The Woman Wants Red

Old blue Subaru saying "Hey" to new red one

Old blue Subaru saying “Hey” to new red one

I drove blindfolded or without headlights at night. I lost my way without a map or GPS. I panicked as my car slid backwards into deep ditches. Roads were blocked and I couldn’t get home. After my husband’s death in 2008, I had plenty of car problems in dreams. My Subaru station wagon symbolized the vehicle I used to navigate a disorienting widowed world.

Unsuspecting victim still at home

Unsuspecting victim still at home

Vic and I bought our last Subaru in 2006, just months before he was diagnosed with cancer. He chose metallic gray blue. I agreed without an argument. Vic’s personal color chart was informed by leftover teenage shame about his mother’s hot pink preferences. He stuck with navy blue and pin stripes. I gave up trying to change him.

Consciously, I didn’t feel attached to the blue Subaru. I only asked it to be reliable. Attached or not, it insisted on showing up as a dream character almost as often as dream Vic.

Bob Secord, my car guru

Bob Secord, my car guru

Two months ago, my skilled local mechanic Bob brought the old Subaru home from his shop after a routine oil change.

“Remember when you asked me to let you know when it’s time to turn the old car in?” he asked as we stood in my driveway.

“Sure. I’m counting on you.”

“Now’s the time,” he said. Suddenly we were in the middle of “The Talk” about end of life decisions with an aging car. “Expensive repairs are needed soon and then you’ll still have a ten-year-old car with leaks. If you want reliability, trade it in.”

Sean Sukjo at the dealership

Sean Sukjo at the dealership

I felt a twinge of resistance. I was a virgin in the world of car buying. Vic took care of that job for 42 years and before that I shared my mother’s car. I’d never bought a car on my own, but the prospect of winter on my hill with an unreliable Subaru left no choice. Bob suggested I try Simmons-Rockwell. “Good prices,” he said.

“What are you looking for?” the friendly salesman Sean asked. It was the third dealership I’d visited. I wanted it to be the last. “I want an Impreza,” I said. I’d relied on all-wheel drive Subarus for years and the Legacy station wagon was too big for one.

“Would you like the model with heated leather seats and our best sound system?”

“Cloth seats are fine and my hearing isn’t fussy about the sound system. I need a hatchback so my dog has a place to ride.”

DSC02841“Do you have a color preference?” he asked.

Did I? “Here’s the color chart,” he said pointing to the shiny brochure. I glanced at the possibilities.

“Red,” I said, suddenly sure. Suddenly enthusiastic.

“It will take six to eight weeks to get here,” Sean said.

“I’ll wait,” I said.

Few things are better in life without Vic, but I don’t have to choose dull colors.

“Venetian Red Pearl.” I was sure.

I thought of the red shoes I bought for my nephew’s wedding a year after Vic died. I remembered wearing those same shoes for my TEDx talk with a new red shirt. I thought of root chakra red and vital heat. I remembered the red fire of self-protection that slides easily into hot anger. I thought of Tibetan red symbolizing courage, compassion, and the sacred. Time for red in my life.

The widow wore red

The widow wore red

I’ll let you know when the red Impreza shows up in my dreams.


Have you taken on things you’ve never done before? Did you make a choice you wouldn’t have made if you’d compromised? Is there a color you choose for power moments? For other posts about navigating life on my own, see Waiting for a Call and Give Thanks for this Imperfect Life.


  1. Suddenly we were in the middle of “The Talk” about end of life decisions — for the car. Ha! Nicely put, Elaine!

    • It felt like that, Mark, and I laughed at the time. Bob was serious about his responsibility. He went over his diagnosis with great care like a doctor might. It was a little sad to let go of the old car full of Vic memories, but many of those memories were hard ones since that car came just as he was getting sick.

  2. I like the upbeat tone and self-assuredness in this (ha!) end-of-life story. And I do remember the snappy red shoes that turned your Ted-X talk into magic. Like you, I need red to spice up my life with courage, compassion, and the sacred.

    It’s good of you to give Simmons-Rockwell free advertising. Happy trails to you and your new Venetian RED pearl Impreza, Elaine! It sounds like a lipstick color.

