All About The Money

I sat down at the kitchen table with my mother’s brown folio where she kept all of her bill paying paraphenalia.

When she was in the hospital, I’d had to bring it all to the hospital so that the bills could be paid.   The checkbook, the steno pad that she recorded all of the payments in, the folio where she kept both the unpaid bills and the tearoffs of the paid bills.  She’d shown me the steno recordings of the bills paid each month, so I had a sense of what was out there and what had to be paid:

condo fee
home equity loan
car insurance
homeowners insurance
credit cards (x 4, both store and major)
daycare for Z

I was twenty two.  I had my own credit card but hardly ever charged anything on it because until last fall, I’d not had a job to pay the bill for it.  I didn’t have my own checking account and the only checks I’d ever written were the ones I’d filled in for my mother with her signature.

My mother had walked me through everything that one evening in the hospital.  How she lined up the bills in order of due date, how she sat down twice a month to cover all of them, how she wrote the check numbers and amount paid on each bill stub receipt, how to file them in the folio.  I did everything that night but sign the checks.   I put all of the pieces together in the neat windowed envelopes, stuck the stamps and the return address labels on, and proudly put them in the mail, just like my mother had always done.  Just like a grown up.

Two weeks later, my mother had added my name to the checking account, so that she wouldn’t have to sign the checks anymore.  Ostensibly, I realized now sitting here alone at the kitchen table with everything laid out before me, so that I would have access to the funds to pay the bills for a while after she was gone.

My mother had paid the bills just two weeks ago, the Monday before she’d passed.  Her birthday.  The scrawls on the paid bill stubs were hardly legible, but I could see that she’d had some sense of what lay ahead; she’d completely paid off all of her credit cards.  Every single store charge was paid down to zero, as was her Mastercard.  I wondered about the cards; did I have to send them in to the company in tiny pieces to cancel them?  Or would they automatically get canceled with her death?  I made a mental note to make that phone call the next day.

I looked at the amounts due for the mortgage and the condo fees.  These were low; we’d lived in the house for 12 years now, so the house had been considerably paid down.   I could afford the mortgage and the condo fees even on my substitute teacher salary.  They would take most of what I made, but I could swing it.

But my eyes grew large at the monthly minimum on the home equity loan.  The balance of $16,000 required a minimum payment each month.   The balance consisted of funds my  mother had spent on my college tuition and my sister’s wedding.  It was a huge debt that I now had inherited along with our townhome.

The minimum payment on the loan was not something that I was going to be able to swing.  I glanced at the balance in my mother’s checking account.  I could probably get by for about four months before I’d run out.  And that didn’t include Zachary’s daycare fees, the car insurance, or even clothes or groceries.   I could feel the panic start to rise in me.  What was I going to do?

Four months.  I knew there was going to be some sort of money coming in, from liquidation of some of my mother’s stocks and such, and a life insurance policy, but I had no idea when or how much it would be.  My mother had warned me that it wouldn’t be much.  Four months would put me in June; not an excellent time for a teacher to be pulling a paycheck.  Substitute teachers only earned money when school was in session; I would have to find something else to earn money over the summer until I, hopefully, found a full time teaching position for the fall.  I couldn’t afford to substitute teach any longer; it just wasn’t going to pay all of these bills.

I looked up at the ceiling in the small kitchen, looking for my mother, looking for answers, looking for direction. The silence surrounding me felt suffocating.  But nothing changed; the clock slowly ticked on the wall, the phone didn’t ring, a butterfly didn’t fly by in the cold, February night.  There was no sign, there was no change, there was nothing but my quiet fear, and there were no reassurances to be found in it.



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