Even though my troubles have persisted for several years now, I remained generally positive about it all until last April. I have often been told that I’m “upbeat” and that I can “see the humor in anything.” That all changed when I had my car repossessed. I can’t even think about it without clenching every muscle in my upper body.
The repossession was worse than I imagine my impending eviction will be…not because of the loss involved, but because of the way I was treated throughout the repossession process. For years, my bad luck has been somewhat of a running joke in my social circle, but in an instant it just stopped being funny. The repossession was the single most degrading, humiliating, terrifying, and frustrating injustice I have experienced. It was the first time through all of this that I felt like I could never, ever win.
I’d been unemployed for 15 months, and my unemployment benefits had run out about nine months prior. I’d been applying for at least three jobs a week, but to no avail. I was still in grad school and living on student loans, and I had $1100-$1300 a month to live on. My rent was $700 a month (hiked up from $550 — the average for a 1-bedroom apartment in my county is $812 per month), my car payment was $350 (go ahead and groan, I could afford it when I bought the car), my car insurance was about $70 a month, my cell phone about $50-60 a month and I spent over $60 a month on prescription drugs –after about $150 a month for health insurance. I also had one credit card bill, a debt consolidation plan, and numerous medical bills that I had to pay the University Medical Center lest I get kicked out of school. I also needed a car because there were no buses that would have taken me home from campus late at night when my classes got out. I had to pay for gas and sometimes parking, too. Do that math and you can guess how well I was “getting by.” At least I had food stamps for a few months. I couldn’t find a cheaper place to live, at least not much cheaper. Even if I had moved, I couldn’t afford moving expenses and deposits, so I was stuck. I have my reasons for not having a roommate at the moment. After some childhood trauma irrelevant to this blog entry, having a roommate is strictly a last resort.
Because of my medical bills and my determination to finish graduate school, I fell behind on my car payments. I was a little over two months behind. I had not stopped answering the phone at this point, and I actually spoke to the vehicle loan people when they called me. I was offered my last job at the beginning of March. Unfortunately, the job did not start until the last week of March. I told them every time they called that I was about to begin a new job, and that my student loans for the next quarter would be coming in the first week of April. I was not sure what day in April, but no later than April 7 for sure. I told them that I could pay them off with my student loans, and would be able to continue paying them with the income from my new job. They would be paid in full on or before April 7.
We didn’t have anything in writing, but they were well aware of the situation. I was late in my payments, yes, but I had been reliable in my payments (even when unemployed) until those last two months. I had been reliable for over two years, and all I wanted was a chance to catch up and make good on my word.
My student loan money came in on April 3. I hadn’t been thinking about it that day, and I did not check my bank balance until my afternoon break. Once I saw the money was there, I went online to make a payment. I received a notice that said that I would have to call their customer service line to discuss my payment with a representative because my payment was so late. I called the phone number they gave me, but it was after 3pm Pacific time, and the office (which is located in Chicago) had already closed for the day. They were closed all weekend, too. I was annoyed but I wasn’t worried. Monday was April 6, and I had told them I would pay in full by April 7.
I went to bed at 10:30 Sunday night. I’d set reminders on my Google calendar to remind me to call them as soon as I got up. I never had the chance. At 1am I was awakened by knocking at my door. Not regular knocking, oh no. The knocking shook my walls and woke my neighbors. I don’t know what he was hitting my door with, but my doorknocker does not make a sound like this. And I have a doorbell. I ignored it at first, but it went on and on and didn’t stop. A couple of years ago, a man who lives on my street got shot on his doorstep after he answered the door in the middle of the night. This isn’t a good neighborhood. I thought that if I ignored it, it would go away. Minutes passed, and the knocking continued.
I was furious. I have an intercom and I yelled through it. I was groggy, but I believe my exact words were “It’s 1 in the morning! What the hell are you doing?!” It was too dark to see well through my peephole, but there was a man out there and he told me he was there to take my car. My car was already chained up and attached to the tow truck. I was stunned. I told the man that I had already talked to the bank and told them I would pay by April 7, that I actually had the money, that I’d already tried to pay but the bank had been closed and that they had been closed since Friday evening. That got me nowhere, which I understand. I’m sure he hears that every day. I probably would have said something similar even if it weren’t true. But it was true.
I have a friend who is an attorney, and I had talked to him about repossession a month or so before. I told my friend that I was worried about finding a job and that if I didn’t find a job quickly, I would lose my car. He told me that if I caught the repo man in the act that I could legally stop them by protesting. I didn’t believe him, so I did some research. In most states, and certainly Washington, if the owner protests, they legally can’t take whatever it is they’re repossessing. This information is available through the office of the Attorney General. I thought it was worth a try. The man asked me through the intercom if I wanted to take anything out of my car, and I told him I would be out in a minute. I grabbed my cell phone and my purse. My brilliant plan was to stall them until about 6am so I could call the loan office as soon as it opened. I was willing to sit in my car for a few hours if I could get this mess straightened out. When I went outside I saw that there wasn’t just one repo man but three repo men. I am 5’1″ in shoes if I stand up as straight as possible. These were three tall, large, muscular, rough-around-the-edges men. The kind of dudes who wear backwards baseball caps, only talk to hot girls, and still listen to Limp Bizkit. I was a bit unnerved that there were three men banging on the door of a single woman at 1:00 in the morning. I told them that they couldn’t take my car, I wouldn’t let them. They said they were taking it no matter what. “Well,” I said. “I guess I’m sleeping in it.” I walked towards the car and unlocked the door with the remote on my keychain. The next thing I saw was the inside of the man’s elbow as he reached around my neck.
