Eva Bunkoczy drove to our interview in a lovingly restored blue 1965 Ford Mustang, the car she and her husband, Bela, gave their son, Mark, in 1990, and which Mark returned to them in 1997, nearly four years after he died.
Eva believes this.
She believes a ‘65 Mustang can travel from this life to the next and back - with the right person driving - making stops along the way to fulfill the wishes of a loving boy lost before his time.
She put it this way: “It’s as though the car had a mission, completed the mission and came back home to the people who needed it most.”
It’s only a car. It was white when they got it. Worn and a little rusted. Nothing special. Bela and Mark took it apart and reassembled it, piece by piece. It was a father and son project, more mechanical than spiritual. Everything else that happened can be written off as coincidence. Or luck. Or chance. Or fate.
He was their second child. Eva taught English. Bela was an aerospace engineer. They lived on the East Coast and in the Midwest before settling in Arizona in the early 1980s. They had a daughter and a son and a nice house and cars, the kind of life they’d dreamed about.
Then, one day, after Mark and his father were roughhousing, the boy complained of a stomachache. They took him to a doctor and, as Bela would say later, “Out of the blue came this horrible word - cancer.”
Mark was 13.
“It began as liver cancer but it spread to his lungs and to his bones,” Eva said. “There’s nothing more terrible that can happen to your child.”
It was at about that time they got the Mustang. Bela and Mark worked on it between Mark’s chemotherapy and radiation and his nine major surgeries. Mark enrolled at Brophy Prep. He wanted to be a doctor. He wanted more than anything to lead the life of a normal teenager.
It’s what his parents wanted for him - more than anything.
“You don’t get to choose such things,” Eva said. “We learned that the most important things in life are the things you can’t control. The best we could hope to do is to make our son as happy as possible, as free of pain as possible, and to deal with the fact this disease could not be cured.”
Mark only got to drive the Mustang once. When the cancer spread to his bones, the severe pain led Mark’s neurosurgeon to dissolve nerve endings in the boy’s back. He became a paraplegic.
”He never complained,” Eva said. “And he didn’t want us to be sad. He told me near the end that he wanted me to start a business of my own so I could donate some of the profits to things like cancer research. But I was in such a low emotional state, I couldn’t do it. I think Mark decided to do it himself.”
He died in late 1993.
The Mustang was stored in a garage, undriven, untouched.
In 1995, Eva and Bela decided Mark’s wish to help others could best be served by donating the car to charity. They made it part of an American Cancer Society fund-raiser. The car was auctioned for nearly $16,000.
“We felt like, yes, this was good,” Eva said. “We thought that would be the end of it.”
But it wasn’t. The new owner of the Mustang donated it to the University of Arizona’s Cancer Research Center. This time, it was raffled off, earning thousands more for charity. The winner, in turn, donated the Mustang to the Arizona Kidney Foundation, for which the car earned thousands more.
“After all that good work, it was gone,” Eva said.
Bela Bunkoczy is not the type of person who scours the newspaper’s classified advertising section. One day last year, however, he came across a notice of a ‘65 Mustang for sale. Blue.
It was the car.
The couple bought it. When they opened the trunk, they found the original radio, which Mark had wrapped in plastic and put there. The car had only 700 more miles on it than when they’d donated it.
“It was like Mark had come back to us. This tragedy has taught me many things,” Eva said. “I’ve been confused and angry and hurt and sad and everything else. But I’ve also seen a lot of good. And I can tell you this: I no longer believe in coincidences.”
There are other explanations, of course. Luck. Serendipity. Accident. Fluke. Karma. It doesn’t matter. The interview ended and the blue Mustang pulled away. The mother behind the wheel. The son steering.