Mid-morning, Tuesday 21 December, 2010.
My eldest sister, her kids and I drove to that town near her home.
Sis dropped me off at the dentist and went away for the next few hours to do shopping and other things.
Not long after, I was sitting in a surgery where, after using some amazing-looking high-tech equipment to analyse my collapsed tooth, the dentist gave me two choices for a filling: a plastic-based type that would cost me $600, and a ceramic-based one that would cost me $1000.
I thought hard for a moment.
I still had a last few thousand dollars left on one of my last active credit cards.
That day was also a payday, but after paying for rent back home and either type of filling I’d have very little cash left to live on for the next fortnight.
The dentist has also added that the plastic-based filling wouldn’t last as long as the ceramic-based filling.
Up until just a few weeks ago, I’d had private health insurance with dental cover – but as my financial world collapsed, I was unable to keep making payments and so it came to an end.
Thinking harder, I recalled some of the advice I’d heard at previous DA meetings about alternatives to using credit…
…and so I asked the dentist if he accepted instalment payments.
Politely but firmly, he said that although I appeared to him to be an honest and trustworthy type, he didn’t want to have to spend extra time and money chasing up my payments – so, no.
I thought hard one last time.
Finally, I decided on the ceramic-based filling.
And, very reluctantly but realistically, I would pay for it with credit.
About half an hour or so later, I was standing in the main street of the town with my new filling.
I’d just withdrawn some cash from an ATM, but mostly I was thinking about what I’d just done at the dentist.
It was another watershed moment slapping me in the face with the stark reality of my finances being a fucking mess, and that time was fast running out.
But there was one more painful watershed moment to go.
I crossed the street to the town’s RSL club. Like many RSL clubs, it was a pleasant-looking place with the promise of a comfort-food lunch.
Lunch would have to wait, however, because first I had to give my mouth time to recover from surgery.
Second, the club’s restaurant was not yet open.
And finally, I had to make an important ‘phone call to Sydney.
At first glance, however, the club didn’t seem like a good place for making such a ‘phone call because it was noisy – especially because of the poker machines, and the sound of them was the last thing I wanted in the background to my ‘phone call.
Soon, though, I discovered the separate combined meeting-room and library. It was a cosy-looking place decorated with military memorabilia from several wars and stocked with decades of military-themed books that the bibliophile in me marvelled at.
I asked one of the bar staff if I could use that room to make a ‘phone call, and she said sure.
So I went inside, sat down at a table and took out my mobile ‘phone and the most recent letter from one of my creditors.
I called them, and with a polite but firm member of staff we worked out when I could make my next payment.
It was more a symbolic gesture than anything else, because that payment would do nothing really towards reducing my ridiculous debt with that creditor alone.
But I wanted to show them that I wanted to do the right thing.
At one point during that ‘phone call, the member of staff I was talking to suddenly surprised me by asking why I’d gotten myself into so much trouble.
He wasn’t being accusatory, nasty or smug, however.
Like his tone throughout the rest of the call, he was polite.
For a moment, I was unable to speak.
Then I told him the truth. I can’t remember the exact words, but it was basically that I’d been a fool.
I can’t remember if he responded to that. There may have just been neutral silence.
When we got back to business, he was polite as ever.
I completed my call and stepped back out into the club.
It had been a very trying morning, indeed (but I had only brought it all upon myself).
Now, though, it was time for lunch.
I got a table in the restaurant and not long after I was enjoying a comfort-food lunch consisting of a big steak, generous servings of baked vegetables and mashed potato, lashings of gravy and an enormous bread roll for wiping the plate clean at meal’s end.
I paid for it with cash, and after eating it I felt a lot better – especially as once again I considered my morning, and what it meant.
Enough was well and truly enough.
As I’d told myself 12 hours before, my first task for 2011 was voluntary bankruptcy.
And fortunately – very fortunately – Bankruptcy Saves Lives could help me.
Until next time, stay well and take care 🙂