Storytime: The Van

Please enjoy this post where I tell you a story about an event from my life. Nothing more, nothing less. Today’s story: Foot on the gas, that’s the only way to live.

Maybe car repair is a type of irony I haven’t learned about yet. That’s what I tell myself when I’m playing back the week in my head. My car is in a repair shop (for the fourth time in my short diving history) from damages that it sustained while I wasn’t even driving. This time I was actually in the car but I wasn’t moving. I was dead stopped at a red light when a woman slammed into the back of my car, part of my bumper promptly falling off, and my whole insides doing a whole flip.

Is the universe trying to tell me something? Should I be constantly moving while in my car, like some sort of shark? When you stop driving, that’s when they get you. When you stop moving – that’s how you die.

When I had exited the car I was relieved to see the woman who hit me standing there, wallet in hand, looking apologetic and worn. I forgot who I am so that feeling only holds until she opens her mouth and then, in all the infinite wisdom of the universe, I ended up standing in Seattle, Washington with a woman who is frantically yelling at me in Russian. Yelling at me like I’m the monster for not understanding her. Like I’m the one who hit her car.

A few times when I try to interject I get a terse “no English!” yelled at me in English. I try not to add this to the irony chart. I wait patiently and eventually she gets bored. When she does she finally hands me her insurance information with a huff and drives off into the dark.

The next morning I drive my car to the shop that the insurance recommended me. I take a bus ride to work from the shop wherein the first bus never shows up. I end up walking half the four mile distance to the office which makes me just about an hour late to work. It’s done though, I lie to myself, because I forget who I am sometimes.

At the end of the day, the rain is so heavy I decide to take a taxi home despite the heavy price tag. The taxi driver misses my exit on purpose, circles around in traffic for 25 minutes, and charges me almost double what the direct route would have. I tell myself that it’s punishment for being selfish and wasting money on a taxi. I lay on the floor in the hallway for an hour as penance and then try to fall asleep early. I don’t sleep at all.

I try to beat the system. I’m out of the house at 6am the next morning, standing in the pouring rain waiting for nearly 40 minutes for the first bus to work. The bus is only 17 minutes late so when I’m waiting for the second bus I feel cocky and grateful. I forget myself again. The second bus shows up 40 minutes late this time.

By the time I make it to the office over an hour late (again), I am wet and tired. I don’t care anymore. My pants drip water on the carpet under my desk for nearly two hours until they dry scratchy and stiff against my skin. Nothing matters anymore. Maybe this is my life from now on. Waking up two hours early just for the opportunity to only be an hour late to work. Except this is what life has always been. The new form of it looks like standing in the rain waiting for a bus that never comes. The old familiar form is the same though: putting in too much effort and not even getting half of what I need in return.

Life is when someone hits your car and despite the fact that it’s all their fault, in the end, you’re the only one paying for it. Being punished for it. Life isn’t fair. That sucks I guess.

Two more days of horrible bus adventures later, the shop finally calls for me to pick up my car. I’m so elated I almost don’t cry about how this will bankrupt me. I manage to talk one of my coworkers into dropping me off at the shop after work by bribing them and that feels like such a break in the clouds I forget myself again.

I skip into the repair shop and the repair man immediately shakes his head. “Miss, what are you doing here?” my heart does a dive. “You called me to pick up my car, remember?” “Oh that was you? I’m so sorry! Bring your friend back to pick you up because your car isn’t ready”.

He isn’t my friend. I don’t have his cellphone number. I don’t want to admit that I don’t know a single person I can call for help, so instead I sit down on a stool and stare at the floor.

I run the numbers in my head trying to figure out if there’s enough money for a taxi or if I have to try my luck with the bus again.

The repair guy apologizes and says he will try to call in a favor to his cabbie buddy so I can ride home for free. I thank him, and tell myself that there’s good in this world even if it’s not centered on me all the time – that’s it’s selfish to think I deserve all the nice things anyway.

The wait is hard. It’s 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes. My head spins a little. Starring at the second hand on the clock I find there’s a heat in throat but I wait. Even if it takes an hour, free is free. Dizziness kicks in around minute 20 and the repair guy starts to tell me his whole life story.

Turns out his whole life has been a ball of misery but he believes that we can cure all the ills in the world by thinking positively. I try not to hate him. I don’t tell him that’s bullshit. That a positive attitude is the only thing I have to give people most days and I give it freely but it leaves me scooped out and hollow, friendless, and penniless, with nothing to do but sit in a repair shop wishing I weren’t there at all.

After 45 minutes even he’s concerned that the taxi isn’t coming. At this point I figure I might as well walk home. Dying in a gutter sounds almost poetic. Dying on the side of the road will make a fun obituary. Someone will get a big laugh out of that. That’ll make it worth it.

By now my whole face is on fire, the edges of illness are starting to set in and he can see it in my eyes. He can see me going down like a sinking ship. Too much waiting in the rain. Too many stressful, sleepless nights. I tell him I’ll just call for a regular taxi.

He runs his beaded necklace through his hands. “I know you don’t have much money or you wouldn’t have waited” he finally settles on and the look he gives me pains me. But oh. That look is mercy, not pity. It almost makes me regret judging him before, he’s just trying to help. He’s just trying to be good to me. Why can’t I accept kindness right?

He runs outside into the dark and the rain suddenly. Just up and flings himself out the door and I think “oh shit, I’ve driven him to kill himself! What an ungrateful shit I am!” but instead a few minutes later lights glare across the front window and he parks a large van against the garage door.

“I will loan you this” he pats the side of the van for good measure. “Is that legal?” I stare at the vehicle. It’s a broken down looking thing. Inside is room for eight seats, most of which have been ripped out, but the driver seat and two scattered others remain as well as the plastic column for a fourth in the last row. I want to thank him but he’s bodily pushing me into the van at that point and somehow, just like that, I’m driving into Seattle in the pouring rain at night in what I think might be a stolen van.

I’m unable to adjust any of the mirrors. The door on the passenger side doesn’t quite stay closed but instead flaps just an inch or two off its hinge every time I go over 30 mph. There is no heat or radio to speak off because in place of a console, there’s a nest of loose colored wires, all poking out like needles on a particularly soft cactus. The cherry on top is the big ‘$500 or best offer’ spray painted over the back window. It’s the most trash van I’ve ever seen.

It rattles all the way home, wheezing and gasping like an old asthmatic up the hill to the house. Getting lodged in the parking garage I have to put it in neutral and push the front in order to get back outside so I can circle around the block and park on the street. When I get home I lay on the floor in the hallway and wonder if this is an improvement or just weird enough to trick me into thinking things are getting better.

I spend two days with the van before the call comes that my car is really finished this time. I split the bill over three credit cards but it, mercifully, all goes through and I get the keys to my car back finally. I give extra thanks to the repair man who smiles at me and tells me “you were able to do it because of your good attitude!” I want him to point at my good attitude, but instead I just smile at him.

When I sit in my car, I feel exactly how I felt in the van as if I am so out of control of everything. Like I accidentally let go of the reins and now I can’t ever have them back.

I turn the key in the engine, letting its comforting rumble drown out my thoughts, I drive away and I don’t look back.

 

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