How I Live Now

There was a time, not so very long ago, when I could have told you the exact amount of cash I had in my wallet, down to the penny. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, wondering how I’d pay my bills, or what on earth I’d do if I became seriously ill with no health insurance. For most of my life, I was about one flat tire away from utter homelessness. It was exhausting.

I learned to add rice to a can of soup to make it a meal. I was the coupon queen. I wore clothes until my meager sewing skills couldn’t keep them together anymore, and then I’d replace them at the thrift store. My shoes would all but disintegrate on my feet.

For entertainment, I’d play with my dogs, or take a walk, or watch PBS. I checked out mounds of library books. I knew when all the museums and galleries were free.

I’m not saying that all the joy in life is brought about by money, but life sure has improved now that the financial pressure has eased considerably.

I still keep a tiny bit of cash on hand for emergencies, but I couldn’t tell you how much. Mostly, I sleep through the night, and while I still avoid extravagant, unnecessary bills, I don’t worry about my ability to pay the ones I do incur. My health insurance is probably better than what most people have here in America. (Which isn’t saying much.) And recently I replaced all four of my tires at once without batting an eye. (Okay, maybe I swallowed hard for a second, but there was absolutely no eye batting.)

I still don’t eat at five-star restaurants, but I actually buy organic fruits and vegetables without considering them a splurge. And if I really want something in particular to eat, I figure out a way to get it. I can’t remember the last time I even opened a can of soup. I still use coupons, but I’m not ruled by them. I still shop at thrift stores mostly, but every once in a while I’ll get myself something really nice to wear. And my shoes are in good shape.

I have a lot more fun than I used to. I can afford to get out there and engage with the world. I eat out. I see the odd movie. I pay admission fees without perspiring, and occasionally donate a little extra to museums. I still love library books, though.

Sometimes I’ll look around and wonder how I got to this place. It was a long, hard struggle. It doesn’t seem real to me. I doubt it ever will. I keep expecting to wake up to another can of soup. And I doubt I’ll ever be able to retire. Because of that, I’ll always appreciate how I live now. I’ll never take anything for granted. I’ll always feel as though I’ve taken off a pair of shoes that were two sizes too small. For now, it really feels good to wiggle my toes!

Life. It’s so fragile, so precarious. Enjoy it as much as you can, while you can.

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How the Republicans Helped Kill my Boyfriend

Today would have been my boyfriend’s 59th birthday. He had tons of health issues. In the year before his death I had either called 911 or driven him to the emergency room on 5 occasions. Most nights we didn’t sleep fully because he couldn’t breathe. In fact he had to fight for nearly every breath he took. It was heartbreaking to witness.

When the Affordable Care Act came along I heaved a huge sigh of relief because I thought that finally he would have the health insurance he so desperately needed, and perhaps get some continuity of care for a change instead of these spot checks by harried emergency room doctors and yet another bill to add to the 90,000 dollars’ worth of medical debt that he had racked up and would never be able to repay.

Unfortunately, due to his declining health his income had declined as well. Because of his low income, he didn’t qualify for the Affordable Care Act insurance. In a just and decent world, he would have then been able to get Medicaid. But no. We were in a red state, Florida, and that meant that Rick Scott, the evil republican governor, refused to accept the federal funding that would allow the Medicaid program to expand enough to accept people like my boyfriend who fell between the cracks. In fact it widened the crack considerably.

This meant that my boyfriend was in the awkward position of being too poor for Affordable Care and too rich for Medicaid. So he continued to have no insurance at all. Until that fateful day when it was no longer needed.

They found his body in his truck in front of the pharmacy just a few blocks from home. He was clutching his rescue asthma inhaler. What a horrible, lonely, terrifying way to go.

I will never know what happened that day, but I will always think that if he had been able to get adequate medical care, if his asthma and his heart issues could have been brought under control, the love of my life would still be alive. And the only thing that stood between him and that medical care was a republican governor who was trying to make a political point. And the final bitter irony is that my boyfriend was many things, but a democrat was not one of them.

Make no mistake: any political party that is willing to risk peoples’ lives just so they can try to make a president’s initiative look bad and therefore garner more votes for their party is evil. Republicans do not care whether you live or die. They just care about manipulating your vote. People are dying in red states. Fathers, brothers, sons, mothers, sisters, and daughters. They’re dying because they can’t get the insurance that would easily be available to them if these republican governors accepted the available federal funding. And they’ve left behind loved ones who can vote.

So please vote tomorrow. Please. Do it for my boyfriend and for the many other people like him.


Rick Scott, you creepy, lizard-like man with no conscience, j’accuse.

Union Dues

For the first time in my life I’m a member of an effective union, and holy crap, what a difference it’s making in my life! I’ve actually got a living wage and can look forward to raises. I have decent health insurance for the first time in well over a decade. I have retirement. Retirement! I can’t even imagine. And believe me, that’s just the tip of the benefit iceberg.