    • Do you think I’ll get a little bonus check from the car dealer? I’ll check on that possibility. 😉

      Marian, I always think of you when I think of red shoes–yours with heels and bows. Don’t you love and laugh at the color names of clothing, lipstick, everything for sale? Not metallic red, but Venetian Red Pearl. Sounds classy or funny depending on your sense of humor. I laugh.

  3. Red is the perfect color choice for you, Elaine. Time for red in your life. I love it! Good for you! ♥

    • Marty, I made it the most fun I could because life often feels somber. It was more fun writing about buying than actually doing it. I’m an impatient shopper but had to go through the process of learning, getting prices, figuring out options, and reading the small print. Knowledge and red = power.

  4. Glad you got the car in the colour you wanted Elaine! How lovely that you saw RED as being the colour you want and indeed, need! I love those associations with red …

    I’d love a car in burnt orange, unsure why though it is the colour of my younger son’s car. In South Africa, many if not most of the cars are white, silver or black. It’s so nice to see a bright yellow or ruddy red, or distinctive orange.

    I enjoy wearing my few pairs of red shoes … I’ll think of them as protection from now on … especially if I take on things I haven’t before. I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro some years ago.

    • It felt good to write a light blog, Susan. I’m diving into those underworld goddesses in my reading and thinking. This was a decidedly upper world experience.

      After knowing just what I needed to buy with what options and what gas mileage and all that important stuff, color was a relief. I know how to choose color! Yes to red and our power shoes. I will imagine you making that climb in red hiking boots, although I doubt that’s what happened. It must have been an experience to stand at the top.

  5. Congratulations on navigating your red car purchase. Enjoy every mile!

    My daughters and I wore red to their father’s funeral, because that was his favorite color. For more than a year afterward, I saw and thought only in black and white. If I needed a new shirt, or shoes, or pants, my hands reached only for colorless options. When the men from our congregation offered to paint my house and asked what colors I wanted, my imagination couldn’t stretch beyond white with black trim. These weren’t conscious decisions–they were autonomic.

    When my eyes first saw past the gray, muted fog of grief and I noticed colors again, teal splashed through the stark blacks and blinding whites. It became the central color in my personal palette–and it feels beautiful.

    • Thanks, Teresa. Cars don’t matter much to me until they become unreliable which my old one did. Maybe I’ll have a more passionate attachment to a red one. Your black and white story is poignant. If you haven’t written about it, I hope you do.

      Now I know the source of the word teal at your website and why the color means so much to you.

      Color didn’t disappear for me, although so much else felt flat and unreal. It was June when Vic died. The lupines were blue. The daffodils were yellow. And the light was high and bright. I was grateful for that reassurance. Sending you love.

  6. Now that was an impressive article! From your ‘eye-catching’ title, through encouraging content, through to the last stage of alchemy known as the ‘Rubedo,’ the coming to life … with autumn as your perfect backdrop. Perfect timing!

    ‘Venetian Red Pearl’ … Oh how the imagination flutters, stirring heart and soul! This is the red earth colour which was historically used in Italian Renaissance paintings. ‘Renaissance’ … recovery, rebirth, regeneration, reawakening.

    Elaine, I finished your incredible book last night. I closed the last page and wept for the beauty, sadness, inspiration and truth held within. Such fine writing. Yours is an exquisite gift. Love and blessings, Deborah.

    • Yes, Rubedo. I know a little alchemy, although not as much as I did 20 years ago and not as much as you do.

      I remember Venetian Red from being there–and I remember rain. Lots of rain on our November trip when we tried to avoid the crush of tourists. The red stood out. And you send all those renaissance blessings. Thank you.

      And thank you most for the positive words about my book and my possibilities as a writer. So much gratitude for that as I search for the threads of a new book. This book will come from the Jungian in me, but it will likely have a memoir core. I first read Jung in college and began studying him seriously with a meditation teacher in the late 1960s. My teacher felt his hippie students needed a psychological language. He was right. I’m still grateful and use that language every day. Also the part of me that is guided by mythology. The book is my winter project. I don’t know just where it’s going, so your encouraging words sink right in to give me confidence.

