When you give a gift, what are you entitled to in return? I pondered this after I gave away a car. It was my 1995 Ford Escort, exquisitely maintained, and valued at 1100 dollars blue book–but worth far more in memories. First I asked some charities to give her to a single mom with multiple kids, but the car was so old they wanted to auction her off for cold cash. No. She deserved someone special, who would worship her.
I moaned about this to Gerhilda in Chicago, my old friend from college, dance clubs, Asian restaurants, and piercings.
“Too bad,” she said, “You’ve really taken care of that car.” Touched, I asked her if she wanted it. The offer flew up from my heart and out my mouth. Gerhilda was intermittently employed and needed a car. I was thrilled to make a friend happy.
She and her boyfriend flew to D.C. to visit his mom and pick up my baby. I didn’t remove my plates. I assumed Gerhilda would register the car when she got home that weekend. When she told me later she was taking a road trip to Memphis, I believed that was under her new registration.
A couple months later, I got a letter from the DMV; I owed 500 dollars for an overdue snow parking violation. Gerhilda, in response to my panicked phone call, said she had not had time to register my car. When she found the ticket on her–my–windshield, she ignored it, because she didn’t have money. “Perhaps you spent it all at Graceland?” I wanted to say. Instead, I gently asked for payment, and for my plates.
Another month passed. “No time, no money,” she said, in rare emails.
Finally I told her I felt disrespected and used. She called me names. A few weeks later, she sent my dirt-encrusted plates back, but no check.
My indignant friend Heather said, “But you gave her a (bleeping) car!” At first I agreed. I was enraged as months passed without payment or apology. But the shock and cynicism were curdling my soul. I paid the DMV myself to protect my credit. But to protect my spirit, I changed my attitude.
I told Heather, “I gave her a (bleeping) car.” Merriam-Webster defines “gift” as, “something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.” I now believe a gift given in expectation, even expectation of thanks or thoughtfulness, is not a gift, but a contract.
During the months before I got the ticket, I liked knowing my car was loved and driven to Memphis. I was high on having helped Gerhilda. And then that high was corrupted, not by Gerhilda, but by my own sense of entitlement.
I believe I will give away a car again some day. And meanwhile, I hope my Escort serves Gerhilda many more years. I don’t hope the radiator cap bursts and leaves her stranded on a corn-rimmed highway. Nope, I don’t hope that all.
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