My car/house breaking down was the best thing that could have happened to me

When I was growing up, I was told that as long as I studied and worked hard, I'd be happy, financially secure, and stable. At the age of 26, I was none of those things. Instead, I owed £27000 in student loans, swam in depression, hated my job that I had to have to pay for a single room in a share house that cost me two thirds of my paycheck, and I was no closer to achieving my dreams as a writer and creator. I realized I was living a half life, like Voldemort feeding on unicorn blood or a 16th century Catholic waiting to be happy after death. I lived on the hope that one day, I will get to do what I love.

During the pandemic, I sunk so low I had to go on antidepressants due to constant panic attacks. The medication helped me so much I decided to finally do something about my suspicions about having ADHD, and I got diagnosed not long after and started to take Elvanse - stimulants that help us ADHD peeps by supplying the brain with all the neurotransmitters it lacks. My world blossomed. What used to be anxiety turned into opportunity. I saw a new way to do things and didn't fear the leap anymore. I stopped grinding for the promise of happiness, quit my job, traveled to my home country (Slovakia) to get a driving license, and filled my Pinterest with vanlife pins.

Four months ago, I bought a 2014 Kia Sorento. The previous owner was the wife of my uncle’s owner. My uncle is a cab driver with a side hustle in buying and selling cars. He’s had more cars in his life than I’ve had productive ideas. He is what you could call a lay expert when it comes to cars. We knew the car’s history, it was always serviced in an authorized Kia garage, my grandparents were so impressed they said it looks like straight from the factory. I made all the precautions I could to invest in a car that would last me a long, long time. I listened to all the mechanics and car enthusiasts who told me not to get an old, cheap van because it would just keep breaking on me.
I put all my money into what I thought would be my home and a ticket around the world only to get stranded in Plymouth, of all places. If I could choose where to get stranded, I sure as hell would not choose Plymouth.
Don’t get me wrong, there‘s nothing wrong with Plymouth. It’s just not as pretty as, let’s say, St. Ives where I was a few days ago, or The Cotswolds.

So what happened? I’m still not sure. It all started yesterday.

I had a busy day. I spent the previous days and nights in Dartmoor and had one final destination I’ve been meaning to get to for years - the Wistman’s Wood. From all the pictures I’ve seen, it’s magical. I saw several beautiful woods in Dartmoor and the thought that there could be something even moauthorizedre beautiful and otherworldly excited me.

I headed to the site of the wood and parked not far from it, but further than I thought I would. It was on a long, quiet road that lead to some sort of a small shed, I didn’t pay much attention to it. Along the road, there were many nice places to park and I chose one that had obvious tracks further into the field than others - I liked the idea of staying in the nature, even if it was a farce since the road was right there. I checked under each wheel to make sure the car wasn’t about to sink, as it was rainy that day. All looked fine.

I stayed there overnight as it was getting dark and I didn’t want to rush my visit to the woods due to the cold and wet weather. The next day was supposed to be sunny - and it was! Hooray on an adventure!

I made my way straight across the moors. Can’t say I didn’t regret that decision. Ten minutes in and I was in true fear for my ankles. The moors are a beautiful and, quite frankly, deadly place. During that ”stroll”, I quickly understood why the Dartmoor prison used to be home to high profile prisoners just due to the simple fact that if they escaped, they’d only have the moors to go to.

It wasn’t quite as dramatic, don’t worry. I took my time, made sure each step landed on sure footing and got a bit wet due to the character of the fields. They are covered by grassy mounds that look deceptively firm, but once stepped on, they turn into wet moss or unstable tiny hills. Outside the mounds was wet mud that made that gross sticky sound each time I lifted my boots. After crossing two thin rivers, I was so relieved to reach a brick fence so old the remains of a barbed wire were almost completely dissolved and had already been replaced twice. I hopped over the stones to the nearest wood - not THE wood, however.

