Full of Venom and Rage

broken now

Poor people are incredibly tired. It certainly requires a lot of work and causes great fatigue to work any full-time job, but being poor and trying to get help is like a full-time job and honey, it’s exhausting. It’s MENTAL exhaustion as well as physical. I claimed unemployment wrong one week back when I was receiving it, and the company I was temping for reported income on a different week than I did. It’s just a mix up, and I did report the income, but later on. So, it wasn’t deemed to be “fraudulent” but has taken weeks to clear up, and the resultant outcome is they want me to pay back the whole week of unemployment they paid me back then, which is a lot of money. I’m fine with this, theoretically. Though I claimed the work in another week, there was yet another week where they paid me back pay that had been waiting for release even though I claimed other work, and to try to go back now that the claim is over and fix this problem would be a compete nightmare. They overpaid me, now I owe them the money, fine.

I called them and said, look, I am working like 12 hours a month right now, I can’t pay you. Like I want to, but I can’t. “Oh, you can pay it off a little at a time,” they said. “But I can’t pay it at ALL. I’m in the middle of communications with my ex about how I can’t buy my kid ANY new school shoes this year, and no, I can’t pay for half. He also needs a haircut. Every time the kid needs a haircut, I suggest to my kid that he ask his dad to take him but then he comes back to me the next week, his hair longer than ever. We’re supposed to split expenses related to the kid, but it gets hairy (ha ha) when it comes to things like clothes and shoes and haircuts because we buy our own clothes for him at our own places, and don’t really share, though obviously stuff goes back and forth. We split the package of school supply expenses, but stuff like haircuts invariably fall to me again and again, because I am the “non-fun” parent and going and getting a haircut isn’t a fun activity like going bowling or whatever. I have been fine with that for a while but I can’t afford it anymore, so I had to expressly ask, when I am out of state next week will you PLEASE take the kid for a haircut before school starts, and I cannot pay half and I’m really sorry, but please do it. I’ve asked him before to take care of it and then when it’s trade day he says he just “didn’t get to it” so hopefully it will happen this time.

So yeah, I don’t have hundreds of dollars to send back to unemployment. I offered to pay them a dollar a month and they said that’s fine, but after “a certain amount of time” (they didn’t say how long), the claim will be turned over to the Ohio attorney general’s office so they can collect it. I asked if this would negatively affect my credit and they said no, it’s just after so many days, it goes to the AGs office, you can still take as long as you want to pay it off, but they are going to go after you for the money. This is a little disturbing.

So I wrote a letter to Mike DeWine asking for help and faxed it to his office and some dude from there called me a couple hours later. He said, we don’t have your claim here so I can’t help you. I said yes I know you don’t have it NOW, I’m trying to be proactive here. I am an Ohioan, he’s my state AG, this is obviously going to be forwarded to your office sooner or later and I’m trying to get ahead of it to avoid getting into trouble for non-payment. He said call us back when you get notice that it’s gone over there, and we can discuss it then. No idea what or if anything can be done about it, but that’s where I am. Writing the letter, tracking down the fax, the convo, that’s a couple of hours, easy.

I also realized I am now eligible for county childcare assistance. My kid participates in the before and after school program at school and it’s important we keep him in that. First off, every other week he’s with his dad so he needs the program for before/after care. But secondly and most importantly, if I *do* somehow get a job at any time during the school year, if he isn’t enrolled up front, he might not be able to get in because the program does max out and then we’d be screwed. There’s literally no other program in our area that starts as early and goes as late as the school’s extended care program. So I went ahead and enrolled him a couple months ago as I keep thinking ONE OF THESE DAYS I WILL HAVE A JOB AGAIN, AND WILL BE OUT OF THIS HELLHOLE I’M IN, but it hasn’t happened yet and school starts next week. So I go poking around on the web trying to find out about childcare assistance because NOBODY TELLS YOU A FUCKING THING, you have to figure out for yourself what you can get and how to get it.

I find information about the program and read the requirements and I’m eligible for sure, but I can’t figure out how to apply. You can apply for food and health care assistance online, but I don’t see anywhere for the childcare application. I find a PDF you can fill in so I spend 2 hours filling out the 10 page application and gathering up the other pages of stuff I have to submit with it and go to print it out and my printer isn’t working. I spend 90 minutes troubleshooting the printer and turning stuff off and on again and finally uninstall it and reinstall it and then it’s working. I run out of ink partway through, so I have to go down to Target and charge a new thing of ink. Except I won’t be able to do that much longer because Target has apparently gotten wind of my financial situation and is sending me notices demanding a “credit review.” MY ACCOUNT IS CURRENT AND PAID ON TIME. I have never missed a fucking payment and kept the card completely paid off in full every month up until early last month when my unemployment ran out. Now it’s carrying a large balance and all of a sudden they don’t like me anymore. The credit review will result in the available balance being cut off to something less than the current balance I carry, immediately a) causing my credit report to become worse, as my debt-to-income ratio shrinks further b) causing me fines because I am over the limit on the card and c) causing them to cancel the card because of item B. How do I know? BECAUSE THIS HAS HAPPENED WITH ALL THE CREDIT CARDS I’VE HELD OVER THE PAST YEAR. This is one of the last ones, and once they take Target away, I’m fucked. Anyway so I get new ink, print out the application, and look all over the website for a fax number. It says on the site you can fill out the application online, or you can mail it in. But it’s a big thick packet of papers and I don’t have an envelope that would hold them, and then I’d have to go buy an envelope just to fucking mail in something begging for help. I’m just tired of being nickel and dimed to death when I really need the few nickels and dimes I have. So I call the agency and get a guy on the phone and he’s like, you can’t fax it in, you can only fax changes to an existing application. I say can I do it by phone, as it says on the site you can apply via phone. He says no actually all we do is fill out the application with you on the phone THEN WE MAIL IT TO YOU SO YOU CAN REVIEW IT AND SIGN IT, THEN YOU HAVE TO MAIL IT BACK. I’m exasperated at this point and he says well you CAN apply online and I say no you can’t. He’s like go to such and such I’m like yeah I’m at that page, it’s just an interactive PDF form, YOU CAN’T ACTUALLY SUBMIT THE FORM, it says when you’re done to print it out and mail it in. He’s like huh, I thought they fixed that, they told us that was fixed and we could tell people they could do it online and I’m like WELL IT ISN’T FIXED SO HOW ABOUT ANOTHER SOLUTION FOR THOSE OF US NOT STOCKED UP LIKE OFFICE MAX AT HOME WITH UNLIMITED ENVELOPES OF ALL SIZES AND LOTS OF POSTAGE FOR MAILING BIG PACKAGES. He says you can go to the nearest office and that there’s a “kiosk” you can drop the application off at.

