Carolyn J. Rose
Over the years I’ve developed a fairly thick skin. Things that once sent me racing to my room in a flood of tears now rankle for a few minutes and merit a philosophical shrug instead of a 14-tissue pity party.
At 5, not being invited to a birthday party was the end of the world. At 15, being dumped by the boy of my (misguided) dreams was emotional Armageddon. At 25, knowing my mother-in-law from my first marriage didn’t care for me was more insult than injury. At 35, disastrous dating experiences were revised from lamentable to laughable within a few hours after the events. At 45, taking unjustified heat from a boss made me disappointed (in said boss) rather than distressed. At 55, rejections slips piling up from agents and editors made me more determined than dismayed.
But, a few months short of 65, I found myself in a snit over the tone of a letter from the government, a letter I received because I was honest and proactive, because I acknowledged ownership of a debt before it came due and arranged to make payments.
You’d think those are qualities that would be recognized and reinforced. You’d think there would be the words “thank you” somewhere among the bold type and bullet points in the letter.
But those words weren’t there.
Not that I could see.
Unless it was in teeny tiny type.
Anyway, here’s what happened. To my surprise and delight, sales of my e-books have been brisk—not fantastic, but brisk enough that I will exceed the earnings limit set by Social Security and have to pay money back next year. Wanting to avoid getting a bill and having to work out a payment plan, I went to the nearest Social Security office and explained the situation, making a point to tell the very helpful man behind the counter that my monthly income was unpredictable and I wanted to set a total for the year higher than I anticipated in order to cover my financial butt and pay homage to optimism and possibility.
VHM did the math and arranged for my next few Social Security payments to be withheld in order to balance my unexpected income. I thanked him and went home, feeling proud of my forward thinking.
A few days later, the letter arrived. “We paid you more than we should have,” it said. “You owe us,” it said. “We must withhold your benefits,” it said. “If you disagree,” it said, “you have the right to appeal.”
This was my idea. Did they think I changed my mind? Did they think I’m suffering from short-term memory loss?
I was still ranting when Mike came home. Pulling up a chair, he listened to me vent, keeping a straight face until I concluded with, “I should get a letter thanking me for stepping up.”
At that he stood, adopted his “poor baby” expression, and patted me on the head.
“It’s a bureaucracy,” he said. “They don’t have a letter like that.”
Well, maybe they should.