She called me upset from her lunch break, angry, a little frightened, having just ended another call with another student loan debt collector.
They were again demanding a delusional sum of money each month, practically another car payment, and threatening a wage garnishment if we couldn’t manage to harvest our money tree fast enough. Psychotic.
“If we pay that, I won’t have enough money for my commute,” Luz countered, and then she made herself absolutely clear. “I won’t be able to get back and forth to work. Get it?”
The debt collector suggested she take out another loan to pay off this loan. That would get her off the garnishment list.
Immediately, Luz called me upset, yelling, choking back emotion.
“All we do is work,” her voice was shaking, “and it’s still not enough. It’s never enough.”
She was outraged that a private debt collector had just threatened our livelihood on behalf of our government. And I couldn’t agree with her more. All we do is work. We love our work, but it’s just never enough. There’s never enough money.
In the past four years, she and I have worked upwards of 14 hours a day. We missed family parties. We lost friends. But Luz wanted to break into web dev. We both knew there were jobs in that sector. And I wanted to get noticed as a writer.
So, she got busy learning to code, and I took to social media to build our network, to get her work into just the right hands, and to supply the poetic content to match her creative web designs. And it worked. A few months ago, a Twitter friend passed her work on to his CEO. One week later, they hired her.
With the new job came health insurance, just in time for my high blood pressure diagnosis, and a gym membership that’s completely covered as long as I go.
Luz’s new commute to Manhattan has broken us out of our homebody habits, our depression has been lifting, our anxiety has been gradually coming under control. She’s been writing. I’ve been writing. We’ve been happy.
We live simply. I shop from the circulars. My birthday present this year, a stack of used books, cost the family $4. With some very careful planning, her paycheck, and whatever adjunct work I can find, sustains us. We just make it on a strict budget. I’m sure most readers can relate.
A wage garnishment would ruin everything. Everything we’ve worked for might be wiped out by student loan debt. Back to the food bank. Back to narrowly dodging eviction notices.
No. I won’t have it.
Luz asked me to call the collector tomorrow, see if I can talk some sense into her.
I said, “Oh, that’s a given, love.”
“But you have to be polite, Charlie,“ Luz insisted. “Professional. Cordial. No telling people off with post-modern thought.” She laughed. I laughed. I was smiling the whole time, actually. Debt collectors have become as insignificant as summer gnats to me.
“Oh, I’m gonna come from a place of absolute Buddhist gratitude,” I responded, still smiling. “I’m gonna say something like, ‘Good morning! Yesterday, you upset my wife at work, during her break—her entire break—and then you threatened to render my family destitute with a wage garnishment. And I’m just calling to say thank you—thank you to you, to your boss, to the boss above that one, etc. etc.”
Luz was smiling more, relaxing, so I continued my comedy bit.
“I hope you had some strong coffee,” I said to the imaginary debt collectors, “because you’re about to have a very long and stressful morning on the phone with me. And you might miss lunch. Brace yourself for that.’”
By now, Luz was laughing, but I wasn’t. Comedy time was over for me.
“Seriously, though,” I said, “I’m not joking. I’ve had it. I’m not getting off that phone tomorrow. Someone is going to explain what gives them the right to threaten my family.”