Preface: I thought long and hard on whether or not to start writing about this experience in my life. It has been a painful, humiliating and humbling journey. I had a conversation last night with someone. It solidified what I have been thinking all along.
I have nothing left to lose.
I have never been good with money. I have never been able to balance a check book. I have bounced countless checks and have received an exorbitant amount of fees throughout my lifetime. I have ruined my credit twice in my life. I am incapable of handling credit cards. I have been under the delusion that I could always afford anything I wanted. I was always wrong. I have been the true cliche of “champagne taste on a beer pocketbook”. I have been doing this since I was 18 years old. It has taken me close to 20 years to realize that I have a serious spending problem….and only now I have been learning how to control it.
I learned the hard way. I learned in the worst possible way imaginable. I lost my family.
I am married with 2 boys. We lived in Pennsylvania from 2001-2008, right next door to my grandmother. My father’s mother raised my 2 sisters and myself while he had custody after the divorce. He was just starting his career with Continental Airlines and Gram was essentially our “mother”. My husband and I moved to PA at just the right time, as Gram was at the point where she could no longer drive and needed help with things. My husband and I did everything we could from going grocery shopping to taking her to doctors appointments. My son went over to visit her everyday. We helped her because we wanted to. I remember saying to her when I was in high school that she took care of me as I grew up and that I would always take care of her. I didn’t think much of it at that time, but who would have thought that it would come to pass so many years later.
During these years I was cleaning up our credit. Mine was from way before I met my husband and my husband mainly had lots of medical bills. After a few years we were able to get some small limit credit cards. But I wanted a bigger one. I wanted the freedom and status that came with an American Express or Chase Visa. I wanted to feel important. I know it sounds stupid, but we had so many hard times (that’s for another blog) over the years that I wanted to feel like a normal person. Someone who could go out and buy clothes for the kids or take a vacation without worrying about a budget.
I applied for larger, more prestigous cards, but was declined. Then I decided to do something that I never should have. I asked Gram to get a credit card with me as a co-signer or authorized user. She said yes, of course. I knew she would and I should never have asked, but one turned into two and then three. Gram was the primary and I was an authorized user. I wasn’t accepted as a co-applicant. Everything was fine for over a year or so. I was careful, paid on time and even over the minimum payment. Then it all turned to shit.
My husband and I were adopting a baby through a family member. They needed help with their other 3 kids, so we decided to help take care of them for a few months. We also had custody of our niece, who was 15 at the time. So, with my son, the 3 boys, my niece and then the new baby, we had six kids. I had applied for help from the state because we were taking care of these children, but unbelievably….we didn’t qualify for anything. We were over the income limit. I couldn’t understand how, but we were. So, what’s the first thing that goes…..the credit cards.
I didn’t mean for it to happen I didn’t plan it. I didn’t take care of my grandmother for seven years just to get some credit cards in the end. I fucked up. They were maxed out and I couldn’t pay them. I told Gram that she had to call the companies in order for me to be able to speak to them to try and fix it. She was the primary…they wouldn’t say anything to me without her say so. I had taken the optional protection plan, but because I was already behind (Note To Self: always read the fine print) it was void. Gram asked if I was taking care of it and I told her I was doing my best. I told her I was sorry….that I never meant for this to happen. I tried and failed.
During all this time, my family wasn’t really even speaking to me because of the decision we made to take in all the kids. You see, all the kids were from my husband’s side of the family. My side doesn’t see family like that. They were not my true family. Not my problem….let them go to foster care….just not my problem to deal with. My friends were more than supportive. I even had strangers telling me what a great thing we were doing when I was out with all the kids. Once I would have a conversation with someone and the inevitable question of “are these all your kids?” came up…I would breifly explain and people were dumbfounded that my husband and I would do such a thing. That we were willing to help all these kids was incredible to people. I didn’t see it as some saint like activity…just helping family.
After a few months, the three boys went back to their parents. Things were quiet around my house, but still, no one from my family was in touch with me. I used to talk to my father every day on the phone. That had stopped a few months back, but he had called me one day and said, “well, I guess you heard about Gram.” Ummm, no I didn’t hear anything about Gram. Apparently, she had fallen that morning and broke her hip and was lying on the floor for two hours before my upstairs neighbor (my father’s wife’s sister….long story….another blog) went over and found her. No one called me. She had been at the hospital all day. The woman who lived just up one flight of stairs from me didn’t even have the courtesy to call me. She called my father’s wife, as he happened to be in Mexico for God knows what. Neither one of my sisters called me. Not my aunt and uncle, cousins….no one. My husband and I took care of this woman for over seven years and no one told us. I was sick that day, so I didn’t call her. I always called her every morning, but because I was sick, I didn’t. I will never get over that guilt. But I will also never understand the reasoning why no one called me or my husband.
My father and uncle (my Godfather; my father’s brother) had found out about the credit card situation. Gram had always told me to make sure I paid them because she didn’t want to hear anything from my father or uncle about it, as they took care of her finances. I said before, I fucked up. I had talked to Gram…apologized…said I would do what I could to fix it. I couldn’t. Not only were my father and uncle mad, but everyone in my family…sisters, brother-in-laws, cousins….everyone. They all wanted an apology for what I did to Gram. I didn’t understand it. Eventually it came out that they all thought that I took out all these credit cards without Gram knowing. That I did it behind her back. No matter what I said, I was screamed at and never could explain anything to anyone. Gram told my father and uncle she only knew about one card. I know why she did that….I know she had already been reamed out for doing it in the first place, but if she were to admit to all of it, they would have treated her like they always have….like a child. Yes, I made a huge mistake and I know I should have never thought to ask her….I couldn’t handle it, but I was convinced I could. I don’t blame her for telling them what she did. I know she did it for legitimate reasons. It didn’t matter how many credit cards there were….I was completely shut out from Gram’s life.
She spent the next few weeks in the hospital and then was transfered to a nursing facility for rehabilitation. This was supposed to be temporary. My father and uncle said they would never, ever put Gram into a home…….
TO BE CONTINUED….