It’s the Money, Stupid

a completely politics-free post

The last few weeks I have been bludgeoned with depression. It’s awful. I stay up as late as I can, often just noodling around on the computer, until I can hardly see to stumble up the stairs. Then I sleep away half the day. When I do get up, I look like death. And maybe that’s appropriate, because that’s what this feels like. More than depression, it feels like grief.

We have a long family history of depression, and I struggled with what I thought was clinical depression in my early twenties, though in fact that might have been something residual from a head injury. No matter, I know what that “cut off at the ankles” feeling is like, that heart of lead, and I am vigilant about it, usually.

Thing is, I couldn’t figure out why I felt so bad. No one has died. My son’s doing quite well in his first semester at college– and still living at home, so no empty nest to contend with. My marriage is what my marriage is: steady, solid, ticking along like a Timex. The writing goes well, when I write. I wrote a piece the other day that garnered a thousand reads in a few days. That’s a major achievement for me, a milestone.

It’s true that my efforts at dieting and exercise have ground to a halt. How can they not when my circadian rhythms have been laid to waste.

Tonight, curled up on the sofa, in front of the television, my husband started to talk to me about the cell phone bill. We’ve changed plans, and like every time you change plans, they promise it will be less or about the same, and it is always more. But this time it’s different, because there’s not enough money to pay it, and I snapped at him. Hard. And that’s when I realized.

It’s the money stupid.

When my husband retired in 2006, I retired too. He’s a railroad retiree and the system pays you to be idle. He paid into it, he’s entitled to it. Hell, they’d even pay his ex-wife if she wanted to collect that instead of her own retirement. They paid me because we had a son who was not yet 18. I could work, if I wanted, but if I made more than the wages of a very part-time job, they’d start deducting that from the check, fifty cents for every dollar I made.

I thought, great I have five years to get the book done. (Not even the same book then as now, also part of the problem.) The Railroad Retirement Board has provided me with the most valuable thing of all: time. In addition to that, I’d been left a modest inheritance from my father, which we used to buy our house in Dayton, and fund things like new puppies and showing dogs and a new computer and nice shoes.  Finally, last year, we sold our house in Montana, and cleared a little money on it as well. So for the last five years, we have been entirely comfortable.

I don’t want to give the impression that it was the life of Riley around here. We weren’t jetting off to Paris or anything. But we could afford to be generous to my mother, and my grandmother and Elmer’s daughter and Julian. If we didn’t feel like cooking, we went out to eat. All of our cars were getting pretty long in the tooth, so we bought a new car. Well, new to us, anyway. And all the time I kept thinking, I’ve got to get working on the manuscript.

I am the penultimate grasshopper.

Last month Julian turned 18, so that check stopped. This month, we ran out of money. It’s not dire. We own our house, we have enough through Elmer’s retirement to pay all of our obligations, and even buy a few groceries. But we are very suddenly out of money. I can’t go the friends’ wedding in Wyoming that I’d planned to go to. I can’t buy a puppy from a friend’s litter that I had promised to buy. Hell, I can’t even go out to Montana and sort out our small mountain of belongings still in storage there. I can’t go out to lunch. The gravy train has not just come to a screeching halt, it’s gone right off the tracks.

It isn’t that I don’t  have plenty to amuse myself that costs little or nothing. We still have our membership to the Carillon Park. (Yeah, history nerd, what can I say.) The research that I still need to do is still basically free, though the trip to the Library of Congress is put off until God Knows When.  We can go to the Y. I’ve got stacks of novels I meant to read, and my husband isn’t giving up cable television, so there’s always the idiot box. I have my wonderful dogs, even if I can’t afford to show them.  Dayton is full of walking paths, and a free art museum and community events. There’s always sex. Entertainment is not the problem.

The problem is that the window got suddenly oh so much smaller. We went from not having to really worry about money to really having to pinch pennies, almost overnight. I am, as my English stepfather used to say, a clever girl. And I will find a way, something that gives us more financial breathing room. If worst comes to worst, I can always get a job. I think. I am mostly sorry that I squandered away the time, because now I will have to justify the time I make for myself. Yes, I knew it was coming. Yes, I should have planned better, but you know I just wanted the party to keep going. Damn it all.


3 thoughts on “It’s the Money, Stupid

  1. Yes, that has to be a shock to the system. A complete change in your everyday living. I’m sure it’s got to be a worry for you. At least you have a lot of options there (yes, and there’s always sex… LOL). I think you are one of the most amazing writers I’ve read. I think you could make a mint in writing again. Not sure if that interests you, but it would be so sad for others to miss out on it. I know I’m babbling. I know you have been writing for years and your jobs were in writing, but it’s something you do so well. So well! In the meantime, I really love reading your articles. Always something interesting.

    On a side note, I was clinically depressed in the early 90s and was on medication. I’m not afraid to admit it. I was on pills, on and off, for several years. One doctor told me that I’d have to be on them for the rest of my life. I fooled them. But, I’m always worried that it’ll come back. Always. I feel your pain, I really do. It’s a very sad and black time. I’m glad you’re understanding what might be the root of it.


  2. Wow, that really hit home for me. Especially the last two sentences. My husband and I have went from managing a family owned factory (he in plant operations and me in accounting) to not working but still being minority shareholders with no say about management. We took on a partner with wonderful business credentials when my dad wanted to retire and to say it has not worked out is putting it mildly. We went from being very comfortable and secure to worrying about money this last year…. and yes I wanted the party to continue!!!!! I will be working full time during tax season at an accounting firm but that is not my dream, still trying to figure that one. My kids are not adjusting well and that is hard to watch. I think they thought they always had a future at the company. So now where do we all go from here? Some days are good and some not so good but I am really really trying to be positive about the positive. I have been searching blogs for people in similar situations and really appreciated your post… I can so relate!!! Thanks for sharing.

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