I was one step away from absolute independence. The only puppet string that I hadn’t cut was the one attached to my car. Well, I was told it was a “gift” and that it was mine. But I was also told that if I left the house in that car that the cops would be called and a stolen car would be reported. I was living in fear that one day, I would walk out to my car to find it surrounded by police officers waiting to take it away.
I couldn’t continue living in fear worrying that any day I could be without a car. Trading it in wasn’t an option either because the title was in my father’s name. That would require me asking him for a title change, something I wasn’t willing to do. I didn’t want any help or to attach any new strings. Knowing that I used the car they bought to purchase my own would suck any joy out of the experience.
No, I would have to purchase a car all on my own. Except that I was unable to put any money down and had nothing to trade in towards a new one. I hadn’t really put much thought into buying a car, it was not something I had ever worried about before. My father was a car connoisseur and I had never had to think about purchasing one without his guidance and expertise up until the past few months.
Add another item to the list of things I would have to handle on my own with zero experience doing so. I asked Kendrae to come with me to the car dealership for moral support. He knew less about vehicles than I did. But I felt that I should have someone to celebrate this milestone with me. Just because my situation wasn’t one that appeared to be ideal, didn’t mean that I couldn’t celebrate my own mini victories. Buying your first car is a big deal and should be treated as such. So I was happy when Kendrae agreed to support me.
We pulled up to McKaig Chevrolet in Gladewater, TX and I had a ball in the back of my throat. It was hard to swallow and my palms were moist. I was anxious. I felt like the salesmen could tell I didn’t have any collateral and no money in my bank account. I was unsure if it was even possible to purchase a vehicle with no money down, not much credit and nothing to put towards the first payment.
Walking into the dealership doors, I steeled myself and tried not to get my hopes up. I didn’t want a new car. I wanted something low maintenance, with great gas mileage and compact so it was easy to park. I didn’t want something in a loud color. I wanted a car that blended in – a common model that wouldn’t draw any attention. So if my parents decided to drive by my apartment complex, they wouldn’t be able to identify which car was mine. I wasn’t comfortable with them knowing where I lived, but by changing my car, I was adding an extra measure of security. A miniscule measure of security that eased my mind, even if only slightly.
I was greeted by a young woman named Alexus. Her smile consumed her entire face and instantly put my nerves at rest. Her face didn’t strike me as a salesperson who would try and get over on someone interested in purchasing a car. She struck me as warm and helpful, exactly the kind of person I was interested in car shopping with.
Alexus, Kendrae and I test drove three cars. The first two cars were total letdowns. Not at all what I pictured myself driving. Reality was beginning to settle in that maybe I had set the bar too high. It was true, I didn’t really know what my budget was and maybe all I would be able to afford was an even older model than I imagined. And then we walked up to car number three.
“This is it, Sarah,” Kendrae remarked, emphatically. “I can feel that this is your car.”
If this car was anything like the first two, I wasn’t so sure. But I kept my mind open. Maybe I needed to lower my expectations. I needed a car because each day that I kept the Honda Accord, was a day I risked having it taken away. I needed a car. So, I needed to find one today.
As I drove the 2013 Hyundai Elantra down the long stretch of road, I was surprised at how easy it was to maneuver. It rode smooth, had a quiet engine and I definitely took note of the great MPG it clocked on the highway. It was light blue with a soft tan cloth interior. Perfect for the excruciating Texas summers. It was small, with not much room in the backseat, but how often did I really plan to have more than one other person in my car for an extended period of time?
Kendrae was right, this was my car. So long as I could afford it. I crunched some numbers in my head and came up with a figure that was the absolute highest I could afford. If this car was over that number, I would have to find something else. A highly unfavorable option.
An hour later, I left the dealership driving my new car. The payment matched the figure I calculated in my head, I owed no money down and wouldn’t have to make my first payment for two months. An actual miracle! I was soaring. This was it, the last step required to get my affairs in order and begin my new life.
Suddenly my flight was sent hurtling down to the ground by a text from my grandmother from Ohio. A text completely out of the clear blue sky as we hadn’t communicated since I left her house in July.
“I can’t believe you never told us about what happened with your high school boyfriend. Being forcefully made to do something you didn’t want to do. You are damaged. You need to go to counseling. No wonder you ended up with Kendrae. Look what happened to you.”
My jaw fell open as I stared at my phone screen. My mind was blank, still in shock from her vicious words. All the moisture from my mouth instantly evaporated and my throat went dry. I swallowed in attempt to satiate my tongue and allow my brain to come back from that blow.
That was all I could compute. I read and reread that message what must have been a dozen times and still the shock was just as potent. Unbelievable. I saw it with my own eyes and couldn’t wrap my mind around the contents.
