On fear and sadness

My parents are mad at me. At least I think that they're mad at me. Earlier today I thought that I was mad at them, too, but I'm not. What I am is sad. I feel like I've lost something that I'm not sure I ever really had. Until I met my wife's parents I was absolutely certain that I had a healthy relationship with my parents. Now that I know that isn't so I mourn the loss of something I'd managed to convince myself I had.

To be fair, I suppose I'm not a very good son. I'm not a very good son for my parents at any rate. I don't fit in. My father worked on an assembly line for over 30 years. He only retired when he did to ensure that he could keep his and my mother's health insurance. To keep busy, he now works third shift stocking shelves for a Wal*Mart. My mother grooms dogs, and my younger brother floats from job to job. He currently works at the same Wal*Mart as my father. I, on the other hand, moved away from northern Illinois to sunny California where I write cryptic notes that allow machines as old as I am to help soldiers speak to one another on the battlefield.

My younger brother played football and was on the wrestling team throughout high school. I sang in the choir and acted in plays and musicals. My parents attended both types of events and supported both of us in whatever we chose to do, but it was crystal clear whose events were better regarded.

Ultimately, I think what created this rift was my independence. I paid my own tuition to Illinois State University where I earned a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science in only four years (the average was five). I also managed to scrape together enough money to pay my own rent and utilities. A car was beyond my grasp, but most things were accessible via foot or bus. After college, I got married to the woman of my dreams. This didn't help matters any. My wife and my parents don't see eye to eye on many things.

My brother is my polar opposite. He has a high school diploma, lives at home, can't be tied down to one girl, and drives one of my parents cars. How I fit into this family, I fear, I will never know.

Things continued. I didn't understand them. They didn't understand me. In their defense, I don't call home much. In my defense, they don't call me much either. Communication is one of those things that requires two people. Then Christmas happened. This requires some explanation. My wife and I knew that we couldn't make it back to Illinois for the holidays. She works retail. Retail workers don't ordinarily get Christmas off. Them's the breaks. So it was going to be a Christmas in California. Not what I wanted, but life's like that. We got our shopping done and shipped our gifts to their recipients, feeling good that even though we couldn't be there our love would be at the party. We also decided to use the money that would have gone to airplane tickets on a big-screen rear-projection HDTV.

Christmas came, and my wife and I both called our respective parents. It seemed nice that we each had loved ones to talk to at the same time. While on the phone with my mother, she asked what I thought of the comforter she had given us. To be honest, I was confused by it; she had watched Jenny open a comforter at a wedding shower not four months before. I thanked her for the gifts (she also sent a sheet set) and we agreed that it was the thought that mattered. Little did I know this only applied to gifts that I received, not gifts that I gave.

As near as I can tell, these are the reasons my mother is angry with me:

  • She didn't like her gifts: a labrador puzzle (she loves labradors) to make with my father, and a red sweatshirt (her favorite color, and northern Illinois is cold).
  • I didn't call on New Year's Eve (is that a holiday where people call one another?).
  • My mother liked my aunt's gift more than her own.
  • We bought the HDTV instead of coming home (remember, my wife would have been fired had we gone).
  • I didn't call to let them know I got a job.

Now, the reason that I didn't call to let them know about the job is that every time I think I've done something wonderful and am all excited about it, I hear about how I'm doing it all wrong and I should really be doing this, that, and the other thing. It's gotten to the point where I'm actually afraid to share good news with them. Coincedentally, it's for this very reason that I also hadn't told them that Jenny and I adopted a cat from the Humane Society. It was bound to be a problem for her that the new cat has claws and the old cat does not. When I told her today, my intuition was right. She was speechless and said she feared for Brutus's (the declawed cat) life. As I type this, the two cats are huddled together on the comforter of a queen bed. When they do roughhouse, Brutus is always the clear victor, and I've never been scratched by Cassius (the clawed cat).

As far as I can tell, my father is mad at me for only two reasons:

  • I didn't call to let them know I got a job.
  • I used the word 'terse' in an email.

