Monday, July 6, 2009

Affording It

I've had this subject sitting in the queue in my drafts folder for a while. I haven't addressed it because we've been broke. So broke I couldn't think about it without getting a knot in my stomach. We've been fighting a lot, sometimes about money, but usually about other things that don't really matter because fighting about money is fruitless when you don't have any. With all the pain and stress that not having money was causing, I was having a hard time writing about it. It felt like dwelling on the negative. We've had to borrow, beg and scrimp to survive for the past year, and the past few months in particular. A month ago, we got a bag of groceries from the Salvation Army. There's nothing wrong with charity food. My parents have been helping out a lot, and if not for a very lenient landlord, we'd be in real trouble.

I don't have a bank account, so we've been cashing my checks at Walmart or the local rob-you-blind check cashing place. We finally just got around to setting up my direct deposit to a prepaid credit card, so having cash wasn't totally dependent on my ability to leave the house. As my ever-resourceful boyfriend was calling ssd to set it up, I reminded him that I suspected my financial information was incorrect and that they had to be paying me too little. I mean, I know disability checks aren't usually spent of caviar and sports cars, but I really can't afford more than ramen and a bus pass. So, he updated their information and they said that they would pay me retroactively as soon as they determined the amount due. Now, last time they said that, it took six months, a hundred thousand phone calls (roughly), three tearful visits to the local office and one really expensive parking ticket to get half of what they owed me. So, I wasn't expecting anything, anytime soon.

Two days later, the so-responsible boyfriend made a phone call to pay a bill. The card was declined. There was a hold on the account. We really needed to pay that bill, so he immediately called the credit card company to find out what happened. They report an exorbitant deposit from the US Treasury Office. It is so ginormous that they freaked that it couldn't be real and refused to release any money on the card until we provided proof. The amount is surrealistically huge. I know it would be easier to just say the amount, instead of coming up with creative adjectives, but that feels crass, somehow (and, I like creative adjectives).

Anyway, upon hearing this gargantuan dollar amount, we just stared at each other, as if each expected the other to laugh and say it was a joke. It couldn't be right. They would take it away, it was a mistake, someone was getting fired for sure over this one, har har har. Then, I cried. I couldn't believe it was true. I didn't believe it until the also-skeptical boyfriend talked to three different SS workers, one in person, and brought home a piece of paper that confirmed it, in detail. They cut me a check big enough to cover all of our bills and get us back to comfortable.

I suspect being painfully poor is somewhat like childbirth. It's so traumatic that you have to kind of forget how hard it was, to go on and still be a normal person. You'd never spend money again if you really remembered. I still get anxious when I think about it. The constant stress, worrying about having enough food, enough gas, counting down the days until the next check, eating the same meal for a week and turning down every invitation because we just couldn't afford it. We couldn't afford anything. Several months behind in rent, utility and phone payments, lacking in car registration and insurance, and so tired of chili and ramen, if we didn't have a few friends and family to mooch off of in our desperate time of need, we would have been homeless and hungry. We're very lucky.

This sudden fortune has released a lot of emotions. I'm thrilled, of course. But I'm also so frustrated at how hard we had to struggle to make our lives non-miserable for so long. I'm elated that we can pay our bills and stop driving with one eye on the rear-view, scanning for cops. (I'll still check it occasionally, though.) And I'm still a little terrified that somehow it's all going to get taken away again and we'll go back to destitute.

I don't believe in karma, but I do want to balance the scales, so to speak. I donated back to the Salvation Army. We've made sure to pay back everyone who loaned us money, in full. And our first purchases are all things that will contribute to our health and happiness. (A treadmill! A new phone! Car insurance!)

We can breathe again.


WinnyNinny PooPoo said...

I am glad you got some financial relief!! I wonder why the clerkly powers that be take so long to grind their wheels??? Sending good vibes your way....

Header said...

What an amazing story to share. And you shared it well. Congratulations! :)