It was the end of April in 2010, and we had big plans for the coming weekend. We needed to make it only through another week, then my husband would get paid again. We had $80 left to spend, the fridge and freezer were still nicely stocked, and we only needed a few fresh groceries to make it to the coming week.
Then, on Friday, with pride, we would call our landlord and pay the second month’s rent for our new home, and on Saturday my husband would be on his way to pick up the rest of his belongings a few hours away at his brother’s house.
Only five more weeks, before we couldn’t drive our truck anymore, there was not much time left. We had written down the names and addresses of small used car dealerships in and around Memphis, who all promised to work with people like us, and we had the intention to visit them all. We were hoping to find an older vehicle that would fit into our small budget. I had cut out newspaper advertisements of jewelry places that promoted paying high dollars for used jewelry. With heavy hearts, we had decided to sell part of what we had accumulated through the years.
My husband was willing to give up his large diamond ring, a present I had given him years ago, which he loved and only wore on special occasions, and an older pinky ring that didn’t fit anymore. There was more on my end, a tennis bracelet, numerous necklaces, older rings, and the pearl-diamond set I had already pawned once. Pendants that had been given to me by people who knew me well and loved me, bracelets, earrings -some I still wore, others I had forgotten all about.
A Ziploc bag full of shiny memories. A few thousand dollars worth of jewelry, we hoped to sell it all for $2,000 dollars perhaps even more. We were so naive, we were pathetic. The idea of selling all the beautiful things saddened me and I know my husband didn’t like it either, but somehow we had to come up with extra money for down payments fast.
Sixty years earlier my grandma had traded a ring for potatoes when she had to flee her home in Europe during WWII. If she was strong enough, so was I -like there is any comparison.
Even though our Saturday schedule was full, we wanted to stop an estate sale that was close by first thing in the morning. The ad sounded promising and it had gotten my attention because it listed a lot of sewing and craft STUFF. They opened Saturday at 8 am, we arrive half an hour earlier. It was an older house, a dumpster had been placed in the front yard. People were already working on the house, they had started to demolish part of the downstairs. Old tiles, lavatories, and sinks were thrown in the dumpster. A young man waved at us. “Come on it,” he shouted and we followed him.
His aunt had recently passed away and he and his young wife had inherited the old place. “She had so much stuff,” he said and I nodded. The woman had loved to sew, tons of fabric were spread out throughout the house. Every closet, every dresser was filled with something someone might need to sew clothes or quilts.
I looked at the older furniture and when he followed my gaze, he thought I wanted to buy the old chair. “I wish I could,” I said and mentioned that he should ask for much more money on this piece, while other pieces were priced way too high.
“Furniture restoration has been a hobby of mine for many, many years, now I will make it my living,” I explained and he asked more questions. He too had seen our big, new truck and had wrongfully assumed we would be great customers. I told him the truth, just like I have done before, and how I would repeat it many more times in the future.
We lost our home and almost everything in it, became houseless, were taken in by a friend, made a bit of money, moved, and now we are trying to restart our life in a new city, in a new state, still only one check away from being houseless again. I sounded like a robot, just listed the facts, with no false pretense, almost emotionless did I share the most embarrassing facts of our life.
“I can spend $20 and I hope to find an iron and iron board,” I confessed.
“Downstairs,” he said and we both went down to the basement. Sure enough, there was an iron board and so much more. I could have easily spent $200 or $300 dollars there. Everything I needed was neatly stored in a big family room. Rotary cutters, utility knives, scissors, shears, lining fabric, patterns, threads, and everything else I wished for.
From the small bar area, I got a pie form, with beautiful roses, two glass casserole dishes, one small lunch container, an iron board, and old iron for $20. I gave him the money, and then I corrected some of the prices on the furniture and showed him what to look for, explained to him the difference between a replica and an original -and shared with him some of the things I knew.
On my way out I turned around. “Hey, can I give you my number, please? In case you don’t sell it all, please call me before you through sewing items in the dumpster. Or if you don’t want me to have it, please consider donating it to a school or a nursing home.”
I wrote my phone number on a napkin and handed it to him. He folded it and put it in his jeans pocket. He wished us well.
I walked to the car with a grin. I had an iron board and iron. I was happy as I could be!
