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After closing the door behind him, Joey stopped to put the mail on the end table. He knew he’d need a drink before reading any of it. It was all undoubtedly either bad news or bills. Joey turned on the radio and spun the dial with aggravated carelessness until it landed on a station actually playing music.
“They rarely do that now-a-days,” Joey thought to himself, “guess “the day the music died” is soon upon us.”
He hadn’t been in the mood for Jazz, but music is as it is; an escape. He just wished that escape came with directions.
Joey’s wife entered from the kitchen, walking briskly toward him with open arms. They hugged, and then embraced as only two true lovers could. She smiled at him as she pulled away leaving Joey once again with his own internal trusses of weakening fortitude.
“Love” Joey thought, “the great equalizer. All things are equal under this encompassing auspice. All joy is tempered with the knowledge of eventual loss, all pain is eased within its throws and then amplified in its passing. Yet how tragic that something as simple as money can divide two bound souls with such a canyon that the inevitable pain of loss becomes an afterthought. How truly do I love her, that in the face of equal, total and unequivocal failure I have the strength to continue to love?”
“Hello honey, so how was school today? Did you get that story finished for class? I’d like to read it. With any luck your financial aid will come through and we’ll have enough money to pay the mortgage,” said Joey’s wife.
“School was school. Ahh the joys of college, too much material and too many distractions to stay anywhere near as focused as I know I should be. No, I didn’t get the story done, but I figure I’ll write it once I have some amount of inspiration to jot something down. Thankfully I enjoy rambling on without allowing injected feedback. One of the advantages of writing over speaking I suppose. I forgot to turn in that copy of our tax returns again; I got caught up in thinking about something else and spaced it...” Joey continued the explanation in his head “and thankfully too as we’ll not get anything, or not very much due to my previous employment and current unemployment payments. We’ve spent through… no, she’s spent through all of our other safety nets; 401K, stock sales, savings, money market accounts, the whole shebang.”
“We’ll make it Joey,” said his wife. “We just have to keep plugging away and eventually we’ll come out of the hole.”
As the notes from the radio bounded from scale to scale, key-to-key, his thoughts raced with equally broken rhythm. It was unfortunate however, that the expressway of thoughts currently deriding his mental state were of a much darker tone than the music would mimic.
Joey picked back up the mail and examined the first envelope. It was from a credit card company that Joey hadn’t remembered having a card from. Upon opening the container, it was obvious that it was a billing statement.
100$ - Kids Paradise
180$ - Hair for Wear
20$ - Safeway Groceries
80$ - 76 Gas Station
120$ - Oddities and Sundries
“What the HELL!” Joey was fuming, as he knew there could only be one person that could have spent such money on obviously pointless endeavors. Reading the recipient address confirmed his suspicions.
“Damn it woman, didn’t you promise time and time again that you’d stop getting credit cards and running them up without talking to me first!?” Joey fought to control his already strained temper.
Money had always been tight in the household, however since being laid-off it had become a paramount issue. It was unfortunate that the combination of little resources and an exceptionally giving wife could lead to such frustration.
“But honey, I didn’t do it to be mean! None of it was for me. I took the kids… and a few of their friends to Kid’s Paradise and they had a great time! Remember? They came home so happy that day, and you spent the rest of your day acting out a Pokemon episode with them. I need to give them things like that. They don’t see you very often and….”
This line of reasoning was obviously flawed in Joey’s eyes.
“I keep telling you, if we save money now we’ll have the ability to do things and enroll them in activities that we currently can’t do! Besides, rarely do they seem to appreciate what we do do for them. We spend money, and that’s all it seems they know. No concept of how little we have, or how quickly it goes!”
Joey’s wife was a bit hurt by this and her face started to squinch up like she was going to cry.
“Look honey, there’s 80$ spent at a gas station?! We have one vehicle and it only has a 12-gallon tank! There is no way you spent that much on gas!”
