My mother met with a legal aid lawyer earlier today, an attempt to fend off a student loan debt collector.
First the good news, I’m finally eligible for one of the many Sallie Mae programs—where the bulk of my student debt resides. An income based payment? That’s terrific! I’m an American college professor, so I only made $3,800 last year.
Stay in school, kids! ::wink::
Anyway, the new Monthly Payment Due for Sallie Mae is beyond reasonable. I’ll brew my own coffee, and it’s paid. Huge relief. No more phone calls over and over. Whew.
But then there’s this “NJ Class” loan.
This is the loan I was encouraged to take out at the last minute, first semester of doctoral studies, because the $13,5000 academic scholarship I was finally awarded by my university did not cover my tuition—if you can believe that bullshit.
And it was no joke. I was going to have to call off the whole doctoral program, less than a month before classes started—not enough money. Disaster.
My mother and my aunt agreed to co-sign for this “NJ Class” loan at the last minute, and at the behest of my university, to keep my career from going off the rails before it even got rolling.
My aunt hugged me and called me her favorite professor when I thanked her for the help. She’s always been there for me, all my life.
In childhood, whenever my father burst into fits of violent rage, it was my aunt’s house we ran to—get in the car…hurry!
This one time, in my ninth or tenth year, my father was trying to force his way through my aunt’s front door—there were restraining orders by then—and we stopped him. My mother, my aunt, and I—together—fought him off, pushed him down the front stairs, and locked the door. Dad stood on the front lawn for a few minutes, cursing at us through the front window. Then he got in his old blue van and drove off. Merry Christmas.
We’ve all saved each other, literally, more than once. We’re an intensely close family. Some therapists, the ones I eventually fired, have called my relationship with my family dysfunctional—the product of trauma, hyper-protective, yadda, yadda.
You get the picture.
So, anyway, when the “NJ Class” bills started coming—years later—I was unemployed. Imagine that. And when I called “NJ Class,” explained my economic situation—I was facing an eviction at the time—I was told there was no recourse: make a full minimum payment each month, or be placed into collections.
Ok, then. Place away.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Enter a typical debt collector lawyer guy. Let’s call this one DICK, for the purposes of our story, shall we? Agreed.
Dick called me one afternoon to see what I could pay him. At least that’s what he said:
“I’m callin’ to see what you can pay me.”
I explained to Dick, slowly, in un-lawyerly poetic language, that I had just received an eviction notice, and I still didn’t have a steady job. And medical bills. And food banks. Unemployed Adjunct Professor. Get the pic, Dick?
He said I oughta call him when I can pay him something. I agreed I would.
A few months later, and things were still rough. I was still grocery shopping at a food bank, but a slew of generous blog donations had prevented my eviction.
[And thank you, again, dear readers. #njpoet]
So, I wrote Dick a letter offering a small monthly payment—as much as my tightly managed budget could handle.
But, no. Dick wanted more, a lot more per month than I was offering. And he wanted bank statements, and tax returns, and stool samples, and just slow down, Dick. I’m not just handing over sensitive material because you said so. Sorry.
So, Dick sent county sheriffs to my home, and my mother’s home, and my aunt’s home, with huge stacks of stapled papers in big white envelopes—Civil Summons.
And the pages had shitty writing all over them—that slippery, slimy lawyer prose. It was the kind of document that made an intelligent person long for sudden blindness halfway through reading it. Sophist bullshit.
I laughed. How excessive. What a waste of time. Completely unnecessary. I told the entire story to the the county sheriff who came to my home, and he laughed with me. Silly. He had about a hundred of these Civil Summons envelopes piled on his passenger seat.
But it did manage to scare my mother. It scared her quite a bit, unfortunately. That was the first time she called me crying about all of this.
Today, after her visit to legal aid, was the second tearful call, since now my mother—my sick mother with the intestinal illness that’s aggravated by stress—is actually worried that I might be going to prison over a student loan debt.
Which is a silly thing to worry about, sure, but that’s what my mother was apparently led to believe by this legal aid lawyer she spoke to today. If we don’t start making Dick’s monthly payments, he’ll lock me up. That was the story, on the phone this afternoon.
But mom exaggerates, so we’ll see.
The legal aid lawyer said she’ll let us know—in about a week—if Dick will accept our new offer, a monthly payment that is more than we can afford, sure, but my mother just wants this to be over with.
At least that’s what she just said when she called me about ten minutes ago.
“I just want this to be over.” she sighed. “I can’t take much more of this.” She was crying again.
And that makes three times they’ve made my mother cry from fear.
Stay calm, poet. Stay calm.