So after I got up from the nap I had to take since I was up at 4:30am today wondering how to pay back the unemployment office and I was tired all morning I couldn’t function, I drove down to the office and went in and it’s like the 7th circle of hell. Some woman was coming out and talking to me in Spanish and showing me her number, like a number you pull at a deli. 68, her number, and I’m like oh, so we have to go pull a number? Like I have no idea what she’s saying. I go in and fail the metal detector twice because I have my car key in my pocket and keep forgetting, because I’m depressed and exhausted. Finally I go in and I have no clue where to go. There is a big line on one side with these self-service kiosks but I see nowhere to insert any forms there and I already have my application done. I see a bunch of teller windows like in a bank and assume that’s for the people who take a number, and there are like 100 people waiting in chairs and then another window that says “child services” or something so I go over there hoping to talk to someone and ask where the fuck I can drop this thing off at. But nobody is working at the window, you’re supposed to sign in and there are two pages of sign in people in front of me. I don’t want to sign in. I want to drop off the fucking paperwork. The people behind me are impatient as they want to sign in and I walk around the whole room looking for some obvious place to drop this application but there isn’t one, and you can REALLY SEE HOW PEOPLE COMPLETELY FUCKING LOSE IT because I am RIGHT THERE on the edge of my sanity.

I finally go back over to the security station and ask them, and they point out to the front doors. There is a small black mailbox there and THAT’S where you can put applications. A MAILBOX IS NOT A KIOSK. But you have to fill out the envelope on the front to put it in, and they want your case worker’s number. I have no idea what my case worker’s number is and I don’t have a pen. I go back in and the security guards don’t have pens so back out to my car, where I always have a pen, then back in, and I put my name on the envelope, put my application in, sealed it and dropped it in. Probably they’ll throw it out because I don’t have the case worker’s name on it. Probably nobody will do anything about it because that seems to be SOP with the county. When they checked on my Medicaid last week the woman said, “Well it seems like your application is just sitting there but nobody is doing anything about it.” THIS IS MY LIFE. THIS IS MY FUCKING LIFE. Hours and hours of my days are devoted to crap like this.

If I EVER hear one person say something about poor people being fucking lazy I will be going to jail for assault. WE ARE NOT LAZY. WE ARE EXHAUSTED.

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We Carry On Our Backs The Burden

aldi

So now that unemployment benefits have completely ended, I reapplied for aid and was granted food stamps, which are not “stamps” anymore, like when I was little. I remember great, great shame grocery shopping with my mother with those booklets, which were sort of like the food coupon booklets I had a few years later in college. State law required you to not tear them out in advance. I guess to prevent fraud or something, so you HAD to wait until you were at the register and the cashier was watching, AND SO WERE ALL THE PEOPLE BEHIND YOU AND AROUND YOU, while you stood there holding up the line, tearing out this little denomination, then that one, then another. It was excruciating.

There were steps I took to avoid this scene, that I knew I could take because I was a juvenile, and I could only get into a limited amount of trouble if I was caught. I’m not proud of those days, but I did what I had to and I don’t care what anyone thinks about it.

So I got my card and they told me how much I’d be getting each month. It works just like a debit card, you just swipe it and punch in a PIN and it deducts from your balance, and then reloads with your allotted amount every month. I worked out how much a budget would be that I could spend as a max each week and stay on track. Supplementing with all the trips I make to various food pantries, we can survive on this. I have much more to say about food pantries, but that will be in another avenue.

Anyway, so I agonize about buying every single thing these days because I have very few real dollars and have to carefully budget the EBT dollars. I generally grocery shop once a week. It’s different shopping the weeks when I have the kid vs. when I don’t. I’m not as picky and can make do with less. Cabbage, beans, some bacon for flavor, whatever produce I get at the pantry, some boxed mac and cheese or a grilled cheese for more filling needs. But I sweat and calculate and try to figure out what to buy that I can make tasty and wholesome and healthy that isn’t also horribly expensive. The kid returns to me tomorrow from his week with his dad, so I went to Aldi tonight, where your dollars go a lot further, but the pickings are limited to whatever they have on hand.

I’ve gotten used to the Soviet-era Russia utilitarian feel of their stores, with everything in big boxes with holes cut in the front so you can take the items out yourself, instead of attractively displayed like in other stores. I stood agonizing over bananas, knowing I’m the only one who will eat them, and wondering how many I can eat before they rot, is it worth buying them, they’re mostly sugar and do they even have any nutrients anyway. I got them, and celery, because I can eat those with peanut butter and that’s a nice, filling and healthy snack.

I shop really, really slowly these days. I’m running a total in my head and each item I pick up has to mentally prove its worth to me. I’m ok at math but I have to concentrate on it a lot and with depression, it’s hard to concentrate on much of anything. Despite these challenges, I do enjoy grocery shopping. Few things make me happier than a fridge full of fresh food.