Apparently, my father didn't know what 'terse' meant. In his mind, I chose the word to make him feel stupid. In reality, I thought everybody knew what 'terse' meant, and it was the word that best conveyed my intended meaning.

So here I am, six hours after we spoke on the phone, and I'm still not sure why they are the ones that get to be angry. I'm not certain what I've done to them, and I don't know if things will ever be right again.

The only thing I am certain of is that I miss my parents, and I hope that they come back soon.

UPDATE: The catbox topic just changed to "That's what family is, our hearts break, but we love you." I think this might be a sign of some sort.

Chris and I finally figured it out! We are going to make a huge picture out of all of the car air fresheners we are collecting. I've got a few from people on the net. Sick Boy sent me one from Oregon. If you are interested, check out my home node.

Other than that, not much been goin' on. I got laid off at Kmart. I knew that it wouldn't last, they just used me for the holiday season. But I guess all I can do is continue with college, and hope to be able to buy and sell their sorry asses one day.

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.

US Figure Skating Championships

Saturday, January 14, 2006
Savvis Center
St. Louis, Missouri

OK I did go back Saturday and I sure am glad that I did. This was it, the senior women's long program. All the skaters that skated Thursday night were back except for Amy Evidente who for some unknonwn reason had withdrawn.

This time not only was my wife in tow, but my son, too.

I wish I had a lot of time to go into as much detail as I did several days ago, but I don't. So, real quick, here's a list of the hilights.

  • Very exciting skating. Stephanie Rosenthal stole the show as far as I'm concerned with a flawless performance. She was royally screwed, asked to bend right over for the great Sasha Cohen (who almost feel twice). Maybe her program was harder. Still doesn't explain why Rosenthal's flawless performance ended up so low on the totem pole when all was said and done, ranking behind other skaters who fell once or even twice. I'm going to try to find a way to email her or something to tell her I thought she should have ranked higher.
  • Emily Hughes, my favorite from Thursday night, was also great even though she fell once. I thought she should've taken second, not Kimberly Meissner, who fell twice. Looks like Emily will the the odd man(er, girl) out when Queen Michelle Kwan gets in the Olympics.
  • My son actually behaved himself most of the time, except when he threw a nacho (a cheesy one) into the hair of the gentleman in front of us.
  • During a special ceremony, all the former US Olympic Gold Medalists from figure skating past, including Peggy Flemming and Scott Hamilton and Sarah Hughes, came out onto the ice. No, they didn't skate, mostly waved. But it's pretty darn nifty that I can now say that I was in the same building as all of them.
  • One of the skaters, Megan Williams-Stewart came and sat in our row once she was done! That was kinda cool. (We, and all other media people, were in a special section.)
  • Even cooler than that was when Scott Hamilton, after that ceremony, came and sat a row in front of us! I got a good picture of him there.
  • Even cooler than that was when I went down to the media work room (using my ultra cool media pass again) after the womens' skating was done and Scott Hamilton was standing right there near the gangway! I asked if he could smile for a picture and he graciously obliged. Later he was actually inside the work room just hanging out, watching the football playoff game. I got a pic of him there, too. There he was, a Regular Guy, enjoying a football game, world-famous Scott Hamilton, and I was a few feet from him. My first real brush with celebrity!
  • Being there for the first several minutes of the press conference with Sasha, Emily, and Kimberly was pretty neat. I got some good pictures and video.
  • Brian Boitano. Whenever he came out for that ceremony, I couldn't help but think of South Park and that "What would Brian Boitano do?" song.

Overall, it was an experience of a lifetime. Hopefully there are bigger things than that in my future but for now that'll do. I was fortunate to have been a part of the whole championships this year, even though I was a very small part. Even though I wasn't really all that important, hobknobbing with important people made me feel like I was for a brief period of time.

Oh and that Sasha Cohen, she was good and graceful, except where she almost fell, but her scoring so much higher than everybody else and then bowing to each section of the arena after her skate and staying out there way longer than all the other skaters, she can kiss it. All the judges decided she was going to the Olympics even before she took the ice. It's rigged, just so you all know. Take it from somebody who was actually there, watching it with their own eyes, not influenced by the TV commentators and what they were saying during all the performances.

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