Our truck was parked in the mud, hidden behind the kitchen building on private property, so a repo driver looking for it could not easily spot it. Would they even find us? Did the truck have a GPS tracker we didn’t know about? Technically, it wasn’t our vehicle anymore, by then it had fallen back to the bank because we had been unable to make the monthly payment we had agreed on. A contract on a piece of paper, isn’t it like a promise?
So many broken promises! All my life I had been good for my word and now? If I couldn’t hold a promise, what would it make me? A liar? A thief?
It was now December. We had until May 2010 to find a place to live, to work, and to exist. In June we would lose the car one way or another. No payments and no insurance coverage means no registration renewal, which in America is due on your birthday. It was my husband’s car, the day after his birthday we would be without transportation.
If you can make only one payment, and you have to choose between a house and transportation, I would recommend paying for the car. Keep your car at all costs! In America, you are stranded without a vehicle -we were fully aware of it. In the middle of nowhere, stuck at our friend’s house, having a good time making sausages. During the day we laughed a lot but at night I couldn’t sleep. I spent hours and hours outside on the back porch in the middle of the night. I didn’t have to close my eyes anymore, the nightmares came to me when everybody else was sleeping.
Our future depended on two things. The car had to get us to our new place before May, and we had to come up with the money to move to wherever life would take us. No wonder I couldn’t sleep.
My husband on the other hand slept like a baby and was snoring like a bear in heat. He had fallen into a routine so easily, he surprised me. Just a few months ago he had been the owner of a company, had been the boss of 10-15 employees, now every day at 5 a.m. he got up and started the fire in a smokehouse. The rest of the day he helped me in the sausage kitchen. He cleaned mountains of dishes thoroughly, chopped wood, and filled in wherever help was needed.
We had fun in the kitchen, making sausages, cleaning, and planning. At night the three of us brainstormed and we were successful. Turns out it’s not hard to find customers if you have a good product.
We needed to get the word out, we needed a webpage. Steve, the neighbor, and computer nerd showed me how to make one using a webpage provider. It didn’t even cost much. $60 for a year for hosting, and $12 for the domain. We were in business. Our new webpage was simple but powerful enough. The logo, the menu, the opening times, and a few weeks later it even showed a map with the directions on how to find us in the middle of nowhere. I was proud of myself, I had to manage to add the map all by myself. Now I could create a website, not that I would ever use it again.
Hundred dollars were spent on colorful yard signs, which guided people right into the driveway into the backyard, to the sausage kitchen. Another sign was put at the highway -without permits.
I continued to teach Ben in the sausage kitchen whenever he decided to show up. I had asked my friend about Ben’s marriage and had learned his wife would leave him before Easter. She had found a new job at an apartment complex, the first upcoming free apartment was reserved for her and the kids. Everybody knew about it, everybody beside Ben. I felt sorry for him but I also didn’t feel so guilty anymore.
Ben wasn’t really interested in working but he was a nice kid. The more I got to know him, the more I liked him. He was a good person, just not made to live a normal life. He cared deeply for his grandparents, checked on them daily, but sadly he also cared a bit too much for weed.
One more failure in the kitchen, and he would be out. It didn’t take long for him to mess up and again, I did nothing to prevent it from happening. We had been informed that a health inspector would come by soon, and now we all wanted Ben out of the kitchen.
“Do you think there is an arrest warrant in our name?” My husband quietly asked the question, and it stopped me in my tracks. I had been wondering the same. Do they arrest people for not paying their bills? I honestly didn’t know and neither did he.
“I don’t know,” I shook my head, my voice broke and we both looked at each other. We felt so helpless and at that moment also hopeless.
My logical thinking told me half of the American population would find themselves behind bars IF people could get arrested for not paying their bills -but I wasn’t sure.
I assume I might come across as very naive. There we were, not smart enough to apply for food stamps or any other form of government help because we just didn’t t think about it, and on the other hand, we made up nightmare scenarios in our minds.
“We can call the sheriff’s department and ask,” I whispered my suggestion. It sounded laughable. Imagine the conversation. Hey officer, I have a quick question. Is there a warrant for my arrest? Could you please look and oh, I won’t tell you where I am. (I think)
“I am going to call John,” my husband said a few days later. John, a former neighbor, and friend, also a cop we happened to know very well. I had helped him find homes for dogs, I had helped him with his wife when she fell sick. Surely, he would be able to tell us what to do.
It felt so awkward. We explained what had happened also talked about our fear of getting arrested. John was a very kind man and a great police officer. He explained to us that it wasn’t a crime to be houseless or homeless, as long as you don’t commit any other crimes. He did ask us to not drive the vehicle. “What if you have an accident?”
We had never ever thought about the possibility of an accident, harming someone else by accident, who then would not be covered by insurance. Very selfishly we had always just worried about us getting caught. I suppose you get more selfish if there is not much left you to possess.
We had not committed a crime. We didn’t have bounced checks or anything that could have gotten us in trouble. We just simply had stopped paying and had fallen off the face of the earth.
We didn’t drive the car anymore. It stayed hidden, we just started it every other day to make sure it was drivable. My husband, with help of the Steve, disconnected the OnStar system. Steve also checked the vehicle for a GPS tracking device. It didn’t have any.
Without a car, we would be stuck. The thought took my breath away and it felt like an iron fist punched my stomach. The people living in tents in California or in other states don’t all lose their transportation, they are stuck under a piece of plastic, they are carrying around their belongings in bags.
If it would happen to us, would we be able to handle it?
Do we get what we can handle, or do we learn to handle what we have gotten?
I believe it to be the latter.