The Pay OffAbout a year ago, just about when I was first forming the idea for and had first conceived the swearing off of jobs, I was offered a job. And though a job wasn’t what I was looking for at that time, I took it. I took it because it offered more money that I had made up to that point in my life, and I thought the new, higher ceiling to my cash flow might be useful for a project I had been thinking about for some time without any real plans as to how to execute it: Paying off my debt, I took the job.

My wife actually asked: Are you sure you’re not selling out? My wife! But, I had a plan.

With the additional salary that I had brought in I began paying off my 3 credit cards, my student loan, and a couple other odds and ends.  All in all, the total was about $20,000. This, I reasoned, based on all the reading I had been doing, would allow me to make a really meaningful swipe at what was becoming my ultimate goal: to become free and clear of debt, thereby having more flexibility over what I had to earn, how many hours had to be devoted to “means-to-an-end jobs,” to be more in control of the work I took. Ultimately, the goal was to wind up in a happier place. Deferred gratification.

And, I have to say that in an almost masochistic way, I have come to enjoy sending away checks double the size of my monthly mortgage because to me they are bullets aimed at my shackles. They are T-cells aimed at the tumor brought on by my carelessness and inexperience. And one by one, I watch as the letters come signed by each of the impersonal creditors, thanking me for my business, acknowledging my zero balance, and offering to help if there is anything else they can do for me in the future. I read the letters in the same spirit you have when you have broken it off with someone after a mutually dissatisfying fling. Half-hearted: “Call-me’s”
Okay. See you around.

The radio says that credit is drying up, so probably my ex-creditors’ offers to “help me” again in the future were themselves simply parting gestures with no intention of being at my immediate disposal. And, the truth is, I don’t really care much as I let them go. But, as with any clean break, you can’t help but wonder if you’ll ever have the chance to again enter into another crazy, abusive, unbalanced relationship like the one your walking away from. Somewhere inside you’re hoping that it’s really they who will miss you more than you will miss them.

Just across the narrowing abyss I anticipate what the land will feel like beneath my feet in the land where you aren’t in debt. What will I want to get rid of after that? Maybe my television.  This is my wife’s fear. We have always kept our money separate, and during this past year of my fiduciary fanaticism I know she has wondered if I were going to change into something other than what I was. And, to be honest, I only want to own a little bit more of who I really am. i am buying myself back from those I sold myself too. Was I selling out? she asked when I took this job. The answer, of course, is that I had unwittingly sold myself out long ago. Now I was buying myself back.  I truly feel like those Missouri slaves must have felt, gazing across the narrow band of brown river at the brown figures walking on the banks of free Illinois.

I have a friend who always serves as one far end of my behavioral spectrums. Whenever i am considering what I should do, he always serves as the anti-social example of what I could do. He takes what he wants without paying. He defaults on every debt and yet they line up to give him more. He drives a Cadillac to strip bars while I’m driving my old Wrangler through traffic on my morning commute. He brags that you’ll never see the agonized look of a jogger on his face until, god willing, he dies happily  “probably in the arms of a whore.” But, I chose not to run from my creditors. This way if feels more like serving a penance. It brings with it a lesson learned. Hopefully, an improvement in the way I will live my life.

Who knows, maybe after the last two are paid off there will be a lonely silence as I sit around with no one to write large checks to.  Maybe there will be credit flirtations but no connections. Maybe I’m becoming too old for credit. Maybe my next foray into credit will resemble today’s Viagra of credit, the reverse mortgage. The last cashing in as you push toward the horizon where there are fewer and fewer days upon which to defer gratification. You can’t take it with you, might as well die in the comfortable arms of a whore.