A few months ago, the driver’s side headlight went out on my car, and I was determined to change the light myself. The tutorial warned this would be challenging because of the battery casing. I had successfully swapped out the battery on my Mac, so I felt confident I could contort my fingers enough to change a simple light bulb.
However, a car is more intimidating than a MacBook. There are all of those pieces in there that can maim or kill; and when you change the driver’s side bulb, you can’t see what the hell you’re doing. In addition, I have a phobia about being electrocuted while using jumper cables. Being near a car battery scares the crap out of me.
Ironically, my mom made a living selling used cars, which meant our vehicles were frequently stranded by the roadside when I was a kid. She could usualy lift the hood or change a tire or whatever she mysteriously did out there, and we’d be on our way. Maybe it was because this was the pre-cell phone era; or maybe my mom was just smart, but we always carried jumper cables and tools. Sadly, I never once looked over her shoulder or got my hands dirty.
When I became a single mom, things started breaking: the vacuum cleaner, a window, the shower head, computers, bicycles, my irreplaceable running socks. It was like every object in the house felt the strain of the marriage and just gave up too.
A friend who’d been through divorce told me: “Things broke before, it was just that you could afford to replace them,” which is true, but it’s only half the equation. The fact is, I rarely HAD to fix things. If something bigger than a vacuum broke, there was always a husband or mechanic or dishwasher repairman to call.
I can’t tell you how many times in this life as a single mom I wish I knew how to do shit. It’s what happens when “women’s work” consists solely of keeping children (relatively) clean, nourished, and educated. I was the taxi driver, not the mechanic; I was the buyer, not the accountant. I was in middle management for god’s sake, and now I’m sticking my fingers down drains.
My burnt-out headlamp problem was not going away on its own; so I promptly watched a youtube tutorial, bought the wrong bulb, stuck my hand into my car and pulled out some metal thing before freaking out and going to the mechanic, hoping the whole damn thing wouldn’t fall out on the drive.
The mechanic had two long, blonde braids, which was sort of inspiring. If she could do stuff like this, maybe I could too, with the right training? I handed her the correct bulb, and she had the entire thing done in about 4 seconds. She didn’t even charge me.
Thus, when the passenger-side lamp went out a few weeks ago, I was emboldened. I built my confidence with another youtube video (these things have SAVED me), purchased the correct bulb; and I had the entire thing done in about two minutes. I’m not as swift as the mechanic, but as she told me: “I do this every day.”
Nonetheless, I was proud.
I’m sure many of you have learned this already, but it is empowering to fix things — even little things. When you have lived most of your life as a dependent person, these victories change you. The thing about a dependent lifestyle (relying on your spouse or god to repair things for you) means you question EVERYTHING you do. If you are married to an emotionally manipulative person, you can’t do anything without prior approval; and when you DO make a decision, it is scathingly questioned and/or berated, even if it turns out great. Therefore, when you are free, it is incredibly difficult to be the sole person in charge — to be directive, assertive and to not second-guess yourself.
If for twenty years someone tells you each decision you make is wrong, how can you possibly decide which living room rug to buy? There are so many styles and colors and what if the dog throws up on it?
Sometimes, I need to talk to someone before I make a decision. “What should we cook for dinner tonight?” “Which health care insurance is best and within my budget?” “What IS my budget, anyway?” “Should I buy the good toilet paper?” “Can I change the driver’s side headlight myself?”
It doesn’t sound exactly ‘feminist,’ but this is a process of reclaiming confidence I lost somewhere along the way. I don’t expect sympathy; I know my ‘plight’ is not that bad — I am privileged.
However, I am learning to be a better person. These days, I am insanely grateful for things: free chairs I found on the street; my dog coming back when I whistled; a sunny apartment; a job I enjoy; almond-butter; my son moving back to Europe; light bulbs that work.
It will take time, but I will keep going down this road, building confidence along the way.
And the lights will be on.
I’ll change them myself.