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Maria Sestito

Maria Sestito is the public safety reporter for the Napa Valley Register.

When I bought my car four years ago, I planned on having it forever. I’d run that baby into the ground – travelling across the country, going on reporting trips, road trips and shopping excursions. It’s been everywhere with me and, in many ways, has served as a sort of home away from home. My cars have always felt special to me – a place where I can go and hideaway when I need to, a place of solace and respite.

But Petunia, my Honda Fit, was extra special. She was the first car I’d ever spent more than about $500 on. Before I bought her, I did nearly six months of research and made sure that I could get exactly what I wanted: the purple one with heated seats. If this was going to be my big investment – and my car for the next decade, I was going to have the one I wanted.

It was complicated. I was a New Jersey resident living in North Carolina and the model I wanted – my Petunia – was in South Carolina. It had to be her. I rented a car and took the six hour drive inland to pick her up from the dealer. On my way home, I photographed her in front of rolls and rolls of hay as the sun was setting in the southern sky. I was the happiest girl in the world. And, she, my Petunia, was my little rolling eggplant on wheels.

Since then I’ve often said that buying my Fit was the best decision I’ve ever made. I love that car and did my best to do everything right by her. I even took her to the dealer for oil changes – THE DEALER.

Then, on Easter Sunday, our future together was crushed along with her driver’s side fender. Our assailant – a man in a white pickup truck – hit us fast and hard just after our red light turned green. As we sputtered to the side of the road, all I saw was a toolbox fall out the back of the truck that was speeding away.

In shock, I called 911. I told the operator that it was a curvy road and that I wasn’t sure if he was turning around or not. As we spoke, I saw him come back and, while stopped at the light across the median, he looked right at me. But then he didn’t make a U-turn.

Oh my god – this is a hit-and-run.

Shock again.

I had a witness who waited for almost two hours with me on the shoulder of the road. Across the street at the park, families were grilling out and we could hear the joyous screams of children playing. The weather was nice and, everywhere else it seemed, it was a great day.

Even at home, at the dinner I was supposed to be at, my boyfriend and his family began eating at my behest. No need for them to suffer with me. Besides, I thought my car was still drivable.

Upon closer inspection, though, reality set in: not only could I not drive her home but there was a very real possibility that she wouldn’t ever drive again. She’s so little and the truck, well, he got her good. I was lucky that he didn’t hit me from the side and, for the first time in a long time, I felt relief to be alive. Joy even.

A few days later I was informed that my car would be totaled – that they didn’t think fixing her was worth it. I argued a bit, asked for details on the damage and looked into repairing her myself and taking on a salvage title. But Petunia’s time had come.

I asked the man at the dealership if I could take an emblem with me – he scraped one off and handed it over. Then, when he left me alone to clean out my belongings and say goodbye, I found one last message underneath my loose change and old receipts: a Panda Express fortune that read “Proceed with confidence.”

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