The Adventures of Rob and Dorrit (the Toyota Echo): Dead Stop Dorrit

A few months ago, I was asked to write a piece on bullying to mark Pink Shirt Day. I did not focus on the bullying itself, rather the effects it had on me growing up. I learnt to be a very timid person who always tried to be nice to everyone (even the bullies), at the expense of my own well-being. I would like to think that I had outgrown that behaviour so it came as a shock to discover otherwise when I found Dorrit damaged outside my house as I was leaving for work. Approaching the car, I saw a huge dent in the bonnet and a cracked headlight. It is illegal to drive a car with a broken headlight in Ireland, regardless if it still works or not. I assumed Canada had a similar law. This was the very thing I had worried about when I decided to take the car from Nina and my old bullied victim persona was immediately there to taunt me.

“I told you so” he said. “I told you that if you took on having a car, this was bound to happen. Bad things ALWAYS do”.

That evening I returned to find a note on the Dorrit’s windshield. It was from the guilty party, who turned out to be my neighbour’s mother. She took full responsibility for the damage and had already contacted ICBC (Canadian Insurance). Both Rory and Nina told me to phone ICBC as well to ensure the claim was correctly made and being processed. I was told to take the car to an approved car bodyshop to have the damage assessed. Provided the damage did not exceed the market value of the car, it would be repaired. Everything seemed to be going well and that made me more nervous. As my bullied victim persona knew, things are never easy and I should always expect the worst.

What if they don’t fix the car! You know it is worth around $1,000 dollars and I KNOW there is a lot of damage.”

I had forgotten how normal this kind of inner dialogue was for me growing up. The sheer terror of everyday life. Would I stutter and be targeted today? Would the bullies be lurking around the school corridors waiting to pounce? Were my friends around to protect me? This behaviour kept me meek and unassuming for years, but the payoff was I thought it was keeping me safe from a dangerous world.

I found a bodyshop literally five minutes from my home, phoned them and made an appointment yet I couldn’t shake the fear of the damage being more than the car was worth. I was working myself into a panic over the whole situation. Arriving at the shop, I was greeted by Ethan (not his real name). He came outside with his camera and other equipment. He took a few photos and casually inspected the damage. He said given the damage and the value of the car that it wouldn’t be repaired and that there was no point in submitting a claim.

“See. I told you. Loser.” laughed the bullied victim persona voice in my head.

Ethan was younger than me. I’d say about ten years younger and he was an attractive man. I was already feeling intimidated. He was also the expert and I assumed he could accurately assess damage on visual inspection alone. Yet, something in my gut didn’t feel right. I wanted to push and have the car assessed regardless. That would make the most sense. But, like the bullied boy I used to be, I defaulted to my learnt defense. I was nice about it and didn’t push Ethan on this. Rather, I asked what other options did I have.

He said that the car would be scrapped and I could get the cash value or he could repair it off the books and I could go after my neighbour to pay. Having a car was a great freedom and I felt somewhat obliged to keep it. What would I blog about if Dorrit was gone? That is how I justified my decision to myself and I went ahead with the work, which would cost around $700 with an unpainted bonnet (painting cost an additional $650). I didn’t want to inconvenience Ethan further and he assured me the bonnet would look ok as the car is black.

I wanted to be considerate of my neighbour as well and confront her with the lowest bill possible. She turned out to be an older woman with a small pension. She told me a sad story about being poor and said she could only offer me $150 in cash as a contribution. Legally, she was under no obligation to pay anything. Like with Ethan, I wanted to push harder as I suspected she was lying and taking me for a fool. It was easier for me to play the victim as it was a role that felt familiar, rather than the ‘bad guy’ who would have been more assertive and $700 dollars richer! I was disappointed in myself because deep down I knew the truth. I was too scared to push back, just like when I was younger.

I made everything even worse by telling my sister about it on a Skype call and she looked at me dumbfounded. She told me that if my neighbour damaged the car then she should pay, regardless of it being under the table or her financial situation. Then my father heard about it and he called me telling me the very same thing. He had the exact same look on his face and he was getting angry. He asked me how she was paying to have her own car fixed? He then asked why I hadn’t pushed to have the car assessed. I had no response that I wanted to share with him. It was the look on his face that stuck with me after the call though. I couldn’t figure out what it was or what it meant. When I picked up Dorrit and paid the balance of the bill, Ethan asked when I was getting the cash from my neighbour. True to form, I was totally honest and told him she wasn’t paying. As my answer sunk in, he looked at me with THAT very same look on his face. He told me that my neighbour caused the damage and she should pay. He wanted her number and said he would call her. I wasn’t going to let him do that and I took my key and left.

I arrived home angry and upset. With a cup of tea in hand, I tried to break it all down as logically as I could. Firstly, I could see that I had caused this whole mess by tying myself in knots attempting to be nice to everyone around me. Additionally, if my sister, father and Ethan (who had no reason to care) all had the same reaction then my reasoning and behavior must be flawed in some way. I assumed that they were not angry at me, rather I speculated that they were confused. They were probably asking themselves why I was willing to pay and not stand up assertively for myself, especially when I was not at fault. It was illogical, but then our responses to trauma usually are. I could see that my learnt behavior was ingrained and that I would naturally fall back into it in moments of crisis.

Rather than chastise myself, I finished my cup of tea and sat in silence for a while. Being able to see that and be with it was the win for me. This wasn’t about the money or the car. This was about me, specifically who I was in the past and who I got to choose to be now.  I had nothing to lose and I decided to take action and call in my big gun. Her name is Darla.

Next Month: Darla: The Big Gun.