After I crossed the large expanse of moss covered trees, I realized there was no way to reach the Wistman’s Wood through it. I had to turn and exit the forest in the middle. Once I finally reached the car park that most (read-intelligent) people use when visiting the Wood, I was growing painfully hungry and quite tired. The only establishment, called Two Bridges, only served cream teas and cakes, so I knew I had to turn around and trek back to the car. In total, the walk only took three hours, but considering I was already out of breath in the first third of it, I was looking forward to relaxing.

As I took a turn that brought me onto that road I stayed at, I noticed a sign I didn’t see before, and let me tell you, shitting myself was never as real a danger as in that moment, because that sign read “End of public motorway, vehicular access on strict permit basis only”.

Guys. I accidentally spent the night at military training grounds.

This was the final nail in my coffin. See, the Kia Sorento was first made as a somewhat off-road vehicle, but the newer the version, the less off and more on-road it became. I knew one day it would have to go through a test of just how off it can go before it desperately needs the road back, and the first test I gave it, the car failed. I got stuck so spectacularly between mounds of grass that I had to call a towing company.

I called one I found on google maps as being close by. The price was through the roof - £300 for getting my car back on the road! But alas, I simply needed the professional help, so I agreed. Later, I found out this company was just an ”agent”. They told me to pay a ”deposit” of £100 plus VAT, therefore £126 , and additional £170 to the driver. The driver told me he is his own company and doesn’t know these people - they just called him and booked the job! Great, I got scammed. I’ll try to retrieve that money by telling my bank what happened. But that wasn’t the financial ruin that came later.

After an hour of two professionals and me pulling the car from this field, it was finally free! I thanked them, paid, joked around a bit, and then we said our goodbyes and got into our separate vehicles. I turned the engine on, drove a couple yards, and stopped. I left the engine running as I got out. Ryan and his companion (the towing guys deserve a name at this point) fortunately drove behind me, so they stopped and got out too. “Something doesn’t sound right” I said. They listened, opened the bonnet, and the engine died.

Flash forward to today.

I've been living in a Plymouth car park for a month. I have met exactly 746 dogs and all each one of them was the bestest boy ever. I have spoken to 2 mechanics who looked at the car, another 6 who just listened to the story, and about 20 people who just knew better than me because they owned a few cars and patented brains or something. Most of the mechanics who did have a proper look said it sounds like the engine needs repairing, which would cost more than getting a new engine, which would cost at least £4000. None of them could tell me what actually happened to it without stripping the engine. But today, I had a new hope on the horizon. A garage very close by WILL tell me what's wrong with it, and they don't need to take it apart to do so - they have cameras they can stick in. You might be reading this thinking "is this person completely daft?" But please, understand: this is the first car I have ever owned. I can only rely on what people who know more tell me. I can't judge whether or not they tell the truth or if they're even good at what they do. I'm a blind man at a bird watching conference.

The day I found out my car has broken down and fixing it would cost me a fortune, I broke down. I cried like a baby, for hours. I thought I had failed again. I thought my dream was over, that I'd have to go back home, make more money to try again.

In a way, it's a good thing I got stuck.

I finally calmed down and stopped driving around Europe like a headless chicken. I learned to function. Completely rely on my set up. Work on my writing. I don't need to chase after money - that was the old me who couldn't afford to relax because no money meant homelessness. Now, I technically am homeless, and I feel better than years prior when I loved in a house and worked 9-5. The periods when I was paid thousands of pounds a month were more stressful than the last month, in which I made £30. I live by the sea, where most people pay a fortune to rent or buy a property. My monthly bills are: £35 for unlimited data, texts and calls; £8 for Disney+. That's it. Plymouth is walkable, so I haven't paid for the bus once. I no longer need to buy needless clutter to cheer myself up in my miserable existence. I started reading books again. I draw. I crochet. I write. I create. I live. I finally live.

You can find me on…

Aya Mariano

Published in May


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