I hadn’t seen him coming until it was too late. He wrapped his right arm across my chest and then my neck while he grabbed at my keys with his left hand. I screamed and tried to shove him away from me. He said “You just threatened my life.” For about half a second, I didn’t know what he meant, but then I realized that in my panic I had yelled “Get your hands off me, I swear I’ll fucking kill you.” I didn’t even realize that I had said that. I yelled “Who cares? You assaulted me! You grabbed me! What the hell is wrong with you?!” I backed away from him, got in my car and sat in the driver’s seat. The guy who grabbed me ran up and grabbed the car door before I could shut it. He stood between me and the car door to make sure I couldn’t close it. I don’t know why he bothered. My car was blocked in and chained up. I cried and trembled and called 911 while Repo Man leaned on my car and lit a cigarette. While I was on the phone with 911 he said “We’re going to cause a lot of damage to your car, you know,” and he blew smoke at me. Smug bastard.
Three police officers arrived and the repo men stepped away from my car. The first officer came up and asked me if I was okay. I was probably incoherent. He asked me to get out of the car and I did. My knees were knocking together and I was shaking from head to toe. It was cold, I was in my pajamas, and I had just been grabbed at 1 in the morning by this slimy bastard when I had already discussed my situation with the loan company and had already made two attempts to pay my debt. I was shaking so much I could barely stand. I have never felt such an intense physical reaction to my emotions. Once when I was in sixth grade, a bully and his friend beat me and pulled a knife on me. The repo men scared me more.
The officer asked me what had happened and I said that one of the men put me in a chokehold. Of course I meant headlock, but I was frazzled and I mis-spoke. I corrected myself after a minute or so once I realized I had said the wrong thing. I learned something about myself — I babble when I’m terrified. I sat in the car again and they questioned the three men. Of course the three repo men stuck together. It was them against me.
The repo man who grabbed me told the cops that we “just accidentally ran into each other” when he reached for my keys. The officer believed him, even though we “ran into each other” while my back was to him and I was walking away from him. One of the officers (I’ll call him Officer Asshat) asked me if I had lost consciousness. I told him that I hadn’t. He asked if I’d had any bruising. I said that none was visible at that point. He said, “Then there’s nothing to complain about.”
Officer Asshat spoke to the repo men some more, and I walked towards him because I wanted to ask him a question. “Get over there!” he barked at me. I didn’t know where he was telling me to go, or why he was telling me to go there. I just looked at him and said “What?” He yelled at me again to “Get over there!” I asked him why he wanted me to move. He said “I’m talking to this guy over here. Jeez, if you’re this annoying now, I can only imagine how bad you were when they were trying to take your car!” He laughed. Yes, Officer Asshat laughed at me and called me “annoying.”
The cops looked at me and saw a girl in the ghetto who didn’t pay her bills and was just being pouty when forced to face the consequences. I told them that the man had grabbed me, and they made it clear that they didn’t believe me. Officer Asshat interrogated me about why I had been sitting in my car. I actually lied to him, because he tried to make it sound like I was doing something illegal even though I had every right to defend my car at that point. He also asked really patronizing questions such as “Now, do you really think that these young gentlemen would come out here to hurt you?” I was wearing a sweatshirt for my university, and he actually tried to make small talk and ask what classes I was taking. I do not grant small-talk privileges to someone who calls me annoying, yells at me, or tells me that I have nothing to complain about because I wasn’t knocked unconscious when a huge guy grabbed me around the neck.
The officers ordered me to empty my car and hand over my keys. One of the repo men drove off in my car, while the other two took off in the tow truck. I saw my neighbors had turned lights on, but no one came out.
For weeks –maybe even months– I was afraid to stand in a position where someone could walk up behind me. I rode the bus a lot (for obvious reasons) and I always made sure that my back was against the wall of the bus stop shelter. I have never been a police basher, but twice in my life I have called the police when I’ve been faced with a violent situation, and both times I have been belittled, laughed at, and ignored. Strangely, I’ve twice been treated like a criminal when I wasn’t doing anything illegal.
The repo men could have taken my car and towed it away, but they felt it necessary to confront me. I still don’t understand why. I understand that actually driving the car is easier than towing, but is it worth the hassle of a late-night confrontation?
I have reason to believe that this is the same company I had my ordeal with. I’m dividing this into three posts because it’s such a long, long story. It gets worse before it gets better. Then it gets worse again. Stay tuned for Part 2.