2003, Ballantine/One World
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I have really screwed up now. This man is actually sitting behind that great big desk telling me he’s going to take my house. The house I was born in! The house my mother was born in! He must be crazy.
I know I’m the one who borrowed against it. I know I’m the one who didn’t make the payments on time. I know all that. That’s the first thing they teach you in rehab, to accept responsibility for the stuff you did when you were a stomp-down dope fiend, and I do, but I never thought they would actually take the house. What good is trying to reform if you have to spend the rest of your life paying for the stupid things you did when you still got high and didn’t give a damn?
Of course, I don’t say all that to this little weasel-faced white man who probably has no life at all outside of this windowless office where he gets to bring up your file on his computer and then swivel it around so you can see all those missed payments and bounced checks, daring you to deny them.
He clearly does not want to hear my tale of woe. Having your heart broken and thinking cocaine can fix it does not qualify as an appropriate topic for discussion with your banker. I know this from experience, so I skip the explanations and start right in on the serious begging.
Please, I say, I’m okay now. I just got a good job. I’ll have enough to bring everything current if you can just give me a little more time.
He ignores me. He’s heard all this before. He knows the house has been in our family for three generations. He knows I was born there. He knows my grandparents got married there. He knows it is more than ahouse. That it is an essential part of our family history, our memories, our dreams. He knows it is a sacred trust passed from one woman in our family, to the next one, and the next one, and, finally, to me.
He knows all this because I have told him many times. I want him to understand that losing this place is not an option. I’m not going to greet my mama in paradise and tell her I snorted up her mama’s house because I wanted a man who didn’t want me. If I tell her that, I’ll have to tell her that during that same amazing eighteen months, I also lost my credibility as a journalist by sleeping with all the edi- tors I wasn’t doing drugs with, missing deadlines like it was a sport, and, in the last few months before I finally went into rehab, behaving badly at several important Washington social events, culminating in the unforgettable evening when I cussed out a congressman, spilled a drink on his wife, and wrecked my car all in one forty-five-minute period.
But that was then. This is now. I’ve been clean for almost six months, and as soon as I get paid from this new job, I’ll pay the weasel what I owe and he can go swivel his screen at some other poor fool. All I need is a ninety-day extension. Just three months, I hear myself still begging. I’ll be able to bring everything current. I promise!
The weasel raises his eyebrows to let me know he doesn’t buy it for one second. He glances down at the screen again, and I mentally prepare myself to segue from begging to groveling. I’m ready to roll around on the floor and tear my hair, if that’s what it takes. I’m the one who messed everything up, but I’m also the one who is going to make it right. Starting with this house.
The weasel is still staring at the screen. He better hope whatever he needs to see there to give me my ninety days shows up in the next sixty seconds because I am this close to dragging him across that desk and whipping his smug little ass until somebody comes to pull me off him. This close.
Then he sighs deeply and looks up. Sixty days, he says, like it’s killing him. I’ll give you sixty days.
And I want to say, It’s not even your money, so why are you acting so shitty in a moment that is already shitty enough without your adding a single thing?
But it’s not his fault. I wouldn’t even be sitting here if I hadn’t done the things I did. The reason he’s acting like he’s doing me a favor is because he is doing me a favor. They could have taken the house two months ago, and no amount of world-class begging could have stopped them if the weasel hadn’t let me slide. Being mad at him is a waste of time, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that time is all you’ve got.
Thank you, I say, standing up to go before he can change his mind. He stands up and reluctantly shakes the hand I offer. He’s giving me that disapproving stone face like he’s Robert Young on Father Knows Best and I’m Kitten trying to hide a bad report card.
I’m at the door when he calls my name, and my first reaction is to keep walking like I don’t hear him, but that would be gutless, and courage is one of the things I’m supposed to be working on, so I stop and half turn back toward him. Yes?
Good luck, he says with a smile that’s almost human.
Thanks, I say, smiling back, even if he is my banker. I’m going to need it.