“But Joey, I had to help out the next door neighbor because they needed to drive to Seattle and had no gas, so I filled up their tank too. Then one of the people at the coffee shop gave me a free coffee so I left a 20$ tip. It only seems fair considering that I get free coffee when the manager isn’t there.”
“Hey, I admire your giving nature; it’s one of the reasons I love you so much. However, you promised you wouldn’t get another loan, credit card, lien or anything of that nature yet you did. And a 20$ tip?!!? What the hell?! We aren’t paying for someone else to go to school, just me! Who else is going to send us to collections? Jezzus, everybody wants our money, and you keep giving it to those who have the least impact on our life! People you don’t even know are getting our money and we can’t keep the phone or the outrageous electric bill paid. Are you going to tell them to go talk to the coffee cart for our payment, or maybe shake down the bums you keep handing 10$ bills to? You know what, it’s pointless. I don’t know why I even get surprised anymore.”
“But Jo…” was all that Joey’s wife could get out of her mouth before his hand flipped up to indicate she should stop talking and allow him to finish.
“Honestly hon” Joey continued, “I’m frankly glad I haven’t gotten financial aid yet. Hell, it wouldn’t matter if we won the lottery five minutes from now because it’d all be spent on other people’s needs and wants five minutes after that! I have to say, you aren’t ready to open that café you are planning on. Until you have the home squared away, we’ll only sink farther with any new endeavors. Look, I need to just go sit down and think. I don’t want to hear any excuses or how you didn’t mean to do anything wrong… you never mean to, and all of your labeled “good intentions” are just that, intentions. Something my mother always told me, and something you should keep in mind, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.””
“Nope, don’t want to hear it. The only three words that you can say, that I’ll believe right now are “I love you.” I know you do, and you know I love you too. I just need to walk away from this right now. Maybe say a prayer and see if God is listening to my whining today. He’s usually pretty good about putting up with me, and my incessant complaints. At least he gave me you and the kids. I’m glad that those two prayers were answered; I’d have chosen them over money any day, but does that third one have to be so damned tough to deal with? What is God’s is God’s, and what is Man’s is Man’s I suppose.”
“Hollow” he thought to himself, “as emptied as the body of that standup bass on the radio. Yet just as required to spit out something I just don’t have; heart, soul, and hope… that song has long since reached its last string. At least I can still turn to Religion. Love is strong and it feeds my spirit, but hopefully some prayer will help fill our bellies and with any luck, our coffers.”
“It’s just too much. Is it possible to file a chapter 13 on life?” This thought nearly made Joey chuckle in a sardonically depressive way. Humorous and comforting as this thought may have been, it immediately dawned on him that knowing his luck, suicide was just too good to be true. “I’m stuck with my debt, and knowing my luck I’m the one bastard that it will follow into the afterlife. Besides, I’ve a responsibility to fulfill. I made a promise to God that if he drew me to a woman who loves freely, I would freely give all I have; and if he blessed us with children of my own then I shall expend nothing more than all my soul, heart and hope to bring them Socrates’ “life examined.” Thankfully God doesn’t expect payment for answered prayers, that I’m aware of.”
Joey sighed and began to re-rifle through the mail again wishing for something that wasn’t another bill. He found one on the very bottom from his church, and suddenly the spark of hope was trying to ignite once again.
The envelope was complete with a short prayer and gold crucifix sticker embossed on the crisp, formal envelope. Opening it and scanning its contents, he let out a moan of mixed exasperation, humor, ire and depression.
Mr. Joseph Jones,
You haven’t donated during Mass for the last 3 months. Due to your commitment to donate as a member of the Church, at a minimum of five dollars a week, please remit a donation of sixty-four dollars and seventeen cents before any further action is required.
Yours in Christ
Father James, Pastor
Joey shook his head and muttered to himself, “Fuck. Even God is sending me to collections. I guess the phrase “nothing is ever truly free” is far more accurate than I was ever lead to have faith in.”
"All computers are garbage. They only contain answers." ~ Pablo Picasso