So I’m plodding along with my running total, evaluating this thing here and that thing. I can make spaghetti sauce, don’t need to buy that. Meal planning for the week based on what I already have and what I can supplement with from here, and what the kid will eat. Beans and hot dogs one night. Bratwurst and fried potatoes another. I’m in my fugue state and this girl right next to me is like, “OH MY GOSH HI, HOW ARE YOU?” It’s a woman from the PTA at my son’s school. She looks BEAUTIFUL. Her hair is all blown out, she has this gorgeous brown and white polka-dot dress on, and a gorgeous necklace, perfect makeup. I’m in the same denim shorts I wear all summer, and a T-shirt I found on the floor, behind a pair of purple shades which I use to hide my shame behind. She startled me and could see it, and apologized. “ARE YOU GUYS ENJOYING YOUR SUMMER?” she says brightly? My mouth always works quicker than my brain, and I shot back, “No, not really, no.” “OH, SORRY TO HEAR THAT,” she says, and there’s a moment of awkward silence. She’s in the checkout lane and I don’t know her that well to get into everything, so I deflect. “You look amazing!” I say, “Great dress!” “THANKS!” she says cheerfully. “We JUST came from seeing Hamilton! It was AMAAAAAZING.” “Oh,” I say, “That’s awesome.” “Yeah we just bought the tickets last week, I totally thought it would be sold out but then I checked and they had some and I was like hell yeah, we’re not gonna miss this. Everyone says how good it was but there’s nothing like really seeing it, it was SOOO good.”

I can’t even imagine what two tickets cost for this show. But I try to, in my head, and imagine we could eat all month off that money. And I hate her with her normal life and her blowout and her pretty dress, and I don’t want to hate her, but I do. I’m embarrassed and I feel like serious, serious fucking garbage.

Thankfully it was her turn to move forward, so we said goodbye and good seeing you, though I doubt it was good for her to see me.

Then I got to thinking, as I was going to my car, about how cheerful she was. As well she should be. But it reminded me of this woman who told me about my brake lights being out today. I was in the parking lot in the Rocky River Reservation. I decided my body was having a fairly non-broken day and I would try to go for a walk. I had just pulled in and she parked behind my car and got out, clearly coming over to talk to me. I thought maybe I cut her off or something that I wasn’t aware of. I rolled my window down and she said, “You know, BOTH your brake lights are out. I wasn’t sure if you knew.” “Great,” I said glumly. As soon as she told me this, I’m imagining some horribly expensive repair, which every repair is when your car has 131,000 miles on it. Like it compounds and compounds, second by second, my mind and heart are racing immediately about the problem. “Seriously,” she continued, “BOTH lights. The 3rd brake light, the one in the middle, is still working, but that’s it.” “Ok,” I said, “Thanks.” I know my teeth were gritted and I was upset. Not at her, obviously. But she waited there expectantly for a minute. I could tell that she wanted me to be GUSHINGLY GRATEFUL and that she didn’t think I had been grateful enough. “Thanks again,” I managed to squeeze out, trying to sound more genuine. “I thought you would want to KNOW,” she said, almost miffed that I wasn’t getting out and giving her a big hug or racing away in that moment to tend to the problem. “I’ll get it taken care of,” I told her, like she was a cop pulling me over. She looked at me a minute, so I thanked her a fourth time, and then she got in her car and left. Probably went home and told her family what an ingrate I was.

She reminded me a lot of the people working at a couple of the food pantries I have been to recently, particularly the ones at churches, and I want to address this.

I am EXTREMELY GRATEFUL that these pantries exist. I swear I am. I am also humbled and ashamed that I have to visit them. Everyone who goes to these pantries, EVERY SINGLE PERSON, wishes they did not have to be there. I think that perhaps this is lost or forgotten by the people who volunteer and help out at food pantries, because I get a lot of this kind of attitude, like the lady about my lights. Like I’m not CHEERFUL enough to be there and SO GRATEFUL and SMILINGLY PLEASANT that they are giving me stuff. Like it’s conditional, you MUST be cheerful and happy when you receive your rotted carrots and rotted onions and box of risotto from the damaged section of the store where the box is all crushed, and can of pumpkin so dented you can’t get the can opener around it enough to open it. I get these comments from different workers like, “Oh, are you having a bad day?” You can hear the sneering sarcasm in that one, can’t you? Or “Chin up!” or whatever. Look, I know I have Resting Bitch Face, but after waiting for 2 or 3 hours for a couple of bags of produce, half of which is rotted, two or three times a week, and a year of unemployment, consider perhaps that I am TIRED, stressed out and have a lot of anxiety and I am not feeling particularly good about myself or about being at this place right here. I’m not saying workers can’t be cheerful and pleasant, but I get this big, big feeling like they are angry with you if you aren’t cheerful back, because it isn’t grateful enough.

Listen now, and hear me: YOU SHOULD VOLUNTEER TO HELP PEOPLE BECAUSE YOU WANT TO HELP THEM, AND BECAUSE IT MAKES YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE HELPING MAKE A DIFFERENCE, NOT BECAUSE YOU WANT THEM TO KISS YOUR ASS AND SWELL YOU UP AND MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE A HERO BECAUSE YOU’RE DOING THIS DIRTY WORK OF HELPING THE POOR AND ELDERLY. I’m no religious expert, but I’m preeeeeety sure the stuff I did read in the Bible about Jesus didn’t have him suggesting that you should help the poor because they’re going to smile and make your day more cheerful. If you want to help, help. Understand this is not a place people want to be, and please, please consider that accordingly. Think of it as helping people at a prison, because honestly, THAT’S WHAT IT FEELS LIKE. LIKE I AM TRAPPED IN A PRISON AND CAN’T GET OUT. If you were walking around giving meals to people serving life terms in prison, would you be like, “Oh, Robert, now, chin up, things aren’t so bad! The sun is shining today and you have a warm meal to fill your belly!” I’m not saying be grim. I’m not saying be mean. I’m saying, think for a moment how much people are suffering who are here, how big their need is, and consider quiet and respectful compassion. Honest to goodness, I’m not even a religious person but I’d prefer an “I’m praying for you tonight” over “Now little lady, what’s that frown all about” which I am NOT KIDDING someone has said to me. I’m almost 50, I’m not a fucking little lady and I don’t want to be doing what I’m doing so please can we just transact the business quietly and respectfully and move on?

