Submitted by Phuongthao Le Hoang on 11/01/2019
Lola drove me to the first day of senior year, before which she drove me to Renee’s house, where I enjoyed an everything bagel with too much crunchy peanut butter. Squeezed in between Grace and Taylor, balancing on a deck that was only a few pounds from collapse, was the only way that I wanted to spend my last first day of school, at least in West Hartford, Connecticut. I remember pulling into the student parking lot of Hall High School, this time squeezed in between Sarah and Elizabeth, and marching through the front doors because we thought that we owned all the hallways:
We wore matching green T-shirts, after all. Lola drove me to every swim practice during my senior year of high school, the season after which I retired from morning practices in the dark, team breakfasts in sweatpants, and pasta parties in family rooms. Lola even drove me to the pasta party during which Coach John admitted that Jeanne was captain of the swim team, and then Lola drove me to the house of a fellow swimmer: the house that my friends and I decorated with toilet paper, blue streamers, and silly string just to raise excitement for a single swim meet. Drives to work replaced drives to swim practice when I turned seventeen. Years at Eisenhower Pool as a child later bloomed into years at Eisenhower Pool as a lifeguard. I now sit on the chair up to which I used to look.
Lola drove me to school the morning after which I received my admission into Brown University and the Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME), and then Lola dried the tears of Renee, who received admission into Brandeis University. Lola drove me to Grace’s house the morning of May 1st, when I again had an everything bagel with too much crunchy peanut butter to celebrate the colleges embroidered to the T-shirts of the girls with whom I grew up. Taylor and I attended preschool together at Whiting Lane Elementary school, but now she was attending Southern Connecticut State University and I was attending Brown University.
We were on the verge of changing the world, yet all we wanted was one last breakfast together. Lola drove me to my graduation from Hall High School, where I shook the hands of Deborah: my next door neighbor who always offered a cup of hot chocolate to Nancy, Cathy, and I during each snow day and who now serves as a representative of the West Hartford Board of Education. Lola then drove me to my own graduation party, where my family of thirty cousins squeezed into a three bedroom, two-bathroom house just because I earned a piece of paper. Lola drove me to a series of barbecues, parties, and pools during the last summer before I matriculated into Brown University.
I look back upon the summer with fond memories of sun kissed cheeks and bleached hair: side effects of the first regular job I ever held. I sprinted between Eisenhower Pool, Fern Pool, and Wampanoag Country Club so that I could afford my Ivy League education but also so that I could feel a wealthy by the end of the summer. Although life guarding was never the summer position that I expected to obtain, dancing with the same five tan boys for forty hours each week forced unforgettable relationships. I will never forget locking up Eisenhower Pool for the last night that summer, driving home to the lyrics of Sit Next to Me, and wondering how to clot the tears
Lola drove me to move-in day at Brown University, when the phlegm in my throat burdened my excitement. It was the last time that Lola was mine, all mine. The ride marked a funeral of my exclusive relationship with Lola and a birth of my freedom without familial burdens. Still, Lola dried the tears: the very last tears that I ever cried within her embrace; the very first tears I would cry during my college career. Since then, Nancy and Cathy have experienced the same joys that I shared with Lola, but Lola will always hold reminders of when she was mine. Here We Go Again, the album to which I listened during every drive, still sits in the passenger door.
Flip-flops still sit in the trunk because Taylor moved to Vernon and I need a remembrance. It is no surprise that Lola entered my life during my senior year of high school, a time during which I struggled to cope with the changes threatening my life. My aunt and cousin had just immigrated from Vietnam to the United States, and the least that my family could do for them was to provide a home. The extension of our home, though, disturbed a balance that interrupted my mental health as I had to fight for the attention of my parents and siblings.
I felt unworthy of love and attention, especially from my family. Not only did Lola provide therapy sessions with Carolyn, but also Lola provided karaoke sessions with just myself. Lola provided the strength that I needed to hold on tight, to stabilize my life. Without Lola, I would have spent too many afternoons alone, contemplating dragging a razor across my wrist instead of contemplating which friend to call or what song to sing. I owe my life to Lola. Lola was the pep talk before the swim meet against Conard High School: the rival school against which Hall High School won for the first and last time during my high school swimming career.
Lola was the older sister who congratulated an acceptance into Brown University and a graduation from Hall High School. Lola was the embrace after the best summer of my life: an unrepeatable, memorable three months. Still, Lola was neither the most expensive or most luxurious car. In fact, by the time I graduate from Alpert Medical School, I doubt that I will be proud of driving a 2009 Toyota Corolla, but Lola will always be the golden beauty that decorated my senior year of high school. Lola will always be parked in the driveway of a white colonial in West Hartford, just like Lola will always have a spot in the garage of a brick cape in my future.