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August 2, 2004

How to lose control without really trying...

Funny how some of us (and by "some of us", I mean "me") always seem to feel uber-responsible for all the ills of mankind.

Even funnier, in my opinion, is how the rest of us (and by "rest of us", I mean "anyone that isn't me") can just take things as they come without over-analyzing and internalizing everything to death.

I've always promoted the "water off a duck's back" school of stress reduction, namely just take a deep breath and duck and let things roll off ... after all, there is precious little that we mere mortals can actually do in the face of disaster. As Dr. B loved to say "You can not control other's actions, but you can control your reaction to their actions." Yeah, easy to say, not so easy to do.

I actually thought I had a pretty good handle on things. There have been relatively few instances of uncontrollable melancholy and nary a panic attack in sight. Sure, I still tear up when the situation warrants it but I've gotten much better at swallowing that, too. As a matter of fact, I've kept myself pretty tightly wound for a while now, not allowing things to get the better of me (and without chemicals, mind you), so much so that I've almost felt something like pride. In truth, I'm not sure how much of my new serenity and stability is attributable to my diet and subsequent weight loss and how much is sheer will. Hey, YOU take 59 lbs. off and tell me that everything doesn't seem possible.

This past month, though, has tested me, more than I even realized or wanted to admit.
At the beginning of July, I noticed my van was acting funny. Now Latonya, as we affectionately call her, admittedly has her quirks. (Yes, our van has a name and don't even think of making fun of her or she'll claw your eyes out - if she had claws, that is). Some days she won't start unless we rock her back and forth - or up and down - it really depends on her mood. I've had that checked out and the mechanic says she's possessed. Well, no shit, Sherlock, we knew that, just call a priest and let's get her exorcised. No, nothing we can do for that. I can accept that, though. We all have our quirks and we actually love Latonya's quirkiness, wouldn't change that for the world. This new problem, though, was something I knew in my gut I couldn't ignore.

One morning, after backing out of my driveway, she wouldn't go into drive. After shifting back to park and, then, back to drive, she engaged and we were off. The next morning, same thing, but she took a smidge longe. As her warm-up time increased over the next week or two, I had that gnawing in my gut that told me that I needed to get her into the shop before I lost the most expensive thing that I own, the very symbol of my freedom, the one thing I bought with the money I got after the divorce. Taking her to my regular maintenance guy proved fruitless for he said it was out of his area of expertise. I think he knew from the symptoms, he just didn't want to be the bearer of bad news.

I swung by the garage of his recommended transmission specialist, Tom, and made a plan to drop the van off Sunday night for a Monday morning inspection. I figured the $35 inspection fee was well worth it if there was nothing wrong ... you can't put a price on peace of mind, as Tom, my new best friend, said. In any case the $35 would go toward the repair feel so I wasn't losing anything.

The phone call I got about noon Monday was not positive. After some diagnostic testing, it was determined that the transmission had to be taken out of the van and taken apart to determine the extent of the damage. That alone would cost $350. I sensed a pattern but I said go ahead, thinking $350 still would be better than getting stranded on the side of the road with the kids in the middle of nowhere. For the rest of the day, I waited and waited and, just before the shop closed, Tom called to ask if I could come by in the morning so that he could explain exactly what had to be done.

HINT: That is never good, when they don't want to tell you on the phone. It's like the hospital calling you to tell you there's been an accident but not giving you any details unlkess you come down and then they take you into the little room off to the side and deliver the bad news that they did all they could, everything within their power, but the extent of the injuries was just overwhelming and they lost your loved one. I know foreshadowing when I hear it.

Okay, you think that's a bit melodramatic and far fetched?? Try walking into the garage and being led to the little room at the back, sympathetic and pitying eyes following your every step, where you find your beloved van's transmission is strewn from one end to the other of a 15' long work bench ... then have Tom walk you through every agonizing step of the autopsy, from how the transmission is supposed to work to exactly what went wrong, complete with a discussion of the viscosity of fluids and a demonstration of what a transmission should NOT look like.

HINT: it should not look like mine did, black and full of metal shavings.


We can rebuild her, Tom said.

