M was home yesterday when I got some bad news, and he got the full force of my anger and frustration. It wasn’t fair to take it out on him — he’s got enough on his mind at the moment — but he was there.
He was there because his company had sent him home with no hours. Again. It’s become a regular occurrence these past four months. Every week like clockwork, when the pay-week comes to a close on Thursday, he gets up and gets ready, gets in his truck and heads out for work, and then they send him home with no hours. Since the beginning of December, he’s had only three weeks of full-time hours, only three paycheques that really cover the bills.
My birthday is coming up in the next couple of weeks, and it’s a big one. Apparently, Life Begins at this age. M may be all manner of wonderful things, but he is not good at remembering me when it comes to important occasions — I have not had a birthday or Christmas gift from him for three years running — so I have been reminding him of this impending event almost every other day since before the turn of the year, like a count down. This is a Big Birthday, and I do not want to be forgotten this year.
I had emailed out my birthday wishlist to everyone who would likely find it useful but, knowing that M uses a computer about as often as a camel uses an umbrella, I have been coaching him separately for a long time. More than anything, I want a Lendrum spinning wheel to replace the ancient, second-hand wheel that I have been using (and which has served me well) for the past 12 years. But a shiny new Lendrum is nothing to be purchased lightly — it’s $622 — and so I’d hoped that maybe if everyone pitched in together, then what remained would be more within our grasp.
And just the day before, I’d made a furtive phone call to a local yarn shop to see if there were any places left on the knitting class they were offering this month with knitting guru Brandon Mably. I had already taken this same class six years ago — it was a treat to cheer myself up after I miscarried our first child — and I had enjoyed it so much out of it that when I saw that he was coming to the area, I immediately began to muse over taking the class again. It was an expensive class, at least for me… The amount left each month for spending money for me and the girls rarely tops $50 — and that includes everything: shoes, clothes, magazines, coffee — and this one class would blow that out of the water, but how often does one turn… erm… How often does Life Begin? I felt guilty making the call to the yarn shop and I felt guilty at the thought of booking the class… But there were spaces left! And I wanted to take it — I really wanted to! I decided I’d wait a couple of days to be sure the idea settled right, and then — damn it! — I’d do it!
Yesterday morning I received a bill from the doctor’s office which treated my sprained ankle. It wasn’t for much — almost exactly the co-pay amount — and so I assumed it was an error. Somehow, the insurance company must not have realised I’d paid the co-pay on the day, so I picked up the phone to sort it out. It was a beautiful day, sunny day and my husband was home — I’d get this out the way, it shouldn’t take long.
The lady on the phone sounded weary. “That’s your deductible amount,” she explained, and then added, slowly and with a tinge of irritation, “You’re responsible for the deductible.”
“Oh, I know!” I said with deliberate cheerfulness, because the lady sounded like she needed it. “I understand we pay the deductible but… I’m confused… Before I went to the doctor’s, I spoke to a lady in your office who explained that my husband’s employer pays the first $1000 of the deductible. Have we gone through a thousand dollars in two visits…?”
She tapped on her keyboard and then paused. Then a deep breath. “No, but I’m afraid whoever spoke to you got it wrong. You’re responsible for the first thousand; your husband’s employer pays the second thousand.”
My stomach dropped instantly, and then my mind began tallying, very quickly: doctor’s visit, three x-rays, the airboot, follow-up visit, three more x-rays, the lace-up brace… How much had we run up?
The lady was tallying too. “We’ve negotiated a nice discount for you on that bill…” I could see that they had indeed — they’d reduced the bill by 75%. “And I can see that you’ll also be receiving a bill from a rehabilitation equipment company…” Yes, that’d be the airboot. She told me the amount, and I winced. “And… let me see… another bill from the doctor’s office…” The follow-up appointment. “And another… oh, from the equipment company again.” That’d be the brace. “Let me add that up for you, ” she offered helpfully, her irritation subsided now that she realised I wasn’t going to put up a fight. The amount came to around $400.
Four hundred dollars… for one moment of stupidity. Four hundred dollars, after months and months of short weeks and short pay. Four hundred dollars! If I had known that, I never would have taken off the tape that was holding my ankle still and let them replace it with a brand-spanking new lace-up brace. If I had known that, I would have paused at the offer of the airboot, and grabbed my mobile to ask my mother if her old airboot would fit my foot. If I had known how much it would cost us, I honestly think I might not have gone to the doctor at all — certainly not to that follow-up appointment. M had said it was only a sprain and it would heal on its own, and he was right. I could have gotten by without the doctor.
The day had seemed to have suddenly lost all its sunniness… I felt sick to my stomach (again! again!) and deflated. My hoped-for birthday gift now sounded extortionate, and the thought of booking that Brandon Mably class seemed frivolous, if not downright irresponsible. Spend money on my birthday like that? Spend money?!? What fool thinks she’d get to spend money on a milestone birthday?!?
And with that, deflation turned to anger — real, seething, boiling, red-hot rage — and so I yelled. I yelled and I yelled and I yelled at this country, at this joke of a “system”, at the waste and the complication and the confusion and the callousness of it all. I yelled at the lack of transparency, at the miscommunications, at M’s lack of hours, at his too-short paycheques when he works so hard, at the recession, and at the ludicrous idea that somehow this is all ok, that this is the American Way. I yelled because, apparently, going to the doctor when I sprained my ankle was my birthday gift this year.
M thought I was yelling at him. And he came up and held my hands and, with tears in his eyes, he said, “Your birthday will be alright. We’ll make it alright.” And then I felt terrible for all the yelling, and tears came to my eyes too. Sod my stinkin’ birthday — what I’m really scared of is losing the house.
The door woke me when M left this morning: 6.11am. That’s early, I thought, and then drifted heavily back to sleep, hopeful that it meant he had a busy day scheduled. He was back home again just after 1pm, having worked three hours, and then hung around for another three in the hopes that some more work would come in, before he finally gave up and drove back home to us.