If you help people, thank you for helping. Know that we are grateful. Meals on wheels, Dress for Success, a food pantry, a shelter, whatever way you are helping, it really does make a difference and believe me, we are all grateful that there are people like you who can and do help. But please stop demanding that I be cheerful.

You Can All Go Take A Fucking Walk

Let me tell you a little story about someone needing medical care here in the good old USA.

This is not a tale about how terrible insurance is, or the high cost of health care. Which we all know about already. There are many and tragic stories about that garbage, which is a stain on our nation and a great shame that I’m not sure will ever be fixed.

This is simply about the red tape, waste, and how one very long day can turn into a nightmare.

My partner has a kidney stone.

He’s been having increasing amounts of intermittent lower back pain over the past, oh, I don’t know, couple of months. He’s never had anything wrong with him. Healthy as a horse. Doesn’t complain about stuff, kind of goes along and ignores minor scrapes and bruises he gets day to day as part of his fairly physical job, installing alarm systems in businesses across Northeast Ohio. It’s a lot of driving, and a lot of problem-solving, and a lot of use of your upper body for work. So the back problems have been an issue, increasingly bad at night, for a short while.

A few nights ago, the pain got really, really bad. It got like this once before, and this time seemed even worse. Shooting, debilitating pains that laid him out. Alarming. My kid was here, and was sick and went to bed early, and it was very late. All the urgent cares were closed. So I told him to go to the nearby ER at the hospital only a mile or so from here. It’s not some great, cutting-edge hospital, but I’ve been there before for select urgent matters and they do ok.

It took about five hours, which is not too bad for an ER, but with a CT scan, they determined he has an ENORMOUS kidney stone. It’s 17mm, which is like having an entire bamboo plant under your fingernail, not just the shoot.

They couldn’t do anything to fix it in the ER. They said usually a urologist breaks these up with an ultrasound, and then you have to pass them, but this one was so big, they couldn’t treat it. They gave him three prescriptions, including a script for a painkiller, oxycodone, and referred him to a urologist to follow up on Monday, once the weekend had passed.

He was in pain on and off the rest of the weekend, but when it was ok, he was ok, and so he went to work Monday, and called the urologist.

They said they didn’t have the machine necessary to break it up, they only got it every two months, and gave him the name of a nurse practitioner in urology somewhere else who might be able to help.

This is greater Cleveland, by the way, 2018. Not Mankato and we had to take the horses in like on Little House on the Prairie.

He called the NP’s office the next day and they couldn’t get him an appointment for a week. They told him they’d need the hospital to fax his records of his visit, and gave him a fax number. He called the hospital and gave them the fax number, and they said they’d send the records.

We went to the NP appointment today, and she said she didn’t have any fax. She called a couple people and asked them if they had received a fax from Southwest, and they said no. She said it didn’t matter, because a fax wasn’t good enough – they needed a copy of the images from the X-ray or CT scan or whatever he had done, and didn’t we have that on a disc? No, we said, they didn’t give him anything like that.

I was frustrated and said clearly we came down here and he took a day off for nothing, and we spent $5 to park as well. She made like it was a real visit then, and asked him several questions and took a history.

She was very condescending about him waiting “all this time” to see someone about the issue. I suspected she thought we were drug seeking. Middle aged, on a weekday, took the day off work, drove 20 miles, paid to park, and walked half a mile through their campus, gave a urine sample, all so we could get some more oxy. We BOTH explained that he did not want to be taking this medication, or any other, that he has to drive for work, which is operating heavy machinery. But that he is in a lot of pain, and some nights, it’s real bad and he can’t sleep. That this was urgent, though not technically “emergent.” She said he would have to have surgery to remove it, that the ultrasound treatment wouldn’t work for a stone this size, “if it’s really that big.” She emphasized multiple times how she really needed to see the scans before she could do anything.

She said it’s not an emergency unless he is peeing blood or obstructed and can’t pee, and said she would “send a request to the surgeons.” I asked who they were and she said, “Well, we have one on the west side and one on the east side.” I asked how long it would be before this surgery is scheduled, and she said she didn’t know, she wasn’t aware of their schedules, it could be a few weeks, or a few months.

She told us he has to get pre-surgical bloodwork done, and suggested we go to the J building where the lab is, to get blood done. We hesitated and she suggested we could go to the Clinic building closer to where we live, that they have a lab and the order is in the computer, so we could just go there for it. Ok, we said.

We were very frustrated. But, since he took the day off, we drove back to Southwest, went to Records, and waited while they made a copy of the CT scan results on a disc. Then we drove it back to the Clinic. He took the disc to the desk and explained what the NP had said and asked if she wanted to discuss it now, but they said no, go away, she’ll review on her own and be in touch with the surgeons about it.

We got some lunch, as several hours had passed by this time, and then went back to our neck of the woods and went to the Strongsville health care center. He signed up at the lab, we waited until he was called, and then he came out a couple minutes later.

They wouldn’t do the blood work. They could “see” the order in the system, but without a surgery date, they won’t do the blood work.

