In the words of my roommate, “sometimes it feels like my life is one big joke that I’m just not in on.” I’m sure many of us feel this way at some point in our lives, whether it be when so many things go wrong after the other, or when finally things seem to be going well and then suddenly something goes terribly wrong again. The latter can almost feel worse because it’s like you’ve been tricked into a false sense of security.
Last night, I experienced just this.
It was the end of a long few weeks. Being back at school had been an adjustment and is still something I’m getting used to. I had been feeling a little isolated and stir crazy but by Friday I was feeling a lot better. I had finished two essays, took two tests and was looking forward to coming home to visit my family for the long holiday weekend. (For those that don’t know, Monday is President’s Day here in the U.S. and the college I attend doesn’t hold classes on this day. Most schools don’t.) I was in a really great mood after having a lovely day of classes and having lunch with a friend where we planned our adventures for spring break (which don’t involve bikinis, fake tans, Cancun, or booze, contrary to popular belief).
As I got back to my apartment, I was feeling good about myself and was excited to get on the road. I packed the car up, filled up my tank and headed out. Because I left later than usual and wanted to avoid traffic, I decided to take the long way home. It’s a pretty drive and with some fun tunes I can barely notice the time difference. I felt calm as I passed through mountains and admired their beauty, covered in snow. I looked forward to getting home to see my family and to the delicious meal I’d surely be having. I sang along to a catchy pop album (One Direction’s “Take Me Home” if you must know—not much has changed from my five year old self) and suddenly, I thought about the uncertainty of the future. While I may have been daydreaming about getting home there was no certainty that I would get there. So many things could happen on the road that could have prevented me from arriving. I contemplated the uncertainty of having an accident, a tire blowing off a truck into my lane, or a meteor crashing down in front of me. But never did I think of my car breaking down.
Let me mention here that I drive my dad’s ‘96 Jeep Grand Cherokee that has been in and out of the mechanic’s shop since I’ve been driving it.
As I exited one highway to begin the last part of my journey on another, I noticed the emissions from my exhaust were white. So unnaturally white that they were fogging up my back windshield. I immediately checked my gauges and everything was perfectly fine. My gas tank was still full, I wasn’t speeding, my battery was charging, and my engine wasn’t overheating. Well, it wasn’t overheating for the first few minutes at least.
Defying the law, I used my cell phone to call my grandparent’s house. I never use my cell phone while driving so I’m really not good at coordinating these two activities but there was nowhere to pull off and I knew my grandpa would know what to do. With the phone on speaker, he answered and I told him what was going on. And as I did, my temperature gauge slowly began to rise. The Jeep was entering dangerous territory and I worried it would overheat before I would get the chance to pull over.
Luckily, the next exit wasn’t too far off. With my grandpa still on the phone, I silently encouraged the Jeep to make it off the highway—just to the gas station. Come on little Jeepy, you can do it. We can make it to the gas station. You’re so beautiful. Come on; I love you.
Once off the highway, I had to wait at a red light. With limited time and the temperature gauge rising, I began panicking at the idea of my engine burning out. Suddenly, an image of my dad blasting the heat when the Jeep was going to overheat one day when he drove me to school popped into my head and I immediately switched the heat on full blast. It roared on and finally the light turned green and I was able to make it to the gas station by the skin of my teeth. Quickly pulling into a spot–completely crooked, I might add–I shut the car off and finally exhaled. I’m pretty sure I was holding my breath since I had called home.
Smoke came billowing out from under the hood. I groaned as I came to terms with the severity of the problem. My grandpa still on the phone, I waited for the car to cool down before I checked under the hood.
I don’t want to perpetuate gender stereotypes anymore than the next guy but I can’t help but admit that whenever I look under the hood of my Jeep I look something like this:
I have no clue what I’m looking for. Everything looks exactly the same. Asking me to find the problem is kind of like asking a goldfish to ride a bicycle. It’s just not going to happen unless you’re in a Dr. Seuss book. I can learn how to play Bach; I can list all the books J.D. Salinger’s written; I can count to thirty in French; I can name any Beatles song; but I cannot tell you anything about what goes on under the hood of the Jeep.
Knowing that I would not be able to diagnose the problem myself, I walked up to the gas station’s entrance. But right as I was about to enter, a fire chief pulled up next to me and I decided to ask for his help instead. He checked under the hood and immediately saw the problem. It’s fixable (THANK THE HEAVENS–if you believe in that sort of thing) but couldn’t be fixed then and there. Instead of getting it towed the fifty miles to my house, my grandpa decided to come and retrieve me and today he and a friend/mechanic will go and pick it up. I got off the phone and sat in my car and stewed.
I felt like I’d been slapped in the face. Everything was finally going so great and then out of the blue, bam, another crappy thing happened. I couldn’t believe my car had broken again. It was becoming routine. Each time I would get in, I would wonder what problem would arise next. But in my happy state of mind before, I simply didn’t think the Jeep would break down this time.
I didn’t want to wait an hour by myself just sitting in the Jeep alone while I waited for my grandpa but everyone I called was busy. Realizing that I couldn’t change what had happened, I put my headphones on and put on a different album than before, one less energized and happy. As the music matched my mood, I felt a slight change within. Sure, my car crapped out. But it could have been a lot worse. I could have been in an accident and gotten hurt. What if I had taken my usual route home and got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic with my car overheating and no chance of turning it off in time? What if I hadn’t been able to pull over at all? Gaining some perspective, I continued to think that my attitude was really something from within. Outside forces will always try to threaten to change my moods but ultimately, I am the one who gives permission for these forces to do so. I have control over how I feel about every situation. As I came to terms with the fact that I couldn’t change my situation and that I just had to accept it, I calmed down and enjoyed the time to listen to a good album and relax.
I think it’s really easy to get caught up in the external forces that threaten to alter our moods and lose focus on the positive attitude we always have within. I believe that we all have this sense of self within and that with a lot of focus on this strength, we can maintain an attitude we are happy with even when things go wrong (especially with such trivial things, like a car breaking down). Life suddenly isn’t some joke filled with cruel punch lines, but a comedy that sometimes has a series of unfortunate events that we can choose to laugh at.