This last week, I found out that I’m a parasite. I’m failing to contribute to society by not paying my fair share of the bills. Of course the word, parasite wasn’t used but it didn’t take much to read between the lines.
I sat in class while a teacher discussed the recent presidential candidate debate. I heard how easy it is for people to declare bankruptcy and never pay their bills, thus increasing the bills of those working. I’ve had to declare bankruptcy. It’s a shame I carry but there were no other sane alternatives. I work but can’t earn enough to get out of the incredible hole circumstances have thrown me in. I heard how no hospital will turn someone away if they can’t pay and how he and others like him have to pay the bills for us.
Not every hospital will accept the indigent, the uninsured. I can’t even afford the low-income clinic now. They increased their payments to $40. Lab tests are additional. In an emergency, I would have to throw myself at the mercy of the hospital. If I am treated, I will be billed, a sum that is way beyond my ability to pay. When I don’t pay it goes to collections and I will have the joy of being called repeatedly about the past due bill. I’ve had some collectors call every 20 minutes. Illegal, probably, but how do I, a poor women with almost no means, press charges, or even find an attorney to take a case that would only pay peanuts if won? I’ve learned not to answer the phone.
Here’s why. If you offer to pay less than the collector wants, it will be refused. In the past, many collectors would take small payments. $10, $20, $25. I’ve had collectors tell me that they I must pay half of what’s past due or to have it paid in full. They would rather accept nothing than “not enough.” “Not enough” is all I have.
If I were to address this teacher, this is what I’d say:
Dear Teacher: I work. I actually work two jobs. I have no health insurance. I have no safety net. The world seems to have slipped off its axis and I find myself on the bottom of the food chain despite an education, despite work experience. I am not a deadbeat but in your mind, I’ve been tried and convicted of being one. You have no idea what my life is like or the insanity I face each day. You blame me for my problems so you don’t have to feel any obligation to work toward improving the system for dead beats like me. You judge me. You recite “facts” that aren’t true. There are so many exceptions and they exist right beneath your nose. Not only am I invisible, I am useless.
Over the years, as we’ve fallen in income, as we’ve assumed a place well below the federal poverty level, I have listened to others, what they say and what they don’t say. Here are some of the things I’ve learned.
1.) Some of the people who worry the most about money have steady jobs that pay well and have good benefits. They worry about not having enough for vacation or a newer car. In their minds, they can never have enough.
2.) People fill their lives with problems. Apparently, it seems a lot easier than filling their lives with joy. (I personally know a whole lot about this.)
3.) Compassion doesn’t require an education. It requires an open heart.
4.) People often like to blame you for your own situation so they can avoid feeling any obligation to help, even if that support is only psychological or emotional.
5.) None of us will take a dime with us when we die. Rich or poor, dead is dead.
The weight of the world wants to press down on my shoulders this morning. My son is not coping well. He threatens to kill himself and bangs his head on the wall. My husband has had his spirit broken by the last seven years. While it is tempting to ignore the vows I took, I can’t erase a promise. I am a woman of my word. Being a women of my word doesn’t mean that I’ll always have the money to maintain my financial obligations. I am a link in a much bigger chain. If the other links don’t keep their commitments, my ability to keep some of my commitments is severely challenged. This chain is only as strong as its weakest link and the weakest link isn’t me.
My daughter has a 0 in one of her Spanish assignments because she hasn’t paid the class fee. This is public education at its finest, this and the diatribes of teachers who find it necessary to let their views on the evils in society infect their teaching. . I’ve sent e-mails regarding our difficulties coming up with enough to pay this fee which has a grade attached to it. My husband has called and left messages that have gone unreturned. Hopefully, a teacher won’t tell her that her parents are dead beats. Being poor isn’t easy. Being ignored makes it ever harder. I get ignored a lot.
The poor have faces. They have stories. I have a face. I have a story. I am not a deadbeat.
Yes, sometimes the choices the poor make contribute to the problem. Still, I strongly assert that those with dependable income don’t have any idea how trying life can be. You get home from work and are told that you’ll lose your power if you don’t pay the $365 past due. You call every agency in town but they are all out of funds. You have $100 in your bank account and it must last for 3 weeks. Then you’ll get paid for 3 weeks instead of 4 because your employer decided to change the pay cycle to make it easier for them. The stress of never having enough starts to chip away at your health. Of course that’s your fault too. You shouldn’t eat so much junk food. The poor are fat, ignorant and the source of most of their own problems. Convenient belief isn’t it? You don’t have to feel obligated to take care of their health care because their health is their problem. It really isn’t. It is every ones problem, especially, the teacher who complains about how he has to foot the bill for the poor or just plain lazy.
Yet, I’ve been guilty of judging. I still judge when I see poor folks light up dollars in the form of cigarettes or drink down relief from an opaque bottle. I’m not proud of my prejudices and biases. I find comfort in the cupcake, buttery popcorn, a dish of ice cream. Those other poor people probably have more money than I. The smelly guy at the intersection begging for change might be rich in comparison. How do they view me? Am I the real deadbeat, the poster woman for food stamps?
I am not a deadbeat, but I’ve been called one.
A lot of the things that have happened over the last decade that have been beyond my control. Bad things do happen to good people. Getting up each morning, pasting a smile on and getting through my day takes courage, real guts. I’m proud of how well I manage.
I chose to believe that no matter how dark things get, no matter how challenging life is, no matter how many friends and family members fade into the background, I do not walk alone. My intrinsic value is a done deal. Life, fate, Karma, God isn’t finished with me yet. I have a lot to learn. Dead beat. It will never describe the amazing person I have become. In your face, teacher! Maybe some day your life will be as rich with lessons and experience as mine is.