White knuckles grip the steering wheel as thumbs move back and forth, massaging the leather. My arms are taut and my breathing is stuttering and mechanical.
I have to remind myself to take slow, deep breaths. Closing my eyes, I let the soothing hum and vibration of the engine drape over me, shielding me from the world outside the glass.
After a moment, my anxiety ebbs, but not as much as I need it to.
I open my eyes and look across the parking lot. Beyond a smattering of modern cars, I can see the meet.
Lines of classics arrayed in perfect formation: hoods open, tires shining, vibrant paints shimmering in the morning sun.
Enthusiasts and owners congregate around the display, reveling in their passion.
It's a passion that was lovingly shared with me when I was a child. I had every reason to adopt it, but I stopped paying attention. Now all I have are memories... memories and his blue Corvette.
I should be over there with his fellow car lovers. "My people," he used to call them.
They would certainly have stories to tell about my grandfather, and those stories might reveal a part of him unknown to me. That's what I came here to discover.
This, my remorseful attempt to understand a man who was once my best friend but then became a stranger. Part of me thinks that being here will in some way honor his legacy.
I'm not sure what that would mean to me or my family, or how it will help us navigate our grief.
The first step is to drive over there, but even thinking about it puts me back on edge. "His people" are going to know his car. It was a staple of the local meet for years.
Only since his death has the blue Stingray been absent, and I know that as soon as I park all eyes will be on me.
Will they recognize me? Will they greet me as Antonne's granddaughter, or as a stranger? I haven't been to a meet since I was a girl.
There's a chance a few of them might make the connection, but I'm not counting on it.
I didn't think it before my grandfather's death, but those memories of car shows from years past are some of my most beloved.
He and I would ride up in the Vette, fashionably late from stopping to get milkshakes. Matching pairs of aviators adorned our faces. We were confident they made us look ten times cooler.
I remember the frames used to always slip off my head, but I made do because they were so important to me.
This brief daydream draws a shallow smile from my lips, and I reflexively push my sunglasses up on the bridge of my nose.
"Old habits," I say out loud, shaking my head gently.
I see there's a smear on the bottom of the lenses. When feeling the skin under my eye, my finger comes away wet. I furrow my brow.
"What? I never cry... so why? Why now?" I think uneasily.
It may be a single tear, but it still bothers me. The night my grandfather died, I didn't cry at all. My family's sobs filled the hallways of the ICU, and all I could do was stand there.
My grip on the steering wheel tightens again.
I need a moment to calm and reorganize my thoughts.
I consider that maybe this guilt, the reason I'm here, emerged from my inability to weep along with the rest of them.
My mother, my father, my brothers, they lean on each other and make their feelings known to all who would listen. That's how they grieve.
Meanwhile, here I am taking a car I can barely drive to socialize with people who probably don't remember me. All in the hope that I'll find some sort of closure.
It seems an odd way to lament my grandfather's death. Odd, but it's better than doing nothing to remember him.
"And you're already here," I tell myself. "His friends deserve to see his Vette again. They've earned that much."
I step out of the car, intent on giving it one final inspection before driving over. My brothers and I prepared it meticulously for today.
The sky-blue paint is glossed to the point of brilliance, and a dazzling turquoise sheen hugs the curves of the sheet metal. I slowly walk around the car, looking for any imperfections.
The bumpers, windows, rims, tires, and white side paneling are all spotless. I doubt my grandfather could have dolled her up much better than this.
I nod in content, step back into the car, and head off towards the meet.
As I approach the mass of classic cars, I catch some individuals stopping and staring.
While the young enthusiasts are mostly oblivious, the older participants almost certainly recognize the Corvette. I find an empty spot near the end of a row and turn off the engine.
As I roll down the windows, I can see a small group approaching. I take a deep breath and step out of the car.
Two men and a woman walk toward me. One of the men is short and squat with a full mustache and goatee, while the other is slender and bald.
The woman's most prominent feature is her voluminous, curled blonde hair. They're dressed like they're going to spend the day at the golf course.
The short man and the woman are talking in hushed voices. They break off their conversation once they're within earshot. The short man smiles and sticks his hand out at me.
"Hey! Zuri, right?" he says. I didn't expect him to know my name.
"Yeah," I respond, shaking his hand. His grip is firm but not domineering.
"Remember us? I'm Carlos. This is Adam and Michelle," he says, nodding to his companions.
Have I met them before? Their faces seem familiar.
Were they at my grandfather's funeral? So many people talked to me that day, but I know that many in the local car community came to pay their respects.
I can clearly recall the huge procession of Mustangs, GTOs, and other classics that drove by the church.
"I think I do remember you guys. It's been awhile," I say.
The bald man, Adam, shuffles forward.
"We just wanted to say again that we're sorry for your loss. You and your family are in our thoughts," he says.
I start to thank Adam, but before the words make it out of my mouth, Michelle has wrapped me in a hug. I'm startled at first, but her embrace is warm and genuine.
"We're so glad you came today," she says. "I'm sure Antonne is smiling down knowing that you're keeping up the tradition."
Tradition? I'd intended for this to be a one-off. But, perhaps...
"Of course," I say.
"You hungry?" Michelle asks. "We have coffee and donuts a few rows over."
"Actually, I am, now that you mention it," I respond.
"Great! Well, follow us and we'll talk about your grandpa. Did he ever tell you about that time we went road tripping to El Paso?"
I shake my head.
"Oh, it's a doozy," Carlos says, he and Adam both grinning sheepishly.
We set off, Michelle already talking a mile a minute. I look over my shoulder to check on the Corvette.
I doubt it's in much danger here, but I've conditioned myself to be vigilant as its new owner.
I see a small boy and an elderly man looking at the car. The child is standing on his toes, leaning on the door and peering into the red leather interior.
Part of me wants to say something, to safeguard the last tangible piece of my grandfather. But would he complain if he were here? The answer is obvious.
The boy looks at his elder, a smile flashing across his face.
The man puts a hand on the child's shoulder and points into the interior of the Corvette, no doubt explaining something to his young companion.
There's nothing to worry about. The Corvette is in good hands. I turn forward and listen to Michelle's story as the first of many puzzle pieces begins to fall into place.
I may never get the full picture of who my grandfather was, but I at least have these memories, and his blue Corvette.