Sadly, it was over. I was driving home to end a relationship with a woman I had loved for three years. I didn’t want to stay, split up the things, figure out what to do with the cats. I just wanted out. I owned a gold Mercury Tracer station wagon with a bunch of miles. I was in this car, rolling through traffic on route 27, when I noticed a small hibachi grill on the side of the road. I put the car in park, jumped out and grabbed it. I strapped it into the front seat and drove home, drawing power from it like a talisman. I was going to sleep in a tent. I was going to cook my food on that grill. I was going to be free. I was going to live in my car.
About a year or so before this, my girlfriend and I had been in tough times financially. I eventually suggested we live in the car! We could camp out at night, live under the sky, work and be able to save a lot of money.
With the cats?
Sure! with the cats.
But she didn’t see the magic in it, and I loved her, so we looked another solution. But now our relationship was ending. I was heartbroken and exhausted. And when it really hit me that it was over, my old desire to live in my station wagon was rekindled.
I worked for a theatrical and film lighting company. I had a lot of access to tools, space to work, and guys to call me crazy. I took out the passenger seat, put in some cushions and made a bed. I had a small set of drawers for my things, a cooler for my food and curtains for privacy.
I knew my family was going to be terrified, and angry. My grandmother kept sputtering, “What the hell is wrong with you? Jesus, Jannelle what the hell is wrong with you?” An aunt, simply said, “No.” and ordered me to stay with her until we figured out a plan. But I had been ready for my family, I have practice with them. I didn't anticipate the amount of anger and scorn I would encounter from friends and acquaintances. I was shocked at just how ferociously mad people were. I was faced with having to answer for my refusal to live in a home, like people are supposed to do. I was accused of making a mockery of homeless people.
The people who weren't angry dismissed me for being a flake. And this was a lifelong worst nightmare. I had always been the “smart kid.” That was all I had for a really long time. It was so important for me to keep that up that I rarely asked a question that might show my lack of knowledge, and if I didn't know what people were talking about, I pretended to know. I was also a super agreeable kid. This was less a concern about smarts, however, and more of a concern about coolness.
I was the kind of kid who said things like: “I love that song!”
“Are you serious? That song stinks.”
“Yeah, I mean, I liked it at first, but now I can’t stand it.”
I was that kid.
I seemed outspoken, I was loud and obnoxious, but I was usually puppeting the views or interests of people I thought were better or smarter than me. I generally considered that to be...everyone.
But this time was different. I mean, this was my house for god's sake. I lived in it, drove to work in it, I wasn't going to be able to make this agreeable for people. Besides, I was enjoying myself, I was breathing, and seeing and living in a way that spoke so clearly to my heart that I couldn't betray it without killing a piece of my soul. So I let it all go. I was silly and impulsive. I freely said, “I don’t know” and, “because I like it, that’s why.”
For my whole life I had been holding so much inside because I was afraid of what people would think. I thought if I was honest about who I was that people would think I was stupid, or uncool, or flighty or that they would dismiss me entirely. When I came clean, I found out that I was right, they did. All of it. The exciting part was it didn't make a difference. I learned, for the very first time, what it feels like to truly not care what people think of my choices. Not with defiance, and not just sticking to my guns because people are trying to take them from my cold, dead hands. I learned to simply continue to do the things that make me happy, because they do, and let other people have their own feelings.
I spent seven months living in that car. I slept in the parking lots of 24 hour stores, and apartment complexes, and once the campgrounds opened, I stayed there. I invited friends to visit and cooked for them over my campfire. I inherited a tent from someone and had it all laid out before I remembered I’d never done it before and I couldn't figure it out. You see? I was so excited about living and doing this wild thing I had forgotten to prepare, or even to consider if I had the skills necessary. And it was fantastic.
On a trip to Vermont my car started to make a very loud and very terrible engine noise. I drove all the way home, waking up sleeping families in three states. When I got to work the next day, I checked under the hood and found an empty hole where a spark plug had been. The head was cracked and a new spark plug wouldn't stay put. The car was on it’s way out, and I wasn't about to get a new engine. So I got some JB Weld and glued a brand new spark plug in place. It drove great for a while until it didn't anymore. It was getting cold anyway, and I was planning to move into a tiny cabin for the winter.
One cool fall day, I sat on a picnic table outside my work and watched my car get loaded onto a flatbed truck bound for charity. Living in that car was then and may be still the best decision I have ever made. I didn’t know it at the time, but living in that car would teach me a lesson in being true to myself that all the religion, philosophy, and riot grrrl tunes had failed to drive home. It’s like the printing press of my life, I couldn't possibly measure the impact it had. I do know I owe my life to that car. It was truly the best $200 bucks I ever spent.