  7. I recognized every morsel of this post, Elaine. My husband’s white SUV loomed large in my nightmares, too. It was too big, too clumsy, too symbolic of his own tastes. Eventually after his death last January, I got up the nerve to replace it. And my choice? A little Honda Civic coupe, sporty as all-get-out, and in Fire Engine Red. One friend giggled when she saw my little “sports car” with the handicapped tag in the window, but I think it makes a statement: “I may be alone, and I may move slowly, but I’m still kicking!” Engine power? Who cares? That bright shiny car gives me all the power in the world!
    Enjoy every mile with yours.

    • Thank you, Carolyn. I haven’t cared much about cars, but purchasing this one struck a little chord. I love your story and have some sense of how hard this time is for you. I hope you’re doing OK and it makes me smile that you went for red right away. It took me a while to get there. I struggle with an invisible handicap of Meniere’s disease (deafness, dizziness, tinnitus, often extremely disorienting). It’s hard to struggle along on our own. So red cars are a solution!!

      I didn’t need nerve to replace the old car. I just needed it to get unreliable so I felt like it was the best thing to do economically. I was comfortable in it, although not passionate about it. Although Vic made the purchase, it was more mine than his since he didn’t drive much after buying it. I might have gone sportier if I didn’t need a hatchback and a place for my dog to ride. She’s already used to her new spot in the car.

  8. Elaine,
    I remember the red shoes in Boston and how much you liked them. The end of drab? Yay!

    • Yes, the red shoes. G took the shoe photo I used for this piece–and I’ve used it a few other places as well. We have to remember to stoke the fires, the ones that can get smothered by everyday cares. Sending love your way.

  9. How fun, Elaine!!! Can’t wait to see your pictures. I drove a red Impreza as my rental car on a recent writing retreat. It was such a fun little car. Really responsive, and you could whirl it around the corners in a second. I know you’ll love it!

    • I’m loving it already, Colleen. It feels good to be in a car that doesn’t have a loose feeling or rattles. The handles open smoothly. The doors close easily. No rust. And sweet red. I hope it shows up in dreams. Thanks a lot for responding. I imagine you wearing red.

  10. Bravo Elaine for being bold and going red! Red is symbolic of so many things, considered a colour of power. I wish you happy trails as you blaze through your journey in life. 🙂

  11. I agree. Red. I like to say, when asked my favorite color, “blood red.” To me red has always meant warmth, power, cheekiness, and cheer. Congratulations on your new car, Elaine.

    • Thanks, Robin. A red pick-up truck appeared in my dream last night owned by a workman who was painting the inside of my house. Cars have never meant a lot to me, but my dreams have a different story to tell. Yes to all those red things, including crimson maple leaves.

  12. Hi Elaine. Thanks for a great post. Stan had bought an automatic when he was coming down to see me in London (standard shifts are the norm, here), and, when I went to take my UK driving test, he bought an identical car for himself that was a standard, so that I could have the automatic. I had to sell his car 4 months after he died. It was hard and I had found some kind of weird comfort in seeing his car outside our home. I like my little Honda Jazz, and still think of him when I drive it.
    I used to have lots of driving dreams, mostly about driving cars I didn’t know how to drive and crashing into things. Lots of symbolism, there!

    The one thing I have been able to do a lot of, since Stan died, is hiking. He had problems with his hips and could not walk far. I love being able to hike long distances (not long in English Rambler terms, somewhere around 5-8 miles at a time), but I would trade it all in a minute if I could just amble along with him and stop to sit on benches when he got tired.

    Oh boy, the holidays are coming, and I am missing him. Thanks for helping me remember.
    love Tricia

    • Thanks for your Stan stories, Tricia. Vic and I had already gone to one car a few years before he got sick because the other only sat in the driveway all the time. We decided it was cheaper to rent a car for occasional times when one of us traveled without the other than to keep two cars going. I felt attached to everything Vic touched, but slowly I get rid of most things. Not his photos and slides which are still to be sorted. I still have his tractor because we use it on the land to mow, move firewood, remove snow, and more. I still have his extensive Buddhist library. I imagine asking the Dalai Lama’s Namgyal monastery in Ithaca if they would like the library, but haven’t yet. Tonight is another opportunity. They have a yearly Vic Mansfield memorial lecture given by a Western scholar of Buddhism to honor Vic for all the teaching and classes he did there. It’s tonight. Sigh…

      Vic and I hiked, but he wasn’t able to travel fast or far in his last 9 months. I have learned to enjoy walking alone or with friends, but I miss walking with him. Of course. Yes, holidays are coming. They are still difficult. His mother will be 100 in January, so my sons and I will combine a celebration of her centennial and our usual Solstice celebration. I don’t know how to make it happy, except to do lots of cooking. So I will do that.