I actually know several people who have bought into the whole Republican propaganda machine and therefore resent unions. That always kind of amuses me, because they would be the first people to squawk if they had to work more than 40 hours a week, 8 hours a day, or if child labor came back, or if they were in sweat shops. They have unions to thank for their excellent working conditions, and yet they disapprove of them.

I’m assuming these people think that employers are going to treat their employees decently as a matter of principle. Unfortunately, this has never been demonstrated to me. I’ve been working since I was 10 years old, and I’ve held 23 different jobs. What this has taught me is that greed will always prevail. Power always corrupts.

Yes, unions can take advantage of their power as well. Some of their benefits are a bit over the top. Yesterday I worked 12 straight hours, and because of that I was entitled to have my dinner reimbursed. I felt a little guilty as I turned in my receipt for coconut crusted prawns, top sirloin with mashed potatoes and broccoli, and salted caramel vanilla crunch cake. But you know what? I guarantee you that there isn’t a member of a board of directors anywhere in this country who hasn’t eaten even better, and I know I work harder than they do.

So unless you can wave your magic wand and come up with some way of making everyone behave fairly, I’ll continue to pay my dues and eat my prawns, thank you very much.


My Hobbies are None of Your Business, Boss

Just when you thought the Supreme Court couldn’t sink any lower in its conservative white male support of corporations over the human beings they are supposed to represent, along comes this foolishness with Hobby Lobby. Their landmark ruling on that lawsuit means that your employer now has the right to impose his beliefs on your body. HOW DARE THEY???

The owners of Hobby Lobby have very strong religious convictions. Good for them. They have decided that contraceptives are a sin. Fine. Then they shouldn’t take contraceptives.

But they’ve taken the concept one step further. They’ve decided that they have the right to impose their beliefs on the at least 15,000 women that they employ nationwide. Thanks to the Supreme Court, they are now allowed to provide these women with health insurance that will not cover birth control.

This won’t stop these women from using birth control. I guarantee you that. But it will impose a financial hardship, and I have no doubt that Hobby Lobby pays its employees pathetically, as that seems to be the retailer trend these days. In many cases it will cause these women to seek out more affordable but less effective alternatives, and this will impact their health and the very structure of their families.

Here’s what no one seems to be saying. If my boss tried to have a conversation with me about my health choices, if he tried to give me advice on what I should do when I’m off the clock, if he even dared to suggest that my private life were any of his business whatsoever, I’d sit him down, look him straight in the eye, calmly inform him that I’m a grown-ass woman and he is not my father, and then I’d tell him to shut his pie hole.

And that should be the end of the conversation. There should never have been a single court in the land that would view this as a legitimate lawsuit. It is a sad day in this country when there is legal sanction to treat employees as if they are children. You pay me, and part of that pay is in the form of health insurance, in exchange for my hard work. A fair trade. It has been that way since the emancipation proclamation. What I do after receiving that compensation, even if it involves sacrificing goats under the light of the full moon, has nothing whatsoever to do with you.

One thing is for certain: I won’t ever spend another penny in a Hobby Lobby. And since the vast majority of their customers are women, I hope all women with sense will do the same thing. If I were a competing retailer, I’d take advantage of this opportunity to make it perfectly clear that I, unlike Hobby Lobby, respect a woman’s right to make her own decisions. Now THAT store would have my undying loyalty.

And believe you me, if there were a way to also boycott the Supreme Court, I’d be doing that, too. They are completely out of control. Sheesh.

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[Image credit: Hikaru Cho]

Why I Love Obamacare

As an abysmally underinsured American, for the past decade I’ve been acutely aware of the passage of time. Every day that went by felt like it was one day closer to whatever catastrophic health problem was going to take me down. The company I work for thought it was decent and fair to provide its employees with insurance that had a 3,500.00 cap. I always felt as if I were one sprained ankle away from joining the ranks of the uninsured, and it terrified me.

Once, I tripped off a curb and as the asphalt was rushing up to meet me, instead of thinking, “What can I do to prevent this?” or “This is going to hurt,” my very first thought, even prior to impact, was, “I can’t afford this.” That shouldn’t be the case.

Another time I broke one of the bones in my foot and couldn’t afford treatment, so I hobbled around for six months on a cane while it improperly healed. I can feel it every time the weather gets cold, and that will be an ache that I’ll get to experience every winter for the rest of my life. That shouldn’t be the case.

Oh, believe me, I tried to get individual insurance, but due to pre-existing conditions, they wanted to charge me 900.00 a month. That shouldn’t be the case either. Before taxes, I only make 1700.00 a month, and I pay 700.00 a month in rent. That would leave me less than a hundred bucks a month for food, gas, utilities… Give me a break.

