‘I’ve never been good with money’ is what a sane person could say. I flew past that about 25 years ago. Not only am I not good with money. I could argue that money is my arch-nemesis. I certainly have treated it recklessly and without much kindness.
Why? Well, my pet theory is that I have a hole in my soul. I’m not sure if I was born with it. I do believe in a genetic component to mental illness and even though I hate to call this an illness because that takes some of the responsibility away from me, maybe it did pass to me through DNA.
I can certainly make a compelling argument for that DNA route but I’m not going to go there for this post. I’m not ready to discuss that aspect and I can tell you what I need to tell you without getting into it.
So back to the hole. Something ripped open a hole in my soul. I don’t know how it happened exactly but I can put a pretty close estimate on the time. I probably was about 7 or 8 years old…
Some of my earliest memories are about money and things. If materialism is a Church, and actually I kinda think it is, I was baptized early and enthusiastically. Even as a young boy , I was never more excited than when I was about to open a present or a card that was likely to have money in it. And I say “about” because once I opened that card or that present the rush that came over me was gone almost instantly- it was as if my soul was saying “is this it?” But I didn’t hear that question until much later in my life and even after I could hear it, I still continued to chase that high over and over.
As a child, I didn’t really have the agency to buy things or get money. Sure I had an allowance but it was far too small for my desires. Only when I got my first part-time job at age 15 was I able to really start doing some damage. The beast in me knew I had a new source of income. It could smell the new crack in my willpower. This new reality made it grow. I guess my materialism monster and I entered puberty at the same time.
I remember getting my first checkbook. I felt like Thanos felt after he had collected all the infinity stones. The possibilities made my head swim. I thought of all the things I could buy with just a few pen strokes. Of course, I didn’t have the requisite money in my checking account to afford much but my “dark passenger”, my old friend, mySELF, told me not to worry about mundane things like available funds. He would make everything all right. Just sign there.
I remember my first bounced check. It was at my local comic book store where I had become friends with the staff and where it was my sanctuary against the shittiness of my high school life. I got that overdraft notice from my bank and I was horrified. What would they think of me? I betrayed their trust, I thought. I didn’t intend to bounce that check – I just made a math error – that may not seem important but it in the early years of my financial self-destruction, I really didn’t have any malicious intent – I was just a force of nature – I just messed up sporadically and stupidly. That would change.
I remember getting my first credit card in college. If the checkbook was an Oldsmobile, the credit card felt like a Porsche. I remember my father telling me to be careful with the credit card. I remember completely ignoring his good advice and going my own terrible way.
I wish I could tell you some crazy stories about what I did with the 80k plus in credit card debt I accumulated over the past two decades. But I’m pretty tame. I’m just not a wild guy but I’ll shoot for the worst of my worst at least.
I’ve spent thousands on strip clubs (yep, I have paid for “IT” on multiple occasions and I even put “IT” on my credit card), paying one credit card with another, probably 40K in alcohol alone, eating out all the damn time (probably 20k here), and lots of travel that I could not afford. I once put 11k on booze and eating out on a corporate credit card in 2 months. One night I bought two laptops and one desktop computer because I accidentally poured water into my laptop and couldn’t possibly wait the day or so it would take to dry out and be fine again.
I remember making beautiful, painfully detailed budgets and ignoring them completely. For the past two decades, not one month has passed that I stuck to any budget. remember failing to pay credit card bills and having big late fees pile up and eventually having many cards closed on me. I remember thousand of dollars in checking account overdraft fees. I remember defaulting on my undergraduate student loan so what was initially a 20k debt turned into a 70k debt. That’s right: 50k, more than twice the original loan amount. I would say I like to learn the hard way. But since that 70k loan, I’ve completed two master’s degrees and accumulated (hold on to your butts) 250k in additional student loan debt. That’s not a typo. I currently have THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS in student loan debt. And I’m not even remotely using any of my three degrees in any professional capacity.
I remember all the angry collection agency calls and of course doing my best to ignore them because that’s how I generally handle my financial problems. I remember emotionally and financially letting down my friends and family over and over. They were so kind that they kept helping me out and bailing me out even though I showed no ability to stop my stupid behavior. Because of one series of terrible choices that significantly affected one of the 3 people I love more than even myself and my demon. When I let down this person, some spiritual sinew that was holding my morality together just snapped. I believe my soul fundamentally changed. At least I hope it was a change. Or maybe it was just its true nature coming into the light.
Because I let down that person, I have come to see myself as a majority bad person. I might have be a bad person who often does good things but I am still mostly dark at my core. If there was blood work for the soul, I’d peg my goodness percentage at 35%. It’s not Donald Trump evil but I would definitely watch yourself with me, especially with anything financial. Actually, I’m going to give myself some credit here. A brief respite in this long screed of self-loathing, if you will. If money isn’t involved, I’ve been told I’m a good friend. And since I turned mostly dark I’ve been gifted with a profound sense of shame and regret to go along with my bad nature. It keeps me mostly on the straight and narrow. Except when it comes to money. There’s no shame god or regret deity that can stop those urges.
Years have passed since I let down that person. I still feel the same way about my essence and I don’t really think I’ll ever be able to forgive myself for what I did. Even though the victims of my actions, in particular that one person, forgave me that isn’t enough to forgive myself.
I remember devastating my credit and eventually having to declare bankruptcy last year because I got fired from a job I probably should have never accepted or even applied for. It was not the first time I took a job that was way over my head and subsequently got fired for it. It wouldn’t even be the 2nd or 3rd time. See a pattern forming? Those are the clouds gathering. Well, that’s not really true. “Gathering” implies that they have yet to fully arrive. They’ve been here for years.
I don’t know why I spilled all this shit. I’m not trying to get pity or sympathy. Every choice I’ve made in my life I’ve made with my eyes wide open and in full knowledge of the moral quality of those actions.
It is all on me.
Maybe there’s a happy ending? I haven’t given up yet. The demon outweighs me by a thousand pounds and he’s smarter than me and he’s more charming than me and he’s quicker than me and he has a huge army of likeminded gargoyles behind him.
The odds don’t look good. But what my old friend does not realize is that I’m no longer asleep. This time around, my eyes are truly wide open.