Beyond furious, he left a message for the NP explaining what happened. Nobody called us back.

It’s likely going to be several weeks before this surgery happens. Maybe even MONTHS. A friend of mine called the surgeon’s office who did her husband’s stone and he isn’t booking new appointments until October (today is July 24th), and there are almost 65 people on the cancellation waiting list.

The man is regularly taking the oxycodone they gave him in ER, which he can likely get refilled because of the pain he is in, particularly at night.

Eventually he will have surgery to remove the stone, after which they will give him some other painkiller, probably a stronger one. Which he will need, as they are leaving a stent in his back for a week, and he has to work that week, despite the surgery. I am unemployed and his income is pretty much all we have right now, so he can’t miss more days than absolutely necessary.

This is how it happens, people. This is how people get hooked on fucking painkillers. And live with chronic pain that nobody is properly addressing, so they step up and up and up, until they won’t fill your script anymore but you’re still in bad pain because it’s taking forever to get an appointment, or you’re old and it takes you longer to heal because you are working the whole time and you can’t adequately rest. Then you seek something else out to numb the pain. This is how it happens to the Every. Fucking. Man.

We are both on this like hawks, and won’t let it happen. He will likely have to spend many nights, and probably also work days, in a lot of pain, but we both know these drugs are sneaky and awful and can take over your life and make you dependent before you can snap your fingers. And then you’ll do anything to get more, so you can deal with the pain and continue to function. Until “function” means not functioning, because you need so much of it.

Our healthcare system is completely broken. It’s a complete and utter failure. It’s an embarrassment and an international shame, and I have spent more than 25 years dealing with the intricacies of it. Battling, begging, negotiating, appealing, writing letters, keeping notes of who you talked to. It’s fucking bullshit and it’s draining as hell.

It could be you next. It can be anyone.

Been Down, Isn’t It A Pity

table2

It’s been a long and complicated day.

I finished up a temp assignment today. It was only a couple of weeks, but damn it was good to feel like a regular working stiff again. Packing my lunch, toting my coffee. There was a lot of work to do and I didn’t know any people or processes or anything so it was tough. I was covering for someone who was out on a short-term leave, I think for medical reasons, but the person didn’t want to talk about it and I didn’t pry. I learned how to do the job from them for a couple of days before they went out, and then helped the person transition back into the job today. I hope it was nice for them not coming back to a crushing work load of rush jobs.

I felt so…normal these last couple of weeks. Having co-workers, people talking about what they were doing for vacations or the upcoming July 4th holiday. But I knew it was just temporary. It’s so weird, working a job like this.

I tried to make a really good impression. I really did enjoy doing the work and loved how much everyone just puts their head down and works and nobody bothers you about stuff. There didn’t seem to be constant meetings going on, everyone was casually and comfortably dressed, and a lot of work got processed. I got some good feedback about my work so I feel like I did the best I could.

But now I come back to the abyss, and not even an unemployment check to offset the bad weeks. I lost my anchor freelance client a couple of months ago, and have been working hard to try to find replacements. I have a couple of very, very small clients, but it isn’t enough to pay my bills so I’ve been scrambling like hell and hustling super hard to try to find something else.

But there isn’t anything.

I finished editing my book manuscript, so now need to set about finding publishers who accept manuscripts without agents, as I need to get this thing published as soon as possible without a lot of jockeying.

I got so desperate trying to think about ways I could make money that I upcycled a table all day yesterday. I decoupaged it, which required me buying some stuff and watching some videos, and it almost killed me, not because it was 95 all day yesterday either.

table1

My back is getting worse and worse. Luckily, the nature of this type of craft project means you do a thing and then have to go sit down and wait for like 15 minutes for stuff to dry, then you do another thing. So I was able to get it done but it literally took me all freaking day. Now I am going to try to sell it for more than I paid for the table at the Goodwill, which wasn’t a lot, and for the cost of the supplies.

I picked up the kid tonight from camp. He was out of sorts because they weren’t allowed to go to the pool. It’s more than a 20 minute walk for all the little kids to get to the pool and the director (rightly) deemed it way too hot for all the outside stuff today, it was 97, and I agreed with the decision. But he wanted to go to the pool tonight, and I just didn’t have it in me. I had a job I had to apply for as soon as I got home that I saved from an email I saw while I was at a doctor’s appointment (about my back) on my lunch hour today, and then I had to hustle some dinner onto the table for me and my boy.

I convinced him to compromise and go to the library tonight, where we could pick out some books and movies for the week, and maybe we could hit the pool tomorrow. He is not going to camp, he asked if he could stay home. I said I had work to do, and we have to go to the food pantry, and go get an X-ray of my back, and do the laundry, so I can’t do much with him tomorrow but we are going to a BBQ tomorrow early evening, and I said if there was TIME in between all that other stuff tomorrow, we could go to the pool.

There won’t be time, and he will be mad. But this is how it is.

He was mad tonight that I wouldn’t go outside when we got home and do bubble stuff with him. It was LATE and I wanted him to wind down and sit and relax and read. I said he could stay up late but not THAT late, and we argued about it. I said he could go out and play if he wanted but he wanted me to. I finally lost it and raised my voice. I wasn’t yelling at him, or even yelling, just trying to be strenuous. I reminded him that I do not have a job. That the temp job I was working is now over. We are ok for another month or so, but I have to continue trying and applying and writing and editing every single thing I can to try to get more work, we can’t just live day by day like this. I said I’m sorry it’s like this, but I do try to make it fun anyway. The library, we both had a good time. The books, if you would settle down and read them, I promise are good. And I bought him mango popsicles, his favorite (thank you, Target card, for letting me charge groceries), and he had two of them.

