This essay is part of the #52essays2017 series focusing on my memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up in Cuba and Russia Made Me an American. For more, please follow this publication and subscribe to my newsletter.
When my family moved to America in 1994, everything seemed great. Until it wasn’t.
About a year after we came here, my parents separated and divorced. And although they were back together a year later, remarried and happier than ever, that year living in Miami without my dad was (mostly) scary.
But that year had its happier moments too, like how the best Christmas ever was surprisingly spent in a women’s shelter and the little apartment we lived in shortly after. That apartment brought me a lot of happy memories, including my memory of the first adult desire I truly had.
A red Firebird convertible.
That is the only thing that I remember about the billboard advertisement that I saw every day on my way home from school during this year. And it was thrilling.
The car depicted in the poster was beautiful and sexy and it signified a kind of freedom that I didn’t yet understand at the age of nine, but I knew that I wanted it.
The attractive couple sitting in the driver and passenger seats didn’t hurt either, and I longed for when I could have the kind of freedom and happiness that they had clearly tasted.
I honestly can’t remember anything else about that bus ride home, but I remember that billboard. I don’t know who I sat next to on the bus (I didn’t have friends at that school) or how long it took. I don’t even truly remember what time of the year it was or how I noticed this particular photo in the first place, but once I had… I couldn’t take my mind off of it.
The lifestyle promised in this one advertisement seemed like everything I wanted at the time, and everything I have wanted since. It signified success and the power to do anything you wanted to do. I dreamt of the day that I would have those things too.
For years afterward, I always held the wish that someday I would own a red Firebird convertible.
It was the first car that I ever wanted, and the only car that truly appealed to my kid and teenage self. It had to be that car, in red and as a convertible. Something about that entire image meant so much to me that it wasn’t until recently that I started to slowly decipher it all.
Even though I am no longer that scared little 9-year-old girl, new to America, still learning English, with a turbulent home life and no reassurance as to what this world may bring… I am still sometimes unsure of myself, unsure of the world, unsure of the path in front of me. Sometimes I long for the kind of knowledge that little Irina had, the knowledge that having a car like that would mean that I was something special.
It’s probably no surprise, then, that I have never been able to get the idea of that car out of my head. Although I’ve long since moved on from that specific make and model, the color red has always held a special place in my heart.
Red was my favorite color long before this poster, and it’s remained my favorite color for cars – and now for lipstick.
Convertibles have remained a mystery, something I secretly wanted, a symbol of fun and freedom. I was thrilled when my uncle got one a few years ago, and although I had settled on possibly never owning a car because of my love of living in cities with great public transportation, I knew that I would definitely want one if the chance ever presented itself.
Recently, as I readjusted my post-NYC life and settled back in Florida, I contemplated getting a car (and ultimately decided not to). But the thought kept popping up in my mind, and I knew that my new dream was a little red Mini Cooper.
The model may have changed, but the color stayed the same. It was a dream, though, and I never thought it would actually happen.
And then, to my surprise, an opportunity came up.
Adam and I had talked about our need for a second car eventually, and the idea of a convertible came up. I insisted that if we were to get a second car (that I would use), it should be a convertible.
“After all,” I reasoned, “since I work from home and will probably only use it a couple times during the week and on weekends, we may as well make it a fun car, right?” To me, a convertible was the ultimate fun car.
When the unexpected opportunity came up to get a Mini Cooper convertible, I practically jumped at the chance. In fact, getting that car was as much of a spontaneous decision as you could possibly make in the purchase of a vehicle. We heard about it in the morning, and by that same afternoon, it was all mine.
Now my little convertible baby sits in the driveway and gives me immense pleasure whenever I have the chance to take her out with the top down.
Granted she’s not the bright red color that I had always wanted – but that’s okay too. She’s a British racing green and I love that so very much. Maybe it’s not the color I envisioned, but it’s definitely the spirit.
That little girl that used to ride the bus every day to an uncertain future surely has something a little more certain now. If nothing else, my desire for that first red Firebird convertible has influenced the way I view success and some of the things I want in my life.
While my tastes in cars have grown (and maybe not by much), I still find myself surprised by how much that one billboard changed my life. When we’re young, we want things so far out of our reach that we don’t actually think we will ever get there. It’s nice to know that, now, I can actually attain some of those things.
(Image via Chad Horwedel/flickr)