jclast wrote about fear and sadness. I will write only of fear. Not petrifying, "fight-or-flight" fear, but the insidious day-to-day fear that can creep in to anybody's life. Phobias, anxiety, paranoia -- that little background hum in our lives, present in every person to varying degrees.
I will write of my fear, and how it ties into money.
Tomorrow night is a big night. Tomorrow night is when I meet with a lady I have never met before, sit down with a dossier of my debts, budget, and paystubs, and learn what it will take for me to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy under the laws of the United States of America. Since that time between 2001 and 2002 that I was unemployed for a year, I have struggled to pick up the pieces of what started out to be a very promising future. I used savings and unemployment compensation to pay the bills and the mortgage during that time, but day-to-day expenses -- food, gasoline, clothing -- had to go on credit. Yeah, I wasn't perfect; we overspent here and there, and held onto some bills we should've cancelled. But the majority of that debt was built up out of necessity. I could have sold the house, and in retrospect that would've been the best choice: bite the bullet, live with my parents again for a while. But I had just purchased it. To turn around and sell immediately seemed like a huge admission of defeat. Instead, my credit was essentially maxed out in my attempt to hold onto my house.
My wife and I have gotten by for the past three years, paying a bit more than the minimums on the debt each month, making sure some principal was paid down so we weren't stuck with interest payments for the rest of our lives. A major plumbing disaster hit early on: $5,000 to fix it. Then there were hospital bills to contend with (thank goodness insurance paid 95% of it, but that still left a significant balance). And yet, still we were getting by, and paying down that debt at a modest pace.
Then our beloved government stepped in, and working for the good of the people, made sure we wouldn't be stuck in debt forever by increasing the required minimum payments on cards. Gee golly whiz, thanks for looking out for my well-being, guys. I can surely see why Republicans are the party of small government, yep.
The new minimums have crushed me. I was paying about 0.5 percent above the minimums before, which isn't exactly ideal, but not awful either. Plus, previously I could just pay minimums on lower-rate balances, while paying more toward higher-rate ones. But not anymore. The amount I was required to pay monthly more than doubled thanks to the new law, despite the fact that I was making every effort to responsibly pay those balances down. I simply can't pay that much per month. The math doesn't work; even if I were to cancel every luxury we have, I couldn't keep our house and pay those balances at the same time. Not if we wanted to, you know, eat.
Well, the joke's on them now. They've pushed me into the only resort I have left: Chapter 13. It shouldn't really be called "bankruptcy", really -- that description better fits Chapter 7, when you have to sell all of your assets to pay as much of your debts as possible, and then any remaining debts are discharged. No, in chapter 13 you set up an interest-free repayment schedule to pay off all (or occasionally some) of what you owe. You aren't forced to sell anything, and you don't lose your house. It still leaves that ugly black mark on your credit report, but the only other option is missed payments, balances in default, possible repossessions or foreclosures; it makes bankruptcy seem downright palatable.
There is, I admit, a certain black pleasure associated with this process, in that the usury and greed of the credit card industry will result in them losing literally thousands of dollars in interest they would've milked from me, had they not pushed for the new law. I imagine it's the same for a lot of other middle-class families in my situation. Do not be the least bit surprised if, sometime this year, you learn that personal bankruptcies have tripled or quadrupled this year thanks to the government "looking out for us". Credit counselors were saying this from the get-go, and it looks like I may be added to that statistic now.
There is a certain furious, sadistic shard of me buried deep within my id that would giggle with glee if the credit industry managed to utterly destroy this country as we know it -- if they plunged us into a depression so severe that it led to an armed revolution. Have you ever honestly wanted to torture somebody? I mean serious, physical torture, the kind that wholeheartedly violates the Geneva Convention? This gives you an inkling of what I feel toward anybody, in any way, responsible for helping push through the law that pushed me over the cliff. Anybody who says that ethics and morals cannot exist without a belief in God had better be glad that they're wrong, because sometimes I feel that's all that is stopping me.
But I said I would write about fear, not rage, and so I shall. The fear has built up over time, and I don't know what to call it. Fear of information. Fear of the world. Fear of... communication? My wife has to get the mail because I'm afraid of more bad news being in there. Sorting through it -- hell, even the thought of sorting through it, like now -- causes my heart to race and my blood pressure to rise. I cannot balance the checkbook anymore simply because I can't look at it. I keep track of monthly expenses on a big board but even that requires incredible willpower. I have late bills for no reason other than that it takes me that much courage to open each one and pay it.
After my dad died this March, things got worse. Thank goodness for Caller ID or I would never answer the phone. Unrecognized numbers go to voice mail, and then I can't check that. It has recently even become difficult to check my personal email. Every letter, every call, every time I see the "new mail" indicator on my system I expect the worst, and I have grown to avoid it utterly. On weekends, I struggle to sleep less than twelve hours a night. On weekends I rarely get more than six hours; I don't want to go to sleep and begin another day. My idea of paradise is a sensory deprivation chamber, and my bed is the closest approximation I have.
Tonight I must assemble that dossier to take to the attorney tomorrow, and it terrifies me. It forces me to face things that loom like a cliff face in front of me. It's funny, my body has learned to react in the oddest ways -- I find myself feeling sleepy, a defense mechanism against this phobia. It says, "No, help, let me go back to my sanctuary and pull the comforter over my head and ignore the world."
I don't have that luxury, but right now I would give anything to be a kid, hiding under those blankets again... keeping the monsters at bay.