I wake up before 7:00 on the morning of Tuesday, June 4, 1996 and know three things instantly: I’m in labor, I have to return the car to that awful man, and I have to go buy another car. If I don’t, I won’t have any way to get myself to the hospital. I am twenty years old.
The pain in my belly and lower back is intense and I flop over onto my knees and bounce up and down, which wakes up my roommate Tim, who sort of doubles as my boyfriend.
“I’m in labor,” I tell him.
“Are you sure?” he asks, having just spent the last week listening to me declare the same concern regularly. Tim’s on standby, as is my sister, Kim, who has a flight arranged from Kansas City. The moment she hears word that I’m at the hospital delivering she will grab her packed luggage and the diaper bag she’s had waiting, probably since the moment I agreed to let her, and her new husband, adopt my child.
“Yes, I’m sure,” I tell Tim. “I’m going to go buy a car.”
He considers me through half opened eyes for a moment, says, “Okay,” then rolls back over and goes back to sleep.
The first order of business is to return the used car that I picked up the day before.
My contractions are about ten minutes apart.
I discovered that I’d contracted an acute case of pregnancy within two weeks of moving to Albuquerque from Dallas, where I’d lived for the last five months. I made the decision to place the baby up for adoption not long after, having found myself homeless and broke and with no one to turn to. I told my family that I wouldn’t be keeping him and within a week, my sister Kim called and asked if she and her husband could adopt him. She was 22 and had been married for three weeks. “Of course,” I said, relieved.
Seven months later, I am no longer broke or homeless. On Christmas day, I walked into a fast food restaurant and told them I needed a job. They hired me on the spot. I met Tim there and he and I found an apartment together soon after. Neither of us had a car.
A week ago, I received a large portion of a $50,000 insurance settlement in the mail, my in-pocket amount from a lawsuit that has been ongoing since I was seventeen. I had to sue multiple insurance companies – including the one belonging to the drunk with the .28 blood alcohol level who had crashed into my foster family’s van nearly three years before. Three people died in the accident, which mangled the rest of us.
I’ve also had to sue my foster dad who had collected an upfront check for $25,000, which was supposed to go for my medical care. He kicked me out a week later, despite the fact that I was on a walker and had nowhere to go. We settled and he had to pay back $15,000 of the money he’d taken. The money came out of his personal account. When his check eventually arrived, the memo said “Gloria’s Blood Money.”
I received my money a week ago and I still haven’t bought a car. All of the grown ups in my life have an opinion about what kind of car I should drive and I’m scared and not confident in my ability to make a decision. And I actually really don’t care, I just want mobility. Last night, at the behest of Tim’s stepdad, I went to a car lot that sells used rental cars. The slimy salesman delivered his spiel to Tim, not me, even though I made it clear that I was the one with the money. Still, he barely looked at me and, instead, locked eyes with Tim while he explained the great benefits of buying this great car with low miles at this unbelievable price.
I am not interested in this car, and I told the salesman that.
“Tell you what,” he said derisively, finally looking at me, “You just drive it home tonight – free of charge – and think about it.”
Now I have this burdensome car to deal with before I can buy my Nissan, which is what I have wanted from the start. Tim’s stepdad was pushy and insistent about not buying a car new off the lot. And though I’m normally incapable of standing up for myself against aggressive men, I’m now currently in labor and I feel a strength and self-composure I’ve never felt before. I don’t want this fucking rental car and I don’t care who knows it.
I drive the car over to the lot, which is conveniently located on the same boulevard as most of the car lots in town. I walk into the office, find the swaggering salesman, hand him the keys, and tell him I changed my mind. His mouth drops open and, incredulous, he frantically begins negotiating with me all over again. He stands too close and speaks too loudly. The contractions are coming more frequently now – perhaps seven minutes apart – and the urgency to take care of the business at hand fills me with confidence. I tell him I have to go – I’m going down the street to the Nissan dealership to buy the car I wanted in the first place.
I begin walking off the lot and he shouts after me, “That car will lose $5,000 in value the second you drive it off the lot!” My back is to him and I can’t see his face, but I swear he spits on the ground when he’s done shouting.
By 9:00 I’m walking the two blocks to Melloy Nissan, telling myself that walking is good for labor. I enter the building and look around. I see a customer service window, walk up to it, and ask the representative, “Do you have a female salesperson?”