He was sullen, and finally laid on the floor and looked wistfully outside. “I know what I’m NOT going to be when I grow up,” he said. “A writer.” He had been talking about being a writer last year. He talks about a lot of stuff, but isn’t really serious about any of it. He seems most interested in what jobs pay the most money right now. Last week, we had a discussion about which medical specialties pay the most, and why. Unfortunately, he has no interest in being a doctor. But he’s clearly a lot more aware about money and finances because of my situation.

Little did he know I lay on that floor just a few nights ago, my depression had gotten the better of me, and my body pain, and I could not speak or do much of anything.

I apologized for everything being difficult and said I’m doing the best that I can. He brushed his teeth and went to bed to play with Pokemon cards, steadfastly refusing to read.

Some time later, he was still up, and it began raining. I leaned in and crooked my finger for him to come with me. “What?” he said. “It’s a really nice summer rain,” I said, “And I thought we should go see it.” I led him out onto the patio under the overhang that protects us from the elements, and said, “Smell.” He took a big inhale and said, “ohhhhhhhhh.” I hugged him and told him how important he was to me, that I was working hard to make things better, but for now, the rain is free, it is always free, and the outdoors, and we can enjoy that together.

We came back inside and he halted. “Why does it smell so much like chicken?” he said. I had taken a container of homemade chicken broth out of the freezer and boiled it, with some bits of frozen chicken I had saved, and had just added noodles to it to cook down until they were soft and infused in the broth, soaking almost all of it up. I explained what I was making and he smiled. “It smells so good,” he said. “See,” I said. “Just when you think I’m a bad mom, I have a few things up my sleeve still that we can enjoy.”

He said he loved me and went to bed. He’s still up. It’s so hot, it will be hard to sleep. But I dare not turn on the air conditioning, it is hella expensive.

 

Of Our Elaborate Plans, The End

sunset tree

Last weekend, I took my son to a state park lodge for a belated birthday celebration.

I could ill afford this, and there were a lot of factors that went into my making the decision to go ahead and take him.

Last year at this time, I took him to the ocean. It was something I had promised him for years. We went to Myrtle Beach and it was expensive and complicated but we had a really, really good time and made some wonderful memories.

Less than a month after we returned from vacation, I lost my full-time job. That was last July. I have not been able to find full-time employment since then.

After a year, I’m pretty sure I’m never going to be able to get back into the workforce full-time again, or, if I do, it’s likely to be for pennies compared to what I was making before.

It’s been a year. I wrote a book about it, which I hope will soon be coming to a bookstore or website near you, if I can find a publisher.

I have been freelancing a lot. I had a good client for many months, but that gig ended a couple of months ago. I was receiving unemployment as well. On weeks where my income exceeded a certain percentage of unemployment, they didn’t pay me at all. During weeks where I had no income, the unemployment was really important.

It’s harder than you think to be on unemployment. You have to submit two jobs a week via a complex and poorly designed website to prove that you are looking for work and applying for jobs. I have applied to more than 150 jobs – full-time, part-time, contract, freelance, whatever, so I always had plenty to fill in on the weekly report. But every month or so you have to prove you still qualify. There are hours on hold on the phone. Lots of documentation to submit. It’s not like you just lay back and nap and eat all day and the money rolls in.

This month I received my last unemployment check. With my primary freelance client gone and unemployment gone, I’m only making a few hundred dollars a month freelancing. It’s not enough to make ends meet.

I got a temp job, which I’ve been working the last three weeks. I am signed up with several employment agencies and this one got me the gig I’m at, which ends tomorrow. I’ve been covering for someone who was out on medical leave, doing very, very detailed proofreading and editing, as well as some fun and new copywriting in a field about which I knew nothing previously. I enjoy learning, so this is a good thing.

Friends, it has been so nice to go to work every day at a job and just…feel…NORMAL. To pack my lunch in the morning, and go to work each day. I come in, say good morning to everyone, and then am blessedly left alone while they give me piles of work to complete. I sit and listen to music, or not, catch the tiniest of errors that most people would never notice, take my lunch break, have my afternoon coffee from my thermos, drink my protein shake. The flicker of the half-dimmed overhead florescent lights over my workstation is somehow soothing, like visiting a world I used to belong to, but no longer do. I do not call anyone about how the lights flicker. It is not my workstation. This is not my job. I am just a temp.

I have made a good impression, from what I gather, but the person who has this job returns next week, and then it’s on to whatever blackness awaits me.

I have never been in a position like this in my entire adult life. Almost no income. A lot of bills to pay. Really no way to get work. To say it is depressing and terrifying is an understatement.

My back condition, which got worse (from grade 1 to grade 2) after I had my son, has gotten even worse over the past year, and I have had to completely give up running and walking for exercise. I can no longer shop, including grocery shop, for more than about 20 or 30 minutes before the pain is so bad I have to find a way to end things and sit down again. There may be complicating stenosis, it may have progressed to grade 3, it could be compounded by arthritis in my back, I don’t know. My doctor and I are hoping to somehow figure out why it has gotten so much worse and see if there is anything that can be done, but the prospects are rather grim – surgery, a remaining life of rest, maybe not much else. I cannot get any job that requires you to be on your feet at all, so that’s a huge limiting factor. I am exploring my options for filing for disability, but that is a longshot and takes months and months for evaluation – most cases are denied.

So, this coming week, I open a new door.  A door that’s not been opened. One of near-complete inability to pay for the bills that comprise my life at almost-50. Healthcare premium, car insurance, a monthly car repair bill I’m paying off, the Target and Costco bills I pay on, which is where I charge my groceries nowadays.

Perhaps I should not have taken that final trip to Maumee Bay with the kid, even with the AARP room rate and all the free stuff they included. But for me, it was the last hurrah. The last bit of normalcy and joy I wanted to be able to give my son before our life plunges into whatever it’s plunging into.

