable and material things are replaceable. While we weren’t able to find the same Acura we had, after hours searching online and trips to some 8 different dealerships, we bought a nice pre-owned silver Honda Pilot with a five star crash rating, seven airbags and seats that constantly need to be adjusted.

Having to unexpectedly replace our car made me realize how many things in my life have a shorter than expected lifespan. So far this month, we’ve had to install a new dishwasher and it seems so much louder than the old one that I only run it in the middle of the night. We finally got around to trading out the old leaky kitchen faucet with a shiny new one, but it gets locked on one side of the sink or the other and doesn’t move unless I press in on the sprayer handle. I bought two new white dinner plates at Bed, Bath & Beyond to replace the chipped ones I had been ignoring the last few months. The screen on the sliding door leading to our patio keeps coming off the track and constantly needs to have the wheels realigned to slide open, but so far it’s a keeper.

In any given week, the two double “A” batteries in the television remote will need to be exchanged with fresh ones. The smoke alarm in my bedroom is chirping its’ reminder that it too needs a new 9 volt.  A light bulb in the porch lamp will pop and need to be swapped out for one that is silent when you shake it. In our family of five, new toilet paper rolls need to be put on the holders every other day and empty tissue boxes are changed out weekly. We go through paper towels and napkins so quickly that I’m sure we are adding more than our fair share to the local landfill. The list is always growing and it seems like a normal part of our lives to constantly refill, repair and restore.

By far, the most difficult thing I’ve ever attempted to replace is the hearing loss I have in my right ear. Not too long ago, I tried using a hearing aid. The funny little device sat uncomfortably in my ear and over-amplified everything from speaking voices to my favorite songs to my hair being tucked into place. After almost four years of learning to live without most of my hearing in one ear, I was instantly barraged with too much noise. The difficult part was that my left ear still had normal hearing and my right had hypersensitive hearing and I couldn’t find a comfortable middle ground. After a few weeks, the hearing aid and I parted ways as I learned that muffled sound was better than unnatural sound.

While I lament the partial loss of the hearing in my right ear, I’m grateful for what I can hear. I know to position myself and my “good” ear where I can hear a conversation or a student asking a question or my children talking with me. With some careful maneuvering I can comprehend almost everything, although I know I’m missing precious words. There may be a time to reconsider a hearing aid, but for now I’ll stick with what I can still hear and am grateful for it.

It’s easy for me to change a light bulb or buy a new dinner plate. Old appliances can be switched with new when they break down and car lots are filled with replacement SUVs when something out of control causes irreparable damage. My hearing is not something I can so easily replace. The value is in appreciating the beautiful voices and exquisite sounds I can hear and knowing that some noises, like screeching brakes or crashing cars are better left somewhat muted.

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6 thoughts on “Replacement Value

  1. Such effective writing, Liz! I love your comparisons and implied comparisons of the degrees of impermanence. Somehow, even the most mundane objects are invested with an aura of importance to your life here.
    best,
    Laura H

  2. Liz, I love your detail of the accident-I can so relate to it, as well as all of the other “replacements”. And you show us what is truly important. Thank you.

  3. This piece showed how to relate the mundane with the important and valuable: body and life. I could picture you and Melissa clinging to each other. Good to have someone to cling to when you need them. Thanks for your insights Liz!

  4. I really like your listing all of the things that had to be replaced. You take the incredible – the car accident- and mixe it with the mundane – lightbulb, a dishwasher-and creates a true slice of life, one of those moments where we are forever thanking the powers that be for the things that “could have” happened and didn’t. Even with your hearing. The everydayness of having to deal with hearing loss balanced against the beautiful sounds of your family.

  5. You start with dialogue in the middle of a conversation and move us to a completely different place. Very effective. Lots of great details.

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