      Love back to you with the wish to stay connected to your writing and your life. Will you still be in Florida in March?

  13. My husband’s blue Subaru Outback now sits in our garage next to my green Subaru Outback.
    Ron and I were married for almost thirty years . On Wednesday, May 27, 2015, I kissed him goodby as I left to have lunch with a friend, and he was leaving on a short motorcycle ride. He owned a huge touring bike and belonged to a national motorcycle association. He was the webmaster. Safety was the most important thing to him when he rode.

    After I came home from my lunch, I was not greeted by my beautiful husband. I was greeted by a state police officer and a chaplain. A truck pulled directly out in front of this kind and gentle man, killing him instantly. Changing my life and the life of the driver of the truck, forever.

    I feel less “crazy” now. But I am gutted, my body, mind and soul, open to the world. My heart broken open.

    Thank you for giving and sharing your journey. I need all of the help I can get.

    Love to you all.

    • Dear Deb,
      My heart breaks for you. May 2015 is just yesterday and it takes so much time to get used to such a new harsh reality. I can’t imagine how hard this is, Deb. Of course, you’ve felt crazy and gutted and both at the same time.

      Do you have good support? Friends and family are great, but I profited so much from a therapist and from hospice bereavement groups. In many areas, you can take part in hospice bereavement groups even if the person for whom you’re grieving wasn’t involved with Hospice. I don’t know if that’s true where you live. I’ve had many women dealing with sudden loss in groups I’ve run. It helps them to be with others who understand and have even had similar experiences.

      Some of my articles might be more helpful than this one about buying a car. I hope you look around for other articles. Poems to Grieve By is my most popular ever. ( I’m grateful you reached out. There is help out there if you ask at mental health associations or hospice organizations.

      Wishing you well and hope you stay in touch.

  14. Elaine,

    I so love your intrepid spirit. Your choice of a red Impreza is ‘impressive” and a perfect match for you!

    I believe it was Jung who said something about when red shows up in our dreams it signals a return of vitality or libido (as psychological energy), or some such….Your dream of the “red pick-up truck…owned by a workman who was painting the inside of my house.” So full of rich symbolism… I’m asking myself, have I needed a pick-me-up lately? Is this new red car providing it for me? Is my anima regaining the energy to paint my (inner) town red? 🙂

    You have an unusually colorful way of expressing your truths in writing that is always such a pleasure to read. A truly wonderful gift! Thank you for using it so wisely and well.

    • Thank you for seeing me in this light, Jeanie. So encouraging. With the car, I went with the upsurge of enthusiasm I felt when I looked at that color.

      I’m reading just a little alchemy this morning and talking with my visiting friend who is taking an on-line alchemy class with Robert Bosnak. Some Alchemists see red as a culmination of the Magnum Opus. So what does that mean? Hillman in ‘Alchemical Psychology’ talks about the red stone as bringing the divine inspiration into life. I need to read much more. Whatever it is or however I see it, it’s vitalizing and also vitalizing to imagine the man with the red truck repainting the inner walls. I need this fire. It’s harder to come by than it used to be, but it’s there. Sometimes more in dreams than in life, but red feels important as symbol at this moment. I’m exploring astrology, too, looking for clues.

      Hillman also says something interesting about powerful writing in this book (I’ve only read a few paragraphs here and there–ones pointed out by my friend). He suggests what makes writing powerful: “thing words, image words, and craft words.” In other words, creating a vibrant colorful image. Thanks for reflecting this back to me. I look forward to talking with you very soon. I’m reading about Inanna and Erishkegal.