No regrets. Only looking forward, as soon as I can lift my head up again. I don’t know how to lift it. It’s so heavy.

The Sun Will Rise

tools

I got a temp gig that I’m working for a couple of weeks. There seems to be a vague possibility that it could last longer than that, and some brief mentions of that at the job, but it’s all up in the air as of right now. The agency I’ve been signed up with for more than a year got me this gig – the first one through them. There was a rush to complete a ton of paperwork, and I had to take my passport in to an office and prove I was me before they could formally assign me the job, but it all worked out. It’s proofing and editing work, which is very much my jam. Today I got to write something small, and nobody came and yelled at me about it not being good enough or how it was “unfair” they had to rewrite it because I didn’t write it the way the person wanted. They just accepted it and sent it to the graphic designer and said to put it in where it goes. That was refreshing.

After only three days on the job I am beginning to realize how very long it is has been since I worked anywhere where things were…normal. Where you were treated like a human person, not a superhero or a damaged, broken piece of shit, but someone who is simply coming in every day trying to do their best work, and then leave at the end of the day and go home. I have had many jobs like this, though they were very long ago now.

I dressed up the first day. The assignment email said it was business casual so I wore a nice dress and new, pretty, high wedge sandals (and painful shapewear, because the dress fit better last year, before peri-menopause hit). I was the most overdressed person there, which I was happy to discover, and toned it way down the last two days. Yesterday a woman in my department actually had a T-shirt on that I also own, from Kohl’s. These are my people – suburban moms and the like.

What’s been amazing is that they seem to actually just assume I know exactly how to do the work for which I was hired. Which, I mean, I do. It’s editing things like big, very detailed catalogs and product labels and stickers, and ads and stuff. I did this type of thing up the wazoo at my old job and, because I was the only proofreader for most projects, had to get very, very, very good at catching my own mistakes, and going over everything twice. I have caught a couple of real doozies already, about which I am quite proud. My tools are simple: a red pen, a ruler, a magnifying glass, and a black pen to sign off on job sheets once I am done. A few post-its, in case I need to note something but don’t want it on the actual copy.

The challenge with this work is the company’s designers are actually very good. It’s easier to catch mistakes when there are a lot of them. But when you are looking at teeny tiny numbers and letters and comparing them to database numbers and letters and checking and checking and checking and 99% of them are correct – it’s that 1% you have to look out for. I’ve found only a few UPC codes that were listed incorrectly and double checked myself to make sure I was right and they were actually printed wrong. I give my changes to the designers and they just … make them.

It’s a very high volume of work in what is generally a very laid back company, which is a combination that works well for me. I can process an enormous amount of work if I am just left alone in my dark corner (and it is dark there – most of the overhead lights seem to not work in my section, but I have a light under my workstation that illuminates what I’m looking at well enough). As long as I am allowed to feed and water myself and make waste without having to ask permission, I am a pretty fucking good and solid employee. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve worked like this. Comfortable clothing (but still nice), left alone for long stretches of time. Work heaped on me, but I am trusted to complete it correctly, and brief breaks with little conversation. I don’t know these people, and they don’t know me, so it works out. The main person I’m helping out today is taking some time off next week, which is why I’m there – to ramp up so I can do their job when they are gone. They said, you have to take breaks every hour or so. The detail of the work can get to you. Yeah, I said, I got that, and have been making sure to get up and get water, use the bathroom, go drop off work in the tray, whatever. But there are worse jobs, of course, I told them. Like being a crab fisherman in Alaska. They thought that was really random so then I told them all about the Deadliest Catch, which they had never heard of, and they were fascinated.

The company had a picnic for employees today, which is very nice, and invited the temps to join, which is even nicer. I didn’t have much to offer in the conversation at my table as I didn’t really know anyone, but honestly, I didn’t mind at all. I happily ate, enjoyed the outside and the free food, and went back to my cubicle and my big papers and my ruler and my magnifying glass. And my iPod, which nobody objects to me listening to as there are two other people that have headphones on, and another girl who plays the radio softly, so music is PERMITTED.  Unlike at other jobs I’ve had, where I’ve been told that closing my door (so I could concentrate) makes me seem “inaccessible” or that using headphones while I’m working makes it seem like “I don’t want to talk to anyone.” Well, I DON’T, but I’m listening to music because my work is very detailed and can be tough and it helps keep me focused. It’s not about YOU.

There is another person in my department who is also here through my agency. They have been here off and on for the better part of a year because there is a lot of work, and hiring people as-needed through an agency can work well for the company since there’s no headcount added, no benefits to have to pay someone, and no wasted time with them sitting around when big projects are over.  This is a lot of how companies work now. If the assignment is over in a couple of weeks, that was cool, and maybe they’ll ask me back. If, as has been hinted at, it continues on a couple weeks more because there is seriously an ENORMOUS amount of work, that’s cool too.

It’s been an enormous adjustment for me though, getting back to a work routine. Up the same time every day. Makeup every day. A BRA every day. But nobody is making anti-trans comments or telling me I’m a horrible person because I don’t want a dog like has happened at previous jobs I’ve had, so that’s nice.

I am more exhausted than I can remember being when I get home. I don’t have the kid this week, which is nice, but I don’t know how I’m going to get it together to make dinner for him every night next week. I will come up with something, but there will be more shortcuts taken and probably more nights of soup and sandwich for him than I would like. I’m also drinking a ton more coffee, which is not agreeing with the old GI system, but I’ll just eat more Meta wafers and hope for the best.

I still have work from my freelance clients too. One has been put off for a couple of weeks, but the other, I have outstanding assignments due this week and next – PowerPoints, blog posts, webpage text. It’s very hard to take a dinner break at home, change clothes, and come back to the computer and do more work, but I’m doing it because I need the goddamned money and I have to dig out of this hole and maybe this is my chance to do that. I hope they keep me for a longer period of time.

