Thursday, April 2, 2009

Portrait: Attleboro, Massachusetts

I saw a strange man walking up the street Sunday morning. I had already been to Church and back. I was waiting for my boyfriend to call me to breakfast. I heard the strange man before I actually saw him. He was yelling at someone…someone I could not see.

I felt a chill run up my back. I saw my arms break out in goose flesh. This was a big man with very long legs. He was very animated, furiously ranting and waving his arms in the air. He was scary.

He did not belong on my street. We don’t have crazy, yelling men walking on my street. I had never seen him before. He was walking on the ‘wrong’ side. We have no sidewalks and the road twists and turns and cars often drive way too fast on this street. He was actually at risk while he was yelling at his ghost.

Why was he walking on my street? Then it dawned on me. This is a sign of the “economic downturn.” I’m sure he shouldn’t have been out without supervision and at one time he probably would not have been out without supervision. But there are budget cuts everywhere and in my small city there is a hospital that takes care of people like this. My thought is that he came from there, unsupervised, uncared for.

And then two days later, after work, I was driving down my street to go to an afternoon appointment with my doctor. I saw another strange man. He was also tall, with long legs but he was younger. He was walking down the street, with a big long stick in one hand. His jeans were ripped and dirty (not in the stylish way). His hands looked dirty also. He was using the stick to pick out cans from the weeds and the woods. I drove slowly by, watching him scratch the back of his head while he carefully examined a can he dragged out of the long weeds and grass.

And I thought…this is too close to home. This is scary. This is really happening to us.

I am living paycheck to paycheck. I have started a savings plan, and I am praying that it works. I watched my retirement funds plummet while I kept getting my “financial advisor’s” voicemail. I cry when I think about the fact that I will be the Wal-Mart greeter long after age 62, 65 or even 70. Wal-Mart sucks, but it will serve one purpose for me. I will be the greeter, and I will use the discount they offer. Hopefully that will keep me from eating dog food in my golden years.

Last year, in 2008, my 29 year-old, late-to-launch son had surgery on his neck. He is an apprentice in an electrician’s union. He has medical insurance. However, he does not get paid when he doesn’t work. He moved home two weeks before his surgery.

His surgery was done in early February. He returned to work late in the month of November.

I kept up with his car payments. I paid his insurance. I paid his union dues. I gave him money for gas. I gave him money to spend on his girl. I was generous and it was hard, but you do for family, right?

In the summer his girl rented a cottage. He was able to drive by then and he wanted to help her, I know he did. He stole money from me. It was around $600 maybe a little more. That was money I planned on using for my vacation later in the summer.

I forgave him. He went back to work. He borrowed money to buy his girl some presents for Christmas.

He did some jobs around the house for me.

He still lives with me. He still borrows money. He is back at work. Last month his transmission died. I paid $1500 to have it fixed.

A week later he borrowed $500 for court costs (long story).

I asked him to build me some shelves in the closet. The job is sitting there, half done. Everything that was in this closet is out of the closet, on the floor, on a desk, piled on a bureau. He started this project 2 weeks ago.

This is strange to me. We have always been close. He knows he is hurting me. He hears me talk about my savings being wiped out, working at Wal-Mart. He seems like a sociopath to me lately. He doesn’t care. I think the “economic downturn” has burnt a hole in his soul. And it is now burning a hole in my heart. In reality, I know he suffers from depression and I know that he knows he is behaving in a very distasteful manner. I love him, but he needs to fix himself. I am very close to asking him to leave.

I want to get married. But I can’t afford to get married. It is important to us to get married in the Church. But that costs money. So we sit in the rear pew every Sunday, knowing we are sinners in the eyes of God and everyone else around us. And we faithfully pray for a break and to retain our good health, and we faithfully pray for my son and my daughter, and all his family and my family. And we dutifully put our envelope in the collection basket. But we can’t get married. Another year. Maybe next year.

I was divorced about 6 years ago and bought the house from my ex. He falsely elevated the value of the house, costing me an extra 30K, but I bought it anyway, rather than give it to the lawyer to fight about it, and figured that I couldn’t lose if I put the sweat equity into it.

I cleaned up the credit card debt HE created. That was to the tune of $25K. I managed to get about $60K into investments. That’s almost gone now of course, because of the “economic downturn.” My ex bought a house, a hot tub, a new motorcycle and managed to give his male lover Burberry purses and manicures.

But, no one ever said life would be fair. I honestly can say, it didn’t take me long to stop thinking about him and move on, even if we had been married over 25 years.

I began to feel excited about life again. The divorce had been good for me!

I painted the old house myself. I put the sweat equity in. I even got stuck on the roof once for several hours until someone came home because I am so terrified of heights. I painted the outside, painted the inside, put in new carpets and floor, new windows, and renovated the kitchen and bath. I did this one project at a time. I used 0% interest deals over and over. Paid off one, and then started a new one. I did a lot of work myself. I am proud to say, I carry no credit card debt even today! The value of the house increased dramatically.

But I’m afraid the value of the house did not weather the storm of the “economic downturn.” It’s not even close to what it was a few short years ago. Fortunately, I can pay the mortgage and the bills. I am not behind, but I am no where near close to being ahead. Occasionally I have to ‘kite’ a check. But that’s only when my son has hit me up hard.

I lay awake at night constantly running numbers in my head. I am living paycheck to paycheck. I have cut back on groceries, on the heat, on the AC. I started coloring my own hair when I got divorced. Now I cut it myself. (At times you can really tell, but for the most part you can’t). I haven’t really bought any new clothes in a while. I will not need new shoes until the autumn. I might ask for them for my birthday in August. If anyone is giving gifts, that is.

I lay awake at night and think about what’s in the attic that I could sell on eBay or Craigslist. I am making myself sick.

I have some meager life insurance. But I really wanted to leave the house to my kids, figuring that would be worth something. I wanted to give them something that would help them in life. I thought the value of the house would do that. I wanted them to smile and think of me because I could help them financially after I was gone. I cry because now I see that leaving them the house is going to be a burden, rather than a gift.

Tonight I have to speak with my son. I have to tell him I can’t pay for his school books anymore and I can’t pay his union dues. I can’t loan him money, and I can’t even abide to use the word loan anymore.

And he will get pissed off and not talk to me for a while. But he will still come home at night, go downstairs without saying a word and come up later when I am sleeping to eat food.

He might finish the closet in another week or so.

The strange men I have seen walking on my street? I sometimes think I have imagined them. They are visions of my son. These men are my 30-year-old, failed-to-launch son when I simply can’t support him anymore.

For me, the “economic downturn” is the equivalent of gnawing fear.

Attleboro, Massachusetts