  15. Hi there dear Elaine, Great post…
    when you mentioned the venetian red I couldn’t avoid thinking of Mann’ s book “Death in Venice”…
    I might also relate red to fire… And fire to Heraclitus’ Arche, meaning the First principle of all things, also known as Logos….
    There are Many layers here… but most times symbols have a personal meaning or interpretation, I guess…
    Sending love and best wishes. Aquileana

    • Red has a depth of associations. I only touched the tip of the iceberg. You brought in a bit more, Aquileana. Thank you.

      After leading a ritual of remembrance yesterday, my schedule is quieter until February. That means more time to read and explore your site. What a wonderful resource you offer. I love the excellent images. I approach mythology in a personal way, like a dream of the collective that helps me understand myself and life. I’m highly influenced by Jungian thought since I’ve been studying Jung and his followers and going to workshops with his followers since the 1970s. My mythology work continues in a women’s class that’s met for 25 years. We’ve been revisiting Artemis who has renewed significance for me.

      Thanks again. It’s a gift to be in touch with you.

  16. I love red and use it a lot when painting–from red-orange to deep red and alizarin crimson.

    Adrian had always done the car-buying, taking them to the shop for repair, etc. But even though he picked out the kind of car we last bought (a Honda Element), I actually negotiated with the dealers (on the phone, which is easier for me than in person).

    I’m still driving it. And it’s an orange-red.

    Thanks for a great essay!

    • Alizarin crimson. What a great name, Lynne!
      I’ll imagine you in your orange-red car. I just looked up alizarin crimson. My eyes pop with happiness. It must be a great joy to work with reds this time of year. In nature, a few reds remain. One maple leaf or the clusters of crabapple berries. Or a little rosy pink leaf I found and photographed in the woods yesterday. I haven’t figured out what it is, but I loved the color. Thanks for your comment. I always love hearing from you.

  17. I’m so glad you have decided for red in your life, Elaine. I’ve never bought a car on my own either, though cars have been important in my life. I devoted a whole chapter in my memoir to the impact of driving a convertible in high school.

    When my daughter wanted a convertible also, we decided to spoil her with the gift of a used VW Cabriot. What color was it?

    Fire engine red!

    May your own red choices infuse your life with the energy you deserve and you share with others.

    • Yes to red. I would not have bought a car if I hadn’t been advised to do so. I need reliable all wheel drive to live where I live in the winter. I hadn’t thought about the color, but focused on size, gas mileage, price, and all that practical stuff. Red felt so right when it came to choosing a color. She looks lovely in my driveway. I had my first dream about the new car last night. Vic was driving it like a race car and it was covered with dust. There were other details and I look forward to exploring the meaning.

      Yes, I remember you and your convertible. Your book was a learning experience for me because of the enlightened way religious restrictions were handled by your family. I look forward to reading about Cuba.

  18. Dan, my husband of 38 years, died four months ago today…almost to the hour. Thank you for this blog Elaine. I’ve been peeking in regularly since I found it a few weeks ago.

    While overall I feel as if my life is shrouded in a dark mist, one fun thing has been making decisions that only involve me and my taste. Don’t get me wrong, I’d give anything to have Dan be here, but I wanted to replace some old, tattered placemats and I bought some wildly colored, flowery ones…something I’d never have done if Dan were alive. I tended to moderate that kind of purchase, not wanting it to be too “girlie.” When I picked them out it struck me that I might be experiencing a glimpse into the world that awaits me as I swim up to the surface and, hopefully, put together a new life.

    Hard as it is, I’m trying to notice and be grateful for small things, like the moment I picked out those placemats.

    I love you Dan!

    Thanks again Elaine.

    • Melanie, I understand the side benefit of making small decisions on our own. Stuff like painting a room a certain color or changing the way you use rooms in the house or eating different food.

      I agree it’s no compensation. I’m glad you can find little bright spots. I don’t know what Thanksgiving will be like for you, but I imagine difficult. Four months is a short time. It helped me to notice every beautiful thing. I painted inexpertly with watercolors. It soothed me to be in Nature and walking with my dog. Going outside always helped.

      Thanks for reading my posts, Melanie, and for letting me know you’re there. I’ll be thinking of you tomorrow,

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