The Price of Independence

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An hour after I left my job in Manhattan, I arrived at Fullerton Fiat in Somerville, NJ to look at purchasing of a vehicle with fold down seats and a hatchback. I hadn’t simply eyed the car because it was stylish and within my limited budget. My issues with walking and the knowledge that my arthritis, joint inflammation and degenerative disc condition could get worse despite my best efforts to thwart them, meant my need for easy transport of myself and possibly a walker, scooter or wheelchair was unavoidable.
Lately, getting around using a cane made it apparent to everyone who crossed my path that something was ailing me. Yet I doubt, even my closest friends, ever thought about the financial toll of being chronically ill.  For years, I threw my annual fall Easter holiday parties, barbecues with my family and didn’t miss providing gifts for their big life events like babies, weddings and birthdays. All the while medical bills from my surgeries, MRI, cut scans, x-rays, biopsies, doctors’ visits and monthly prescriptions often made it difficult to make ends meet; at its heights topping more than 600 a month after insurance.
I did my best to continue to work full-time no matter what I faced; only three years out of 21 did I use more than my allotted days. As I single woman I had no choice but to work. Yet, even earning a salary, sometimes, wasn’t enough to keep up with the mounting and never ending bills. Uncomfortable asking for help, I borrowed from my retirement accounts to keep up. When that wasn’t enough, I looked the minimal income generated from the books I’d written to fill in the gaps. Additionally, I cut down all other bills, cut out vacations, as well as eating out a lot.
All of my methods kept me from losing my house and bankruptcy but it didn’t leave a lot of money left over each month; let alone tons of free cash for a new car. I was also increasingly more isolated. Unable to go and visit friends and family on a whim or afford to invite them over often, I was stuck in the house alone; often times, with no one to talk to other than God if I wasn’t on social media. I relied on a few people, mostly my parents, to take me places and pick me up from procedures.  And, I even began getting my groceries delivered to make life easier. Still, getting around without a car, as I had for most of the last year, was no longer an option.
Some days walking caused pain in my feet, legs and spine; that triggered a fear that friction generated by each step would increasing the joint inflammation,  put more pressure on my facet joints and vertebrae, consequently pinching or cutting off nerves. The result would send unbearable pain through my limbs or cause sudden weakness making me falling more likely. Thankfully, my issue mostly affects my left leg. Driving requires my right leg so it wasn’t hard to deduce that would be easier for me.
To spare my more wear and tear on my body, I applied for a loan and was approved.  The bank claimed I could spend up to 35 thousand for a car. I wondered what math they used to come up with that. Instead of doing what a lot of people do, which is splurge, I sat down, looked at my bills, the cost of insurance and figured out just what I could pay without eating Ramen noodles every day. Then, I searched for a vehicle and dealership with the lowest price on the one I wanted. I looked up all incentives and discounts, including a five hundred dollar off coupon, and brought all the information to the dealership to ensure I got the best price.
I didn’t realize that I’d walked in to sign the purchase agreement on July 3rd, the Independence Day was observed this year. Working in television news, I don’t automatically get holidays off so that fact slipped my mind; although the light traffic should’ve been a clue. The salesman pointed it out the holiday when he alerted me that the bank needed to finalize my purchase was closed and wouldn’t reopen until Monday. But he assured me that he saw no problems with my financing application and I should be able to pick up the car next week.  I prayed he was right. As I left, I chuckled and thought to myself, I came here to buy a car to preserve my hard fought independence on a day celebrating freedom, perhaps it’s fated.

About the author:

Nika C. Beamon is a journalist working in New York. She is the author of Misdiagnosed: The Search for Dr. House, about her quest nearly 20 year quest for the correct medical diagnosis. In 2009, Chicago Review Press published her non-fiction book, I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married.  She is also the author of two mystery novels.

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