How much does debt destroy a person’s integrity? Is credit rating the new and improved way to judge a human’s worth, or is it just a shallow measure like breast size or bicep thickness? Should I live in fear like the guy on the commercial who finds himself in a pirate get-up earning minimum wage, or is it all just an empty threat by the cruel credit industry to get us to slave our lives away to buy them more yachts?
About 8 years ago I was living debt free. I was also living without a car, without cable or a cell phone or indeed most amenities that mainstream society considers essential to basic survival in the modern world.
But I was happy, and I was proud that I didn’t owe a dime.
Then, for reasons I will blame on the heartache of being dumped by my then-husband of 10 years, I went a little crazy.
Next thing I knew I was back in college, racking up student loan debt I never imagined possible, holding scary new credit cards that were used to buy food and other necessities for me and the kids.
And if anything is going to keep me up at night, it is thinking about money, most specifically the phenomenally huge piles of it that I will end up shoveling into the yards of those to whom I owe. Despite my new husband’s reassurances that there isn’t a debtor’s prison in the US, I definitely feel shackled by the red numbers that haunt me. I am simultaneously grateful and guilt-ridden to think of him shoveling next to me, trying to fill the holes I dug before he even met me.
The worst part of it, worse even than the bag of tater tots I charged way back when that I will have paid $49.73 for once it is paid off, worse than being afraid of the friendly neighborhood mail carrier, worse than the feeling that I will hyperventilate myself blind when I write out yet another check for nothing in particular except that I HAVE TO OR ELSE, the absolutely worst part is that I feel like the lowest kind of person.
I try to imagine for an instant that I am a murderer hiding out, then wave my reality wand and *POOF* Now you are perfectly innocent of homicide! Don’t you feel better now? That trick lasts about 6 and a half minutes.
I imagine that my house has burnt down and I’ve lost all my photos and writings. Then, *ABRACADABRA* your house is actually intact! Doesn’t life seem more rosy? That ruse is good for 11 minutes.
I picture what a debtor’s prison was actually like, the fear and shame and suffering. The utter darkness of the body and soul.
But none of my extreme mental ploys can really dispel this little cloud that hangs about my head, casting gloom into the future. Nothing gets rid of the certainty that I have signed on with the Devil, or at least some of his demon minions, and the road to eliminating the spot on my eternal soul will be long, difficult, and perhaps impossible.
What have we as a society done to ourselves? Am I the only one who confuses my essential self with the paper trail that my material existence leaves behind me like the slimiest kind of slug? Is there a way to take responsibility for the choices I have made without drowning in discouragement? Is there a way to set the debt aside as separate from me, to isolate it in a hermetically sealed section of my life so that it does not contaminate the flavor of food or the color of the sky?
I hope that someone somewhere is enjoying their yacht, and that guilt over their criminally high interest rate is not spoiling the caviar.