Yesterday afternoon Tom came home from work and brought in a month’s worth of mail. I used to look forward to the mail because all I ever got were glossy fashion magazines and the odd letter or two from friends. But a few months ago I learned to dread it.
Tom put down the bundle and I approached it tentatively. There were, lurking in-between the glossy magazines, a stack of bills and notices: among them two from the New York Department of Labor reminding me that I had one more Job Search Update appointment coming up (this Friday) and another from the New York State of Health, informing me that I had to enroll in a healthcare plan before January 31st or pay a hefty tax penalty.
This was confusing, because I thought I’d already done so, back in November, to avoid this very thing.
I then spent an hour and a half on the phone (an hour and fifteen minutes of it holding), trying to figure out what I hadn’t done back in November to be assaulted now, in the still somewhat sparkling New Year, with what can only be labeled as “Bad News.”
“You’re supposed to click through twice,” said Ron finally after looking through my account. He soft-spoken, a quite friendly guy, “I know the system is not the most uh….”
“User friendly,” I said.
“Yeah, it’s kind of confusing, but you’re supposed to click through twice at the end to confirm that you’ve been enrolled.”
“I didn’t see any button that said ‘click again’ or ‘resubmit.'”
Kindly, he offered to transfer me to another office that could help backdate my plan.
“I can’t guarantee anything,” he said, “But they’re the only ones who can help you change your enrollment status.”
“Great, thanks,” I said, stupidly expecting to speak to someone straightaway.
Forty-five minutes listening to nothing interspersed with a too-upbeat robot woman voice talk about how it wasn’t too late to enroll for managed health care and that my call was very important to “them.” Finally a less-friendly sounding man picked up – I’ll call him Dick. I explained the situation to him.
“That’s totally understandable,” Dick said, “We definitely can backdate an enrollment especially if it’s the customer’s error, but it’s a two-step process because they’re very very picky about whom they give that to.”
“Oh,” I said, knowing already that I wouldn’t reach the second step.
“You have to prove that you have an existing condition that requires continued treatment.”
“I have to be sick?”
“Well,” he paused, “for instance, a qualifying treatment would be if you needed chemotherapy.”
“I have to have cancer to get my health insurance backdated a month?”
I wondered if out of incredulity I could give myself a nosebleed and fax him the blood.
“No but that’s an example of a qualifying existing condition.”
He rattled off other conditions, “Diabetes, heart disease, thyroid issues…” But I wasn’t listening.
I’m healthy except for this building anxiety that 2016, the year I turn 30, might be filled with episodes like this one: phone calls with faceless people that go nowhere, do nothing. And sharp little daggers in the mail, those short notices that lead to long, painful days.
It’s cheeky, I know, to return from a monthlong vacation and write on the internet about how hard life seems, but would you believe me if I told you that behind all those Instagram photos and photo-laden blog posts was a very anxious unemployed person, knowing full well the world was wondering, “What the hell is she doing going around Thailand when she has no job?” and dreading all the unknowns waiting for her back in New York – the job situation (still looking), the freelance writing situation (jobs, sure, but not enough of them), the personal writing situation (this blog, those editors that have yet to respond), the health insurance situation (shitty until March, when it’ll become less shitty), the parents’ and relatives’ expectations situation (“What is ‘freelance’ writing?” “Are you really looking for a job?” “Are you and Tom going to get engaged soon?” Pennies. Yes. An awkward silence and a sideways glance at Tom, thankful in these moment at least he cannot understand Chinese. )
And over all that, like a ratty, typhoon-battered umbrella, the realization that I’ve been writing myself in circles for about at least ten years, maybe fifteen, if I remember my old diary entries. How much has changed around me – people growing, grabbing onto their responsibilities as though they were the real fruits of life and I, tooling around with the same thoughts swirling around a fifteen-year old’s brain stuck in a thirty year old’s skull. Except now I am self-aware enough to think, “What if I faked my own death and snuck away into the woods somewhere?”
No joke, I think about that from time to time.
You, mature and clear-eyed reader, are probably aware there’s more here than just unemployment and a muddy road ahead, but I —
Dick cleared his throat. I became aware of how hot the phone was at my ear.
“Does that answer your question?”
“Yes,” I said, “That does. It does.”
“Can I help you with anything else?”
“No,” I said, because really, he couldn’t.