Life is full of milestones, most of which chronicle our evolution from children to adults.

Now, Iím not really counting those events to which no one has any recollection, like walking your first step or uttering that shaky first word to join the rest of our linguistic-driven society. What Iím referring to are those milestones every person reaches after we become self-aware of our existence and the role we play in its failures or successes.

Most adults remember their collective batch of firsts, which can range from their first day of school to the more recent first date. Itís not that hard for me to remember my first date, since it didnít take place until I was 23. What can I say? Shyness is my Achilles Heel when it comes to having a personal life.

This retrospective hit me over the weekend when I realized that I was bearing down on yet another milestone in my life ó I am set to make my last car payment this month on the first car I've ever bought.

Granted, my 2003 Saturn Ion was used and had 34,000 miles on it when I plunked down the $8,300 for it four years ago. It had scratches on the hubcaps and didnít have a spare key, meaning if I lost the one I was given before getting a copy made, Iíd be screwed.

But Iíve always been a fan of Saturns, particularly since everyone Iíve ever talked to who owned one never had any problems with it. Those who did have issues admitted they probably didnít take care of their car as well as they should have. When my fiancť at the time called me to tell me she had found a maroon Saturn, which I had voiced as my preference a few days before, I immediately rushed down to check it out.

A test drive around the block later, I was sold. I may not have been the wisest person when I opted to buy the car after just an initial test drive, but the vehicle just seemed to speak to me. I felt comfortable driving it when other cars Iíd driven or tested up to that point had not given me that same feeling. It just felt right.

Not having nearly enough money to afford a down payment, I had chosen to take out a loan with my bank that would allow me to buy a used car in full. The benefit to this is that I would not have to deal directly with my bank and its decent interest rates, rather than a used car dealer.

It was a proud moment for me, but I had the cloud of monthly payments always hanging over my head. Now that I am set to pay off the loan, that cloud is gone. In its place is the realization that my car is now approaching 100,000 miles on the odometer.

The Saturn has been through some changes over the past few years, all of which are a result of my lack of attention. All four hubcaps are now missing and the interior has its fair share of stains to the upholstery and carpet, thanks mostly to poorly sealed fast food containers and spilled drinks. There are even a few mystery dents in my hood that I woke up to find one morning two years ago that I never got around to fixing.

The windshield, which Iíve already replaced once, has a crack that runs nearly the horizontal length of the glass. In short, my car is a bit of a mess.

After this month, though, it will officially be my mess ó free and clear.

Tim Olmeda is the Managing Editor for the?Record Star. Readers may contact him via e-mail at tim.olmeda@recordstar.com