I certainly wasn’t going to respond to her message. I shuddered as the all too familiar feeling of guilt overtook my body. It was MY fault that I was taken advantage of? I did tell my mother about this situation about a year ago. And her response: “You know how to say no now though, right?” No concern, no anger, no solace. Just cold matter of factness. We never discussed it again after that one night.
And now, it was being used against me. It was my fault and just HAD to be the reason I was dating Kendrae, a man that they labeled as unsuitable for their daughter. Who now was also damaged goods.
This vicious cycle of guilt and manipulation had to stop. I couldn’t control what they said and did. But I could control allowing it to have an effect on me.
A few days later Kendrae and I decided it would be nice to take a trip to visit his family in the Houston area. Things had been tense for me and getting away sounded like a nice change of scenery. This also provided the perfect way to give my parent’s car back.
But I crafted a plan so that I wouldn’t have to see them to give it back. I didn’t want a fight. Or a guilt trip. Or anything for that matter. I just wanted to give the car back and move on. So I found a public place halfway between Longview and Van Alstyne. Kendrae would follow behind so that once I dropped off the car, we could make our way to Houston.
It seemed so cold and final, but I couldn’t think of any other way to give it back that wouldn’t rip my heart out.
I pulled up the pre-written text message and hit send.
“I dropped the car off at Walmart in Terrell. The key is under the back-passenger floor mat; the back-driver side door is unlocked. Thank you for providing me with a car for as long as you did. The Walmart address is 1900 West Moore Ave. Terrell, TX 75160.”
I stared at my screen as I sat in the passenger seat. It had been 30 minutes since we left that Walmart parking lot, but I wasn’t sure we had enough distance between us yet. Maybe in 15 more minutes, I would feel a little safer. Wrong. As each minute ticked by on the dashboard clock, I grew more and more anxious. Why did it seem like making any choice was so difficult? Why did every situation feel like I was the only one losing?
“Did you send it yet?” Kendrae asked.
I nodded my head yes. I sent it. Kendrae reached over and grabbed my hand. We sat in silence. Tears poured down my face as my body gently shook in resistance to my suppressed sobs. I kept reassuring myself that I was making the right decision. I shouldn’t feel guilty. But I did. I was so programmed to feel guilty, feeling any other emotion would seem foreign.
I was snapped back to reality by the vibrating of my cell phone. Dad read across the top of the screen. My heart sank. I anticipated that they might call in response to my recent text message. I stared at my screen and let it go to voicemail. It rang again, and I clicked the button on the side of my phone to silence the vibrations. There was no sense in answering. My text had said everything I needed to say. They had lost their privilege to speak to me in a non-controlled environment. And I wasn’t sure I possessed the strength to speak to them over the phone. Not yet.
A notification that I received a voicemail lit up my screen. I handed the phone to Kendrae. “You listen to it. I can’t,” I squeaked out, my voice quivering. I stared out the window, my eyes scanning as if there were answers in the grass. The sound of the road was the only audible sound in the truck as Kendrae listened to what I couldn’t.
“They’re confused why you dropped off your car,” Kendrae said.
I gave it back because I didn’t want it anymore. I didn’t want anything with a string attached to it that could be ripped out from under me at any given moment. A car that could be reported stolen because I wasn’t coming home. This was the only remaining string of the tethered rope of my parents’ hold over me. Any car payment in the world was worth paying for my independence. The knot in my stomach uncurled slightly, as I reassured myself this was a step in the right direction. I sat up straighter, gazed back out the window and let the feeling of ease wash over me.
I had started at the bottom. With absolutely nothing, but now I had taken one step forward. One slow, small painstaking step. But forward progress is progress all the same.
Author’s Note: We are all the same. Your struggles. Your fears. Your dreams. Your story. You are not in this alone. Of course no two situations are quite identical, but what you’re going through is not unique to you. You do not have to suffer in silence and think that no one knows what you’re going through. Don’t let your pride prohibit your healing process. Don’t believe the lie that you can handle it all on your own.
True strength does not come from muscling through something, gritting your teeth and suffering through. Strength comes from identifying and admitting your struggles. Strength comes from allowing others to support you.
I spent so much time in my own head delaying my overall health and well-being. I was so worked up, stressed out, heart broken and lost. All because I believed that I had to handle everything on my own. Partly because I was embarrassed, partly because I was raised in a family dynamic that avoided confrontation at all cost and partly because I was prideful. I was more concerned with what people would think when they learned the truth that it prevented me from telling it.
So I struggled and struggled to find the surface of the water. Frantically panicking in every direction but up. Consumed in a sea of darkness and self-doubt. Only hurting myself. Only stunting my own growth. And not gaining any strength because of it. It was not until I vocalized my struggles that I was able to learn from them. Somewhere along the way we are fed this idea that we have to have it all together. We have to fix all our own problems, self-inflicted or not. We have to have all the answers on our own, without any help or guidance. When nothing could be further from the truth.