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The Courage to Confront Her Fears

With her husband gone, she had learn to stand up for herself. Could she pull it off?

Susan Karas poses by the new car she purchased.

Yikes! There it was up ahead: the car dealership. I’d reached it sooner than I had thought I would…or maybe sooner than I’d hoped. I pulled into the lot, the steering wheel slipping in my sweaty palms.

The thought of facing the salespeople inside made my heart race. I wanted to turn around and go home, but the ominous rattle from my engine reminded me that I definitely needed a new car. Actually, I needed more than that. I needed my husband, Bruce.

It had been a year and a half since Bruce died, and I was struggling to navigate life on my own. For 35 years I’d counted on him to take care of the tough stuff. Bruce was kind and generous–a big teddy bear, really. But when it came to confrontation he stepped right up and took charge.

Conflict didn’t faze him. In fact, he thrived on it.

I discovered that early in our marriage, when our lawn-care company hit a growth spurt. We celebrated by shopping for a new car. I could hardly believe how Bruce went at it with the salesman, haggling over a gray fourdoor Caddy–offer, then counteroffer. He was actually enjoying himself!

Just watching them do battle made me so anxious that I ducked behind another car on the showroom floor. When the salesman turned down Bruce’s final offer, I panicked. But Bruce found me, took my hand and calmly headed for the door.

“Sir, wait!” the salesman yelled. Of course we got the Caddy for a great price, just as Bruce had expected. He knew how to stand his ground, and hit his number.

Me? No way. I didn’t like confrontation. Never had. I was the middle child of five and fell right into the role of peacemaker. If my brothers and sisters got into fights, I’d change the subject or tell a joke, anything to get them to stop.

I rarely spoke up if I disagreed with my friends. Why argue? I wanted everyone to like me, after all. To get along.

My people-pleasing only intensified over time. Even though I managed our office skillfully, there were tasks I shied away from. Once, I had to call a client who was late with a payment. “I can’t do it!” I said to Bruce.

“This isn’t a popularity contest,” Bruce said. “This is about running a business. We did good work on his lawn and we deserve to be paid for it.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “Besides, you can do it. Just trust yourself as much as I trust you.”

The client and I went back and forth. I could hardly get my words straight. Even though he finally agreed to drop off his payment, I hung up with my hands shaking.

From then on I let Bruce handle anything even remotely confrontational. That way I could keep being nice, sweet Sue. No one would get mad at me. Not like that was working for me lately, though. Holding my tongue was partly why I’d ended up needing a new car.

I’d brought my old car to the shop because it was stalling. The mechanic said he fixed the problem. I paid him, but the car kept acting up, so I brought it back.

“I’ve checked it over from fender to fender,” he insisted with a wave of his hand. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”

Then why was the engine rumbling? Bruce would have demanded an answer. Why did it feel like it would stall again? Still, I just couldn’t work up the nerve to push back. It’s seven years old, I told myself. Probably best to get a new car anyway.

It wasn’t till I was at home again that it hit me: I would have to go to the car dealership alone. No Bruce to do the nose-to-nose negotiating.

One thing I knew for sure: Bruce would never go unprepared. He would pore through car magazines and buyer’s guides. I had to do my research.

I got on the computer and went to some car buyers’ sites. There were so many things to consider! Fuel efficiency, price, features, financing terms, rebate incentives. I took pages and pages of notes, and made a list of questions to ask.

I’d slipped into my red power suit that morning, thinking that if I dressed the part, the salespeople would take me more seriously. Before I left the house, I took one last look in my bedroom mirror.

“You can do this,” I said. “Trust yourself.” And there, reflected in the glass, I could almost see Bruce standing behind me, his strong hand resting on my shoulder.

I used the drive to the dealership to rehearse every possible scenario the salespeople might throw at me. The last thing I wanted was to get caught off guard. I gave myself a little pep talk. You’ve figured out what you’re willing to pay. Stick to it.

But now that I was here, I felt that bit of confidence slipping away. The building itself looked imposing, with a long line of gleaming new automobiles standing sentry out front, sale flags snapping in the wind.

What was I thinking? These people were pros; they would see right through me! I took a huge breath. Okay, Lord, I know you have better things to do than assist me in buying a new car, but I really need some help here. I’m lost without Bruce.

I got out of the car, threw back my shoulders and strode into the showroom. A salesman came right up to me. After test-driving several models I zeroed in on a ruby-red midsized sedan. A great ride.

The salesman ushered me to a seat by his desk. He looked through a few folders, then pecked away at his keyboard. The printer hummed and spat out a page. He grabbed the printout, circled the price on the bottom and handed it to me. I looked at the number and almost gasped. It was a lot more than I’d planned to pay. But if I just sign on that dotted line, I thought, this will all be over with.

At once I heard a clear, firm voice… not out loud, but from deep inside me. Counteroffer.

I sat up a little straighter. “Sir, that’s the sticker price,” I said. It came out in a squeak, but it came out! Then I looked him square in the eye, and leaned forward. “Everyone knows you don’t pay the sticker price.”

I jotted down a figure more to my liking and slid the page to him across his desk.

His eyebrows shot up. “Sorry, no can do,” he said. “Way too low.”

My mouth went dry, but more words tumbled out. “I don’t think it’s too low,” I said. “And that’s the price I’m willing to pay.”

He jumped to his feet. “Let me talk to my manager,” he said. “Wait here.”

I checked my watch. “Actually, it’s getting late,” I announced boldly, and I rose from the chair. What had come over me?

The salesman hurried back, along with his manager. “Mrs. Karas, we can’t go quite that low. But let’s talk.” We all took seats around the desk, and proceeded to haggle.

Finally, we agreed on a number–a lot closer to the one I’d suggested than to the sticker price. I let out a silent cheer. I’d done it! Bruce would’ve been proud.

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“Congratulations, Mrs. Karas!” the manager said. “You’ve got yourself a new car. Enjoy!”

It was the feeling that I enjoyed even more than my spiffy red sedan. A feeling of gratitude to God for giving me a husband who showed me how to speak up and stand my ground, a feeling that I could handle anything that came my way. Even the tough stuff.


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