A few minutes later, Carolyn walks up. I can tell right away that she’s a nice lady. She makes eye contact with me, shakes my hand, and introduces herself. “Looks like you’re due pretty soon, huh?” she says, gesturing toward my massive midsection.
“Yes, today, actually,” I tell her stretching the truth by a few weeks. “I’m in labor.”
Next thing I know, Carolyn is showing me my options. I know that I want a Sentra and I don’t want any bells and whistles, just the basic package. This makes the decision easy. There are only two cars that meet my desires, and I just have to decide between teal and black. I’m leaning toward black, but Carolyn explains that black cars are harder to keep clean, since dirt shows up on them so easily. While we have this discussion, I’m pacing in circles, holding my lower back and choo-chooing every few minutes.
“Can I test drive it?” I ask.
Carolyn looks at me, startled and uneasy. “Sure,” she says, and within three minutes she has the keys and we’re on our way in the teal car.
We don’t drive far and, to be honest, I’m not even sure why I want to test drive the car, other than, like always, I’m preemptively explaining myself to the overlords in my head. Test driving is something I understand as a necessary step in the car-buying process. I know I’m buying this car and I know that I would buy it even if Carolyn had said no to taking it for a spin. Carolyn tries to chat me up while we’re driving, asking me about my pregnancy and the father.
“I’m putting it up for adoption,” I tell her. Carolyn talks to me about this for the duration of the drive and when I answer, my voice rises an octave each time I have a contraction.
Next thing I know, Carolyn and I are in her office, and there is paperwork in front of me. I have a checkbook to an account that holds nearly enough money to buy the car outright, but Carolyn is trying to finance the whole amount. She explains that if they take a personal check, they have to hold it for a week until it clears and I won’t get my car today. My contractions are now about six minutes apart and I know I have to get to the hospital.
Banks are called; documents are faxed. A man comes in and tries to discuss floor mat options with me. I am highly agitated and I stand up every few minutes to pace and pant. The frenzy of activity around me is intense – suddenly all of the sales associates are in the room, each trying desperately to help the pregnant girl get the car bought before a head emerges from her vagina in the middle of the showroom floor.
Finally, my brain kicks into action and I announce how it’s going to be. I don’t want to finance the whole amount. Even in my less-than right mind, I know that 22% interest is a lot and I just want to pay for as much as I can right there. I tell them all that I know it’s against their policy to take a personal check, but I need to get to the hospital. And if the check bounces, which it won’t, they know where to find me. If they can’t agree to this, then I’m just going to call a cab and come back another time. I tell the floor mat guy that I don’t give a rip about my options, I’ll just take whichever mats come stock with the car – and if I change my mind, I’ll come back and upgrade later.
Within twenty minutes, Carolyn has her manager’s approval to take my check and my car is waiting in the front lot.
Carolyn hands me my keys and tells me this is the quickest she’s ever seen the car-buying process happen in all of her time in sales.
“One last thing,” she says. “You have to go get insurance. I’ve already called a local agent, whose office is located two blocks away. She is waiting for you and has your paperwork ready to sign.”
I thank Carolyn and she wishes me good luck and I’m off.
I drive to the insurance agent’s office, only vaguely aware that I am driving my first new car ever. My manic obsession to buy a car – to buy this car – is now overtaken by my manic obsession to get to the hospital. I’m not aware of it, but I need something tangible in place after I’ve had this baby that is fighting his way out of my body. I’m not yet aware that after he leaves, I’ll transfer all of my maternal love onto this car. That this car will literally help me run away from all of the shit I’ve been through and am going through. I don’t know it yet, but the freedom this car will bring me will help put 130,000 miles of distance between the me that I’ve been and the me that I will become.
I don’t know it yet, but tomorrow the nurse will bring newborn Dillon into my hospital room right after Kim calls to announce that her flight has landed and she is on her way to the hospital. Dillon will come in and I will look down at him and I will cry. I will tell him I’m so very sorry that I couldn’t keep him, but that I’m positive that I’ve found a surrogate who’s just-right and that I know he’ll be loved. I will tell him that I love him, that I will always love him. I also don’t know yet that I will stare at him so long that my nipples will start tingling. I will have an almost crippling need to pick him up and place him to my breast and let him nurse. “Just for a second,” I will tell myself. But the moment I start to reach out, the exact moment, my sister will come walking in and instead of picking Dillon up to breastfeed him, I will pick him up and hand him to his mom.
And then, then I will begin driving.