Hell, I hope they hire me.

I walk around the halls of this place and feel like, “I could retire from here after another 15 years, yeah.” I don’t know why I have that feeling. I am being open to it instead of shutting it down. What if it DOES work out, you know? Who knows what the future holds. For now, I am valued, making an important contribution, and am not being yelled at or stressed out all the time while cranking work that I am good at, and that’s a good thing, even if I am tired. Even if it’s all over in two weeks.

It’s time to have some wine and watch Vikings now. I have a long day tomorrow.

Better and Better

baby dylan 3

“What’s the APGAR?” I whispered, slowly slipping away.
“MOM WANTS TO KNOW WHAT THE APGAR IS!” someone yelled.
“NINE!” someone yelled back.

Nine, I thought. Perfect. I felt myself slipping into unconsciousness in a wave of nausea. I was strapped down on my back with my arms out like Jesus on the cross, and those were tied down as well. I couldn’t move, even if I wanted to, but I didn’t. My husband leaned in.
“He looks great. Good job, mom,” he said.
“Take care of the baby,” I whispered, and slipped further into nausea and blackness.

“YOU OK, MOM?” the anesthesiologist said.
I almost imperceptibly shook my head “no.”
“I got you,” he said.

He turned to his portable science lab and played with the bells and knobs and whistles quickly, turning this one this way and that, manipulating tubing.

I could hear my baby screaming. Big, strong, healthy screams, over and over. He was mad, ha ha. Being a week early didn’t seem to have hurt his lungs at all.

The doctors were talking about blood loss and working seriously and hurriedly. There was a lot of pulling and tugging, my high-risk OB working in concert with the colo-rectal surgeon I had asked to assist with the C-section, due to my history of GI surgery. One wrong cut and I’d get sepsis, and if not die from it, live with complete incontinence the rest of my life. They were worried and working fast, calling for various instruments.

My case was unusual because of my complicated history. There were at least 25 people in the OR, several of them observing. I had given permission for this. People have to learn somehow. The Greek chorus stood by in silence, watching the doctors work. The baby quit screaming and I concentrated on not dying.

“How’s that?” the drug guy said, leaning over my face? I nodded. I was a little better. I didn’t feel so much like I’d be pulling a Jimi Hendrix anymore, though I didn’t feel good.

My husband was there with the baby. He looked like he was holding an IED. He tried to lean in with him and show him to me, but there was so much going on, I couldn’t really look.

“They want to take him to the nursery. Do you want me to stay with you or go with the baby?”

“With the baby,” I managed to whisper. That was what we had planned, but I think he wasn’t prepared for how intense a C-section can be when you have as much going on in your abdomen as I do.

They left, and it was quieter, but people were rushing all around. The doctors worked and apparently had managed to do something, as their tone suddenly changed from terse to a bit more relaxed.

Then I heard the one doctor ask the other a golf question, and they started talking about a country club. It was then I knew I would be ok.

I felt a little less nauseated now, and was paying attention to what they were doing. I wished I could see, but they wouldn’t allow it.

“Mom, staples ok for you or no?” said my OB in his thick Egyptian accent.

“No staples,” I said. “I’m allergic to metal and to adhesive, remember?”

“Right,” he said. “Steri strips also a no?”

“Correct,” I said.

“WE’RE GONNA NEED A PLASTICS CLOSURE HERE!” he yelled.

A small Asian woman stepped up beside him, and the two surgeons fell back, talking with each other, the way colleagues do.

“You did great, mom,” my OB said, and then the doctors left. Everyone left then, except the drug guy, a few people cleaning up, and the plastics resident.

“I gonna sew you up now, ok?” she said.

“Ok,” I said.

She worked meticulously and slowly for the next half hour, taking teeny tiny stitches so that the wound could close, trying not to leave a big scar. My stomach was already a mess of scars, it would have been easy for her to just slap it together like a frantic mom throwing a last-minute Halloween costume together with stitch witchery and iron-on patches, but she was careful and precise. She didn’t look up from her work until she was done, and then slipped away without a word.

I couldn’t find Lisa, the nurse who had been so nice to me from the moment I arrived, who held my hand and said I could squeeze as hard as I wanted while I was getting the spinal, as long as I didn’t move. Who waited with me before and wheeled me in to the OR when it was time.

They took me to post-op and there she was. “You did great,” she said. “Just get some rest now, and when you wake up, we’ll bring you the baby. Everyone is fine.”

And then, finally, I let go and went to sleep.

My baby is 9 today. I don’t know how that happened, but I know how lucky I am every single day that I’ve been his mom, from that moment in September when I got the voice mail from my fertility specialist saying, “Congratulations, you’re pregnant,” and giving me instructions on how to transition to an OB now that her long journey to help me get pregnant was complete.

I do not get to tuck my kid in every night. He is with his dad, my now ex-husband, every other week. But I am still lucky. I’m still his mom, even when he’s not here.

There are so many out there who did not make it to where I am. My over-35 fertility group online, the one where members leave without announcing they are pregnant, because it would be too painful for those who have been in the group for years, so many of them didn’t and won’t get to where I am. I entered the online board for the last time that September, and posted the phrase we all would recognize: “It’s time for me to leave the board.” I wished them all luck and love and cried at my insane luck, with only 40% chance of success, and cried for all of them, understanding more than anyone how shitty it feels to be in a club like that one.

And there are many who, along the way, have lost the small souls they created, one way or another. Life can be so hard. Sometimes you get another chance, but the life you created and then somehow lost can’t be replaced.

My son is my chance. My only chance. I’m 49 now, and am working so hard at this mom job. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, but the rewards can’t be measured.

Happy birthday, my little dude. I love you so much.

Mom