Nothing like having your car repossessed while your mother’s in town for a visit.
On a bright sunny morning in June, my life soon became much more complicated in the to and fro department. The fact that such an economic tragedy occurred at the beginning of Mom’s three day stay was further proof that life is not only cruel, but funny at the same time.
To add to the humiliation, the previous evening had been spent around the dinner table with lots of food and wine and my wife and I claiming to her how well we were doing up here in Humboldt County. We went on and on about how we were glad we left behind our more lucrative lifestyle in Southern California — even in light of our current poverty level wages — because this was a much better quality of life.
I think it was the reverse gear beeping of the tow truck that we heard first that morning. Lindsay and I locked eyes immediately.
“Is that out front of our place?” I asked her, before darting to the kitchen for a look out the window to get a view of the dirt driveway. And sure enough, there was a bearded, thick-armed man with a trucker hat on and a flannel shirt rolled up at the sleeves frantically backing his tow truck in against the rear end of my gold Toyota Camry. Meanwhile, Mom was in the bathroom blow drying her hair, readying herself for a day of chauffeured sight seeing.
“Oh fuck,” I said, answering my own question. “This is not happening.”
Lindsay and I rushed outside as the repo man was getting out of the truck cab. He halted and shot us a look like he’d seen it all in his occupation, and was equally prepared to deal with us pleading and sobbing hysterically or aiming a thirty-ought-six at his skull. I attempted neither. In my mind I was already a broken man in the financial world. I merely wished to get my personal belongings out and have the car towed clear out of sight before the screaming of my mother’s hair-dryer winded down.
Lindsay spoke to him first, and it wasn’t “Hey, what’s goin’ on?!” or “What the hell you think yer doing?!” It was simply “Can we get our things out?”
“Yep, go on ahead,” he said with a cautious sliver of home-style empathy.
I walked over to the driver’s side and started pulling things out in great loads and setting them on the ground: the CD holder, clothes, day timer, diaries, all the bills wedged into the center divide plus a long lost bag of shake. Lindsay leaned in from the passenger side and did the same. We’d gone through this two months before with her car in this same dirt driveway, but her grandmother was called on the driver’s cell phone and came to the rescue. With the curse of foolish pride all over me, I wasn’t about to be bailed out by family on this one.
For living on a dead end road in the woods above Eureka, there sure was a hell of a lot of traffic making its way up and down the remote street. Each driver made sure to brake and take in the repo show. It was slapstick in a way. And there was our good friend and neighbor Kerri, coming out her front door and loading her baby in the car just in time for a glimpse herself.
“So… so, what can we do here?” Lindsay asked him.
“This a uh first time repo?”
“Yeah,” I somehow vocalized. I could sense my mother staring out of a window then, and could picture her breaking the news around my point of origin upon her return.
“Aw, the bank’ll work with ya. How far behind were ya?”
“Couple months,” Lindsay lied.
“Well, it’s been more than that,” I corrected her, but appreciating her optimism on the matter all the same.
“Bank around here?” he asked us.
“Down south,” she replied.
“Yeah. Ya see, they won’t wanna deal with transport costs. They’ll work with ya.”
I was thinking “like hell they will!” knowing the amount past due and our negative account balance at the moment. Payday was coming but so was the rent. This Camry was yesterday’s news. I was more concerned with putting an end to the hangout scene around the repo-in-progress.
The guy handed me his business card and said “I’m gonna need the key.” I swear a cold wind blew as I dug in my pocket and grasped my keychain, pulling them out and trying not to tremble too hard as I maneuvered the Toyota key off. I handed it to him, glazed in sweat, like it was a badge and my last day on the force.
He resumed jacking up the back end of the Camry and locking it into place, and then fired up the engine of his truck as we watched on. I listened for the sound of the front door opening up, and my mother’s horrifying steps approaching, but they never came. “You guys are nice people!” the repo man shouted to us over the sound of his engine. “They’ll work with ya!” He was so helpful and cool about it that we actually thanked him, as absurd as it sounds, and I even waved him goodbye. Who fucking thanks their repo man?! I turned away as he drove off with my former transport, and Lindsay put her arm around my back and held me close.
“It’ll… it’ll be okay.” She started to say something else but paused, and I wondered if she was trying to comfort herself more than me for a moment. “Fuck it.”
“Yeah,” I affirmed with a quivering voice, “fuck it.” I stared down at the dirt, not feeling like I said that at all, feeling unable to simply release the load into the wind with a rustic expletive. All of our shit was still on the ground, so we hustled it into the trunk of her car in rapid fire motion. I began to cry without tears, and my pounding heart conjured up the awareness of the flawed coronary tracts of my mother’s side of the family. You could just drop dead of a stress-induced heart attack at my age, if the gene pool was against you. This was the epitome of stress — the greatest I’d ever known — and I hadn’t even faced the music. The music of course being a mother with the confidentiality of a National Enquirer correspondent, the drunks at work who’ve been dying for me to fail so they can feel less self-conscious about their own misery, and every other acquaintance who would surely ask the simple question of “Where’s your car at, Darren?”
“I don’t want to fucking deal with her on this,” I said, before we mounted the steps toward the side door.
“Just be firm,” she coached me. “All of this is just ego.”
“You’re right,” I said, struggling to listen, struggling to believe.