A few miles further down the road we stopped at the first jewelry store. A big, colorful painted sign in the store window promised top dollars for gold and jewelry. Half an hour later we walked outside. They had offered us $400 for everything we had shown them. The diamonds were worthless to them, they only wanted the gold. We were crushed.
We stopped at three other shops, some were more generous and offered one hundred dollars more. We shook our heads in disbelief.
In the afternoon, we made our round from one used car dealership to the next. They all greeted us friendly and treated us like the scum of the earth ten minutes later. If there is a heaven and a hell, I hope there is a special hot corner downstairs for all the used car dealers who try to break people’s spirits on a daily base. 25 or 30% interest, just because you are poor? It’s like it’s their goal is to make you poorer, and poorer, which, as I later learned is actually the truth. These small family-owned used car dealerships make the most money if you can’t pay your installments, this way they repossess the cars, keep what you paid and sell the same vehicle over and over to the next customer who is in desperate need of a vehicle and who is willing to sign almost anything.
If you ever want to be treated badly, go to a small used car dealership, act like you have no money, and beg them to help you finance an older used, banged-up vehicle. You will leave with your head low and you will feel bad about yourself for days afterward.
By sheer luck or guidance of the universe, I soon would find myself in a position where I would be allowed to see how these family-owned car dealers operate, perhaps one of the most eye-opening experiences in my lifetime.
Around 2 pm we were couldn’t take it anymore and decided to drive back home. My husband, as crushed as I was but still trying to cheer me up, stopped at a beautiful Chinese buffet restaurant. The American dream, ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT, and believe me if you don’t have much, this is not a suggestion, you go in and you eat all you can and some more.
I always blamed the fast-fat restaurants and the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet for the obesity crisis in America, and while I am not far off, now I could not wait to eat there myself.
$7.50 per person, I would eat until my jeans button would beg for mercy.
It all looked so good and I had a plan. I would only eat what we could not afford right now, or food I couldn’t cook myself -which has always been my motto anyway. Why waste your time and money ordering something you can make at home?
I balance a large mixed salad plate in one hand, and a plate of sushi on the other. Back at our table, I waited for my husband, who also tried to juggle a mountain of salads and an appetizer plate at the same time.
We started eating, and in the middle of enjoying the food all of a sudden, my mind shifted. I felt how I tensed up, I started breathing heavier, my hands got sweaty and it felt like the walls and the ceiling was caving in on me.
I tried to hide it, which made things worse. I wasn’t dizzy like I had been before, it didn’t feel like an anxiety attack either, I just knew I had to leave and could not stay any longer.
There was absolutely no logical explanation for my behavior, somehow in my mind, I knew my reaction was silly, but I could not help it. I hadn’t even touched 1/3 of my food when I asked my husband for our car keys.
“Have you forgotten something? Do you want me to get it for you?”
When he looked at me he could see something was wrong. “I need to get out of here,” I managed to say, got up, and almost run out of the restaurant. In the parking lot, I opened the driverside of our truck, lit a cigarette, and side-wise sitting on the passenger seat with an open door, I calmed down a bit.
I wanted to get back, but the plain thought of it made me shiver. I had no idea what was wrong with me.
My husband came checking on me and I didn’t know what to say. I was cuckoo! How do you explain that?
“Please, honey, go back and eat your food and enjoy every bite of it,” I asked him, like he could when he was so worried about me. It didn’t make any sense, none of it made sense.
Still, he went back and finished at least his plate. Then quickly he paid and came back to the car. He looked so worried.
I apologized. What had been such a sweet gesture, had been destroyed by me. We couldn’t afford to waste our money like this, yet we just had done it -because of me.
How do you explain the urge to leave a public place, the tension you feel, the fear of something you cannot find words for because you don’t know what you fear.
On our way home we stopped at Aldi. I didn’t leave the car, and asked my husband to purchase the few things we needed. I didn’t want to leave the car, couldn’t wait to be back home again, even though it still wasn’t much of a home.
In the evening, long after my husband had gone to bed, I waited for the neighbor named Julie to come online again. I still used her unsecured Wifi every time I could. When I started to research my symptoms I got really worried.
The internet can make things so much worse, can it?