Once upon a time, in a New Jersey suburb, my husband and I had decent paying jobs in Corporate America. We never led an ostentatious lifestyle. We owned a small house, a modest car, paid for our home improvement projects with cash instead of loans, and contributed to our 401K plans. We were fortunate to have a little left over for "extras," such as birthday parties for our children and vacations. The "emergency fund" in the bank allowed us to pay the occasional unexpected medical bill or car repair without affecting our monthly budget.
Then came the crash of 2008.
My husband lost his job in an industry where he had a twenty year tenure, and a company-owned SUV with fully paid gas and insurance. He took another job in the same field, without the company car and for "a lot less money," which only lasted six months. After an almost year-long stint out of work, he took another job in his industry for half of what he had made at the job with the SUV. And then THAT job started to go bad.
Meanwhile, I faced my own midlife crisis of Richter Scale magnitude. I entered burn out mode in my senior level position in an all-consuming job. I looked for happiness in expensive designer handbags and through the promises of what expensive face creams would do for the emerging lines around the corners of my eyes. I became a surfer, for all of three minutes. I tried fringe diets that promised youth and the perfect body. My downward spiral continued, until I embraced Yoga-as-my- savior, accepted the doctrine that happiness is not dependent upon our external circumstances, walked away from the corporate world, and released my inner Fierce Diva.
I encouraged my husband to return to school to pursue his "dream career," with the understanding that we would be "voluntarily poor" for a few years while he made the transition.
The home improvement projects stopped, as did the big birthday parties for the children, the vacations, and my bi-monthly pedicure. My husband, who transitioned into an entry level position in his new field, was working harder than ever, was making less money than I did my first year out of college, but was also the happiest I had seen him in a decade. We were the champions of mid-life career changes! We were blazing our own trail! We were living on a tiny paycheck along with faith that the Universe would take care of us and our children while we re-booted our lives.
And then my husband wound up in the hospital.
Did I mention that the insurance plan at his new job is horrible?
Our liability on my husband's three day hospital stay for observation and a few non-invasive procedures, cost about two months of his take home pay. These unexpected medical bills that used to be nothing more than a monkey wrench now felt like a 600 pound gorilla.
I glared at my husband as he walked in from work one night, waving a stack of insurance statements in front of him.
"Next time you feel a pain in your chest, " I spat, "Take a handful of Aleve and go back to work!"
Did I mention that sometimes I suck at compassion?
Did I also mention that I'm dying for a pedicure and a vacation? (I'll stop. You know how I feel about whining.)
As I look over the bills, I recall the wisdom that a friend once shared amidst a crisis. She declared she was lucky to have problems that only required money to solve. How wise. And how true. I think of people with real problems, women who have lost spouses to untimely deaths, parents with children who have been abducted or who are terminally ill, who would give any amount of money to make that problem go away. Am I forgetting how grateful I felt only six weeks ago, amidst my husband's health crisis, when I found out that he was going to be OK?
These bills would have been much easier to pay two years ago, but that does not mean I would want to go back to the life we were living two years ago.
Money made our lives easier, but not happier.
These bills have become a reminder to me that we've made the right choice.
© 2012 Ilene Evans