I was 25 years old when I experienced my first flat tire. I had only been driving for four years at that point since, in my day, foster children weren’t allowed to get licenses. I got my driver’s license at age 21, and was only able to get a car because my last foster mother co-signed a car loan on a very nice and reliable used car.
Now, I didn’t grow up around cars. I never saw anyone fix one, and like a lot of foster kids, I had relied on public transportation to get around. So when I got my first car, I just relied on what the mechanics told me to do: Service it every such-and-such miles, keep an up-to-date AAA card on me, and pray nothing goes wrong on the road.
Being a recent grad with a monstrous student loan debt, I couldn’t afford major car repairs despite holding down a full-time job during the day and part-time on the weekends.
Thankfully, I was driving on city streets and near a gas station when I felt a sudden sloping shift and heard the ‘thud-thumping’ sound that only flat tires can make. I pulled into the local 76 station and called AAA. They would be on their way in 30 minutes.
In that 30 minutes, a kind stranger offered to help me with my flat. This confused me. How could he help? He asked if I had a spare. I said I didn’t. Now he seemed confused. “You don’t have a spare in your car?” he asked in a way that indicated he was onto my background. As if he knew I wasn’t raised right.
That’s when I got heated and cut the conversation short. “Triple A is on the way. Thanks though,” I waved him off as I turned and walked away. In the corner of my eye, the young gentleman – barely out of high school – glanced at my trunk as if he knew something I didn’t. He opened his mouth but didn’t say anything because of my new body language. I was no longer open to his help.
When AAA arrived, I had the same conversation except this time the driver asked me to open the trunk. I obliged, thinking it’s his protocol to ask and I was secretly proud that I had cleaned the car out the day before, so there was nothing in my trunk but a couple binders and a makeup bag. “See, no tire,” I said, matter-of-factly.
That’s when the driver upended the trunk base by lifting it up from the corners, revealing a donut and a jack on the side. I was too stunned to be embarrassed. The driver said nothing as he went to work.
Standing there, I silently cursed my lot in life as it took every ounce of self-control not to scream or cry or overreact to this oversight. But the rash of anger seeped in and was building. I called my former foster mother later that evening to ask her why she never told me about the spare in the trunk.
“Everyone knows that, Georgette,” she said nonchalantly as if she forgot who she was talking to. “There’s always a spare in every car, but you have to make sure it’s maintained.”
It’s embarrassing, but it needs to be said, that I’ve had a lot of little moments like those since then. From not knowing how to clean an oven, to storing food properly, to cooking, to finding out that I shouldn’t be placing bras in the dryer – needless to say, I’m still behind on basic life skills.
Independent living programs can do a lot, but it’s the little things that can only be taught and learned through parenting. I wish there was a book on how to be a human, but until that day, I – like a lot of former foster youth – will just have to continue playing catch up with the rest of the population.