I stepped outside. It had rained all day, and I could feel the moisture in the air.

For some reason, I’d always loved thunderstorms. They reminded me of nights from my childhood when my family would gather on the porch, blanketed by the safety of our house, watching the violent swirl of rain and lightning rip through the neighborhood from what seemed like a far distance. We were right in the thick of the chaos, but it didn’t feel like it. All 6 of us would stand together, silent, in awe of the powerful and destructive force of nature unfolding before our eyes, invoking a sense of peace and calm within each of us.

I walked into the parking lot, heading towards my car. The air smelled like rain and it brought back that same sense of peace and calm I used to have. I felt happy.

It was my second time visiting this new friend in this new town. I had parked in the same spot as last time. As I approached my parking spot, something was off. A brief moment passed that felt longer than it should have felt. I looked around, as if to second-guess the fact that I was standing here, in this spot, right now.

It was gone. Disappeared. My stomach dropped.

A thing that I had so clearly owned had vanished. My own possession, which I had worked for and paid for, which had carried me on multiple journeys across the country, which is uniquely part of my story and mine alone, had been ripped away from me.

As soon as I gained proper functioning of my senses, I concluded that one of two things had happened. Either someone had broken the window, hot wired my car and driven off, or some vulture towed it as part of his job description. I’m a big believer in not over-complicating things, so I assumed the more reasonable latter.

My fists were tightly clenched. I paced around with an air of haste. My sense of peace and calm had transformed in a matter of moments. I’d been in this situation before, so it wasn’t confusion that I felt. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I found the sign I was unconsciously looking for, and dialed the number, almost automatically.

“What kind of car is it?…Uhhh…yeah I’m pretty sure we have it…Well I dunno for sure, I haven’t seen it…They’re closed…Monday at 8:30 am………I’m in Georgia, bud…8:30 Monday…”

I felt as if I was chained to a wall. I had nothing but my words with which to fight for what was rightfully mine, and my words didn’t matter. They shattered like sugar glass against the structure that had been imposed by some faceless voice on the phone, utterly out of my reach. If I screamed, I felt as if the sound would fade to silence no more than 2 inches from my face, reaching nobody. I felt helpless.

I started walking. It was still wet. The moisture in the air felt sticky and gross.

I saw my apartment, but kept walking. I was heading for the tow company lot. Initially I didn’t realize I had made up my mind, but my quickened pace told me everything I needed to know. I was not going to let somebody impose their own structure on me. I decided to take control of the situation. I was in charge of my own freedom and I wouldn’t let anybody take that away from me.

It was a 30 minute walk to the lot, so I had some time to devise my plan.

There would probably be fences, and they would probably be locked up with a chain. I could climb over the fence no problem; I had done so many times before.

I had my snowboard and a bag of winter clothes in my car since I hadn’t fully moved into my new place yet. In that bag was a ski mask, so I could conceal my face in the likely event that I was caught on a security camera.

My license plates were attached to my old address, halfway across the country. I would be difficult to locate. The towing company was a small local company, so I assumed they didn’t have enough disposable resources to justify fighting a legal battle over a lost tow fee. I needed to register my car in my new state anyways, which I would do first thing that week. That way the license plate they had on file would no longer be valid. I was betting on the fact that pursuing me would be too much of a cost to be worth it.

I also had a set of pliers in my car, which I would use to loosen the chain. This might take some work, but it could be done. Once the chain was loosened, it was a matter of busting through the fence. I would just need to pick up enough speed. My Jeep could take the hit, no problem.

I had arrived. It was time to make the move. I jumped the fence easily and stealthily made my way to my car. I opened it up, located my ski mask, put it on, and grabbed the pliers. My heart was pounding.

I ran over to the fence. The chain was thicker than I had imagined. I worked on it. I found the weak spot and tried to pry it open. It wouldn’t budge. I kept trying. I must have been working at it for 30 minutes. I looked at my watch and less than 5 minutes had passed. I stuck with it.

After 10 minutes, I had noticeably chipped away at the metal. My hand was cramped. I switched hands and kept working.

It was dead silent. I was focused completely on the metal in front of me. I had never felt so alive. I was committed and there was no turning back now.

30 minutes later, the gap in the metal was almost as thick the chain itself. I lined up the hole with the adjacent chain link, grabbed each side firmly, and ripped it with all my strength.

It worked. The chain popped off, and all that was left was a weak fence held together by a small lock. This was doable.

I hopped back in my car. This was it. A leap of faith. I revved my engine, ready to make my move. Clutch off, gas on. I heard a metal clatter from the rocks that my rear wheels spit at the car behind mine. I was off to the races. 50 yards stood between me and my freedom. 40… 30… 10…

My foot instantly felt cold and wet. I looked down. I had just stepped in a puddle. I was a 5 minute walk from my apartment, back in lucid reality.

None of that happened. It was at this moment that I fully realized how truly free I was.

I was not chained to a wall, and my words were not meaningless. It wasn’t that I had no choice. I had every choice in the world. This was always the case. Taking my car by force would not earn back my freedom. I already had the freedom I desired.

I never had to accept the structure imposed on me from that faceless voice on the phone. I could choose to play this game in any way I wished. I could choose to wait until Monday and pay like the man on the phone had suggested, or I could choose to covertly break my car out of the lot by force. Both had subjectively unequal risks and costs, but both were equally available to me.

I glanced at the puddles in the road, and felt the soft moisture of the air on my skin. That familiar sense of calm and peace come over me once again, but this time I felt strong. I felt in control of the same situation that had me voiceless and powerless less than 15 minutes ago.

Just as I had the freedom to break my car out by force, I also had the freedom to wait until Monday and pay to get it out. I could weigh the risk and cost of either scenario, and choose the one that made the most sense for me. I didn’t have to take my freedom back by force – I just had to realize that my freedom had never been taken away.

The ideal situation was that I never got towed in the first place, but this had already happened. It wasn’t part of the game I was playing currently. The game I was playing was confined in the reality of this moment. The only set boundaries were events from the past. The future held unlimited possibilities, and I could bend those boundaries any way I want, thinking through the costs and risks, acting as freely as I pleased.

It is difficult to accept our own freedom. We play games in life all the time, but what we must remember is that everything we do, we do by choice. This does not mean we are always consciously thinking about this choice, but at one point we chose to play the certain game by certain rules. My initial frustration came about because I had decided, in the past, that it was more beneficial for me to simply wait and pay the tow fee rather than go through the trouble of breaking it out by force and assuming the potential risk of doing so.

To ignore this fact of choice is to disempower yourself and to unknowingly become a victim of a decision you, yourself, made in the past.

To accept this fact of choice is to realize that all seriousness, even the most dire, is a result of a free, playful choice to participate in a game that can be taken back at any point.