She's in perfect mechanical shape and this would allow her to go probably another 130,000 miles, Tom said.

Once this is done, you won't even recognize her, Tom said.

Let's step into my office to discuss the estimate, Tom said.

As you can imagine, by now I'm about to puke and I need to take the long way out the nearest bay of the garage and into the parking lot before going back to the office just to clear my head, catch my breath, stop the tears. I signaled to my mom and the kids (who are waiting for me in her car outside) that it's not good while I try not to hyperventilate but knowing that if I go over there to talk to them, I'll lose it so I suck it up and take the long, slow motion walk to the main door.

I step back inside just in time to see Tom pulling up his stoll at the counter with the dreaded estimate clipboard. He put it on the counter with his arm over it so I can just see the edge of the paper. All I see are numbers and words and I know somewhere at the bottom there is a really big, BIG number and he won't move his fucking elbow off the counter so I can see that really big, BIG number and I consider, just for a second, snatching the clipboard away from him so I can just see the bottom line instead of listening to him telling me how much cheaper a reconditions torque converter would be, as if the concept of buying something reconditioned is new to me. Instead, I wait patiently until his arm moves and I actually am able to catch a glimpse of a dollar sign and a 1, which can't be good.

And it wasn't. No, after that 1 was a 6 and before the room turned inside out, the tears started. Now, I know Tom has been in this awkward position many times before but, frankly, his compassion didn't help the fact that he just told me that it would cost more than I take home in a month to fix a van that is worth less than I take home in a month. I left the office with the understanding that I would call him before he could start any more work and walked the long walk across the parking lot to Moms car.

Who knew such a small thing would take so much strength. 4 words. What's so hard about that, you ask? I bit my tongue, swallowed my pride and told my mom that I didn't know what I was going to do. Yes, I asked for help.

"Mom I need help".

After an awkward silence and some grumbling, she said that I could use one of her empty credit cards for the balance as long as I paid it off because, you know, the card is in her name and she doesn't want to be stuck paying for someone else's bill. I really resented the conditional release I got from her but I was grateful enough to swallow that bile. I had to resist numerous smart remarks because I'm in no position to piss her off, with my credit rating in the dumps and my car in the shop. I'm sure all accrued interest it will come out of my hide at a later date.

Later that afternoon, I called Tom to tell him to go ahead. It was a long week without Latonya but when he called on Friday to let me know that we could come get her, I was ecstatic. Of course, not having my car for a week of my summer vacation meant that I was behind a week in everything I needed to get done before school starts but that's the least of my worries. It's still 2 weeks to payday and I've got to go back to work with no clothes that fit. All this weight I've lost and I can't even show off. Even worse, my kids start middle school next week and they have no school supplies or new clothes.

Someday, I might be able to have a choice whether or not I want to resurrect a gutted gas-guzzler or buy a new car. Someday, I'll be able to say "yes" when my kids ask me for something. Someday, life will not be this tight. Someday, I'll be able to breathe.

For now, though, I can't help but feel as though I've fucked up somehow to put us in this position. Where did I go wrong? Telling Tom to fix the transmission? Buying Latonya in the first place? If I let myself dwell, I'm sure I can find a way to be responsible for it all.

I was told the other night that I apologize too much. Yeah, I do ... andI have to fight the urge to apologize for apologizing, it's that bad. Where the hell does that come from? Catholic conditioning from the original sin? Residual self-imposed guilt from my childhood? I've got plenty to feel guilty about ... abuse, divorce, rape, suicide attempts ... but none of it has to do with anything I'm going through now. Or does it? Doesn't it all come back down to thinking that I somehow deserve to be screwed over, that I don't deserve happiness?

And how does that manifest itself in my personal relationships? Do I choose to hold onto relationships, habits, patterns that are damaging because I think that I don't deserve better?
As Dr. B would have said ... why am I holding onto this guilt? What purpose does it serve? Why can't I cut myself a break?

And here I thought it was just a little car trouble.

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This page contains a single entry by Prosemonkey published on August 2, 2004 10:54 AM.

Cha-Cha-Changes is the next entry in this blog.

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