Could I get some kind of financial or medical assistance? Nope. I make too much money. My friends in other countries are shocked by my situation.

So when I finally, finally paid my first monthly premium for Obamacare and found it would cost me the same amount that I had been paying for my previous, crappy insurance, but that this coverage would be about a million times better, I hung up the phone and I got tears in my eyes. That’s one less thing to worry about, freeing me up for that pursuit of happiness that I was assured was my right according to the Declaration of Independence.

Let’s address the big old Republican elephant in the room, shall we? Yes, the website is a joke. Yes, it took me daily attempts for almost two solid months before I could get through that nightmare. But you know what? I did it. In spite of the frustration, I kept trying until I got through, because I desperately needed to succeed in this effort, and I wasn’t going to give up. It was too important.

Yes, the Republicans are flooding the media with absurd horror stories and warnings that they’ll take away your firstborn child, implant you with microchips, shuttle you off to a death panel, plaster close up photographs of your hemorrhoids on the billboard closest to your place of work, and force all the doctors in America to go bankrupt, but I’m here to tell you that Fox News and their ilk are spewing fifty gallon drums of liquefied manure.

Here’s the horror story that they don’t want to tell you. As more and more of us sign up, and as the dust settles, we’ll start to realize just how many lies we’ve been told over the years. We’ll realize that our employers have been screwing us over, and big insurance companies have been sticking knives in our ribs for decades. It isn’t Obamacare that has forced all of us off of our substandard insurance. Our insurance companies’ refusal to make the coverage meet even the most minimal requirements is what caused those jokes they called policies to disappear. The spiraling cost of medical care, the abuse of the pharmaceutical companies, and the greed of the insurance agencies wanting an ever increasing piece of the monetary pie is what’s putting the squeeze on doctors.

Once we all stop waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, worrying about the mildest of sore throats or the dullest of aches, affordable healthcare will become a regular part of our lives and it will be here to stay. All the boogeymen will crawl back under their dusty little Republican beds and life will go on. The term Obamacare will stop being a pejorative and instead will be considered a basic right. (And I’m making every effort to hurry it on its way by using it whenever possible, to de-criminalize it in people’s minds.)

Soon it will be big business waking up in a cold sweat, figuratively speaking, because they’ll have to accept the fact that if they had behaved decently in the first place, Obamacare wouldn’t need to exist. And they’ll no longer be able to hide the fact that because of their abuses, the vast majority of Americans actually want this. Really, they’ve brought it on themselves.

Whatever caused it to exist at this moment in our history, I’m extremely grateful that it does. So thank you, Mr. Obama! I know it feels like an albatross around your neck at the moment, but future generations will appreciate your courage and resolve. I can honestly say you may have just saved my life.


[Image credit:]

Bob Cratchit is my Hero

When I walked in the door today, two of my coworkers were engaged in a bit of a shouting match. It was about the temperature. One felt it was too hot, the other felt it was just right, and what ensued was a battle royal, despite the fact that one of them would be leaving in less than 20 minutes. “Merry Christmas”, I thought.

When you work three people to a shift, trapped for 8 hours in a little room as we do on this drawbridge, a certain amount of drama is bound to ensue. For the love of all that’s holy, do NOT discuss politics or religion up in here. Not if you want to escape with your life. Well, okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get what I’m saying. When someone turns on the news, I’ve learned to put on my head phones and lose myself in my music.

In honor of the season, I brought in one of the many versions of the Christmas Carol and watched it on my laptop. It occurred to me that of all the characters in that classic story, the one who appeals to me the most is Bob Cratchit. In many ways I can relate to him, and in many others I aspire to be him. I relate to his circumstances. He’s underpaid, and his boss (in my case, the greater corporation, because I actually like my immediate supervisor) is cheap, and is much more concerned with getting a day’s work out of his employees than he is about their general welfare. My employers could so easily pay me more and change my life, and could provide decent health insurance and proper and up-to-date working equipment, but they don’t care about me or anyone else. As with Scrooge, it’s all about the money. We wear the chains we forge in life. No doubt about it.

But here’s what impresses me about Bob Cratchit: In spite of his dismal working conditions and stress at home (a sick child, a lot of mouths to feed, and what appears to be a cranky, albeit loving spouse), he’s basically very happy, and seems to have his priorities straight. Work is something you do for survival. But what you live for is friends and family. There’s nothing else that matters, really–certainly not the room temperature.

In the interests of full disclosure, in spite of the lousy pay and benefits, I actually do like my job. I’d just like to be able to do more than merely survive. But maybe I should take a page from Bob Cratchit’s book and stop feeling hopeless about my lot in life. Maybe I should shift my focus away from the things I want and will most likely never have, and instead realize that I already have quite a bit—a roof over my head (for now, anyway), enough food on my table, and people whom I love very much. When all is said and done, that’s really all any of us need. Everything else is just stuff.