I remember the embarrassment. Sitting in that glass room. The man in the khakis walking by, pacing by, every 2 minutes. Sitting there on the phone. Making call after call from his desk. He just walked by again. I remember the embarrassment. Having just quit my job and begging lender after lender to help me finance a $5000 car with nothing down. And having lender after lender turn me down because I was a broke grad student who had just quit her job. I remember the embarrassment sitting in that car salesman’s office. With my mother. Knowing I HAD to get that car. Because how do you raise a kid by yourself in suburban New Jersey without a car? Oh my God, I am going to raise a kid in New Jersey. I remember the embarrassment when they looked at the forms. When I didn’t have the right answers for a woman my age. I didn’t have very responsible answers, that’s for sure. I remember him asking me more questions. He really needed this sale. And he had to know what a hopeless embarrassing case I was. He had to wish I’d spare us all the embarrassment and claim to have left the oven on or say I needed to think about it some more or anything. Just leave. I remember my mother saying nothing. She was embarrassed for me. I remember her looking down at her hands in her lap as he spoke to me. I remember the embarrassment when I felt the tears welling up, knowing what the next answer and the next answer and the next answer would be. It wasn’t enough. But I remember, more than the embarrassment, I remember the fear. Of how I was going to do this. How I would bring home this child. To New Jersey. The busses didn’t even run on weekends. Also, where would she sleep and eat and go to school and make friends and would we really get housing and maybe I should consider dropping out of school like everyone says because single parents are supposed to work so they can pay for clothes and books and shoes and the doctor and dentist and oh my snakes, I’m the one who is going to have to take her to the dentist and I hate the dentist and I’m going to have to pay for the dentist and we HAVE TO HAVE A DAMN CAR TO GET TO THE DENTIST!!!!
That day in the used car dealership off Route 1 was one of so many days that year I was certain I’d die of embarrassment, fear and outright failure. Much of that summer when I first became a parent has been lost to the fog of my stress-memories. But I remember that day, desperately trying to buy a car, clear as ever. I remember feeling like it was the one key ingredient. If I could just pull that together the rest of it would line up or work out or at least wouldn’t seem so impossible. I mean, I’d be able to drive the kid to the dentist. Good parents do that. I could do that. I could…
And after a couple of hard hours burying my pride in a flurry of begging and promising and no shortage of sad-sad, single parent sob-story telling, I did manage to secure the financing and drove that beautiful, busted-up little Chevy with the weird brakes home. Home to the temporary place while I waited and fought and argued for housing. Which worked out. I stayed in school. I took out loans. I called people for help. Bit by bit and day by day we figured it out. It was really hard. It’s still really hard. All the time. I still find myself embarrassed and scared sometimes. Okay, maybe more than sometimes. But today, sitting in my office, where I work because I didn’t drop out, but I stuck with it and found a way to graduate and get a job and kept food on the table and the kid’s teeth relatively well cared for, today I sat in that office and made my final payment on that rusty, lovely 2006 Chevy.
And looking at my account online today, seeing it zero out, I wished I could drive back to New Jersey, to that dealership off Route 1, to that little glass office, and slam that last payment (in cash, all $1s for dramatic effect, preferably) on the khaki pants-guy’s desk, in front of my mom, with a smile on my face and say, “That’s my car, now.”
Because I did it. I did it. I bought that car. I made things work. I survived my own embarrassment, doubt and fear. And sure, there are still many other challenges and worries and struggles ahead and now and all around, but I bought that car. I did it. It is done and I did it and it is mine. And for today, for just a moment right now, that feels damn good.