Things have gotten pretty bad.

We ran out of propane last week. The next night, Dagne wet the bed for the first time in years. The girls had all slept together so, of course, they got wet, too. And then, there was no shower for them. We went to the pool and showered there.

I called the propane company and she said they wouldn’t give us any more propane unless we paid our past bill in full and paid in advance from then on.

Smart people, I thought.

I said, “Well, then, I guess there’s no point in having your tank here in our yard. We can’t pay you in full right now, so you might as well come and get it.”

“And what about the remaining balance?” she asked.

“We’ll just keep paying you like we’ve been doing — $100 a month until it’s paid off.”

Then, I called other propane companies to get quotes on what it would cost. This is, of course, before we knew what was going to happen — before we had a move-out date. Propane companies must be hurting because everyone was eager for our business.

“We’ll bring the tank out there for free, waive all our usual setup fees, and give you $2.30 a gallon.”

I thought to myself, I should use the free enterprise system to my advantage more often.

I agreed, downloaded the account form, filled it out, and faxed it to them. The next day, the old company called us back, apologized for the behavior of their clerk, and asked if there was anything they could do to keep our business.

Ahhhh. The feeling of power. It fills the head. “Well, I never got this far when I spoke with you before, but we’re completely out of propane. We can get a new tank setup for free. You typically charge a haz-mat fee for $80. Would you be able to waive it?”

Silence.

“We’d be able to half it,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but right now, $40 is a lot of money for us. If we can get it for free elsewhere, we’ll have to go elsewhere.”

Then, she pulled out her guns. “Our policy dictates that if you are no longer doing business with us, you have 60 days to pay off your remaining balance. Then, we have to send it to collections.”

Then, she repeats the statement in a variety of ways, apologizing, but intoning with her voice that ‘their hands are tied.’

I think it is interesting how businesses blame their policy for everything they do, but ingratiate themselves with you by being able to override it “just this time” or “just for you.” Policies are so convenient. A scapegoat when they want to screw you. A bad cop when they want to play good cop.

I thought, put it on my tab, lady.

I said, “We’ll do our best to pay it as soon as we can.” I know how hollow those words sound, but I know we’re being honest. We will pay what we can. As soon as we can.

Then, she gave me some wonderful news. Paul had applied for some assistance that was denied due to some undotted ‘i’ or uncrossed ‘t’. We had received the denial just weeks ago and shrugged our shoulders and thought, oh well, par for the course. But, miraculously, the assistance came through and we owed only a couple hundred dollars!

It wasn’t long after that when we learned how little time we had left in the house. Yesterday, Paul was notified by the new propane company that everything was set up, we just needed to call for an appointment to have them install the tank. Little point in that now. It’s all moot.

With the girls gone, Paul and I plan to continue camping in our house. Yesterday was our 17th anniversary. I arrived home about 5 o’clock. Paul cooked a spaghetti dinner over the campstove, and I made a salad. We sat down together, kissed, and clinked our wine glasses together, filled with some brand of Two-Buck-Chuck. Then, we watched a movie on our couch, in our home filled with boxes. Dinner and a movie. Typical date; atypical circumstances. It was surreal, really.

Seventeen years ago, I was full of ideals and plans for the future, full of hope that we could do whatever we wished. We were going to travel and go on adventures together. We would wait to have kids. We wanted to enjoy ourselves, just Paul and me.

But the best laid plans …

Still, we’ve traveled. And we’ve had real adventures, not contrived ones that double as vacations. Obstacles to overcome. And the children … our girls make our hearts pound with pride. What joy they’ve brought. What difficulties, but so, so, so, so, worth it. Never have I been busier, pushed to my limits, exhausted, and … fulfilled. They complete us. Everything feels right when we look at them.

This morning, Paul started the coffee and began cooking bacon and eggs on our campstove out on the back deck. He whistled cheerfully, inhaling the fresh, juniper-scented air and said, “The main thing I’m going to miss is this back deck.”

I accused, “I think you’re enjoying this. You like having to ‘camp’ in our house.” He laughed sheepishly, agreeing that it wasn’t half-bad.

I whipped up a batch of biscuits and we cooked them in the pan and dutch oven. Then, we sat down with our coffee, biscuits, eggs, and bacon. He’s right, I thought. It isn’t too hard. Of course, I’m freshly showered from my mom’s house. Showering at the pool gets annoying after awhile.

I’ve never gone grocery shopping. We’re still cleaning out the pantry, buying only the bare essentials to get by. Cans are disappearing. Basics like flour, sugar, and cinnamon, are almost gone. We can stow leftovers in the fridge in their huge pans because it is empty. I derive some sort of sick pleasure in finishing something off, in using it up. It’s wierd. I like using up stores of food. It annoys me to have them sitting back there in the cupboard.

We’re doing this, not because we don’t have the money to get food, but to not have to move it. (All well-meaning family members, don’t worry about us. We’re okay. We’ll call if we get hungry.) We’re just using things up, going through stuff, getting rid of things, and packing it up.

Still, we have no idea where we’re going.

My dad called me last night.

“So …” (he always begins his sentences with the word ‘so’) “how are you doing?”

I said, “I’m doing pretty well, considering. A couple of hours ago, I thought I was doing really awful. But I just watched a movie about the lost boys of Sudan (God Grew Tired of Us) and it made me realize I’m pretty lucky. Those poor boys watched their families get killed, were driven from their homes, and wandered miles over the desert, starving. Then, they waited for ten years in refugee camps, without a direction or place to go. It gives you perspective. Really, if you have your daily bread, why complain?”

He laughed at this and said, “So … what are your options?”

“Oh, Dad,” I said, sarcasm dripping, “we’ve got so many options. People are pounding down the door offering us places to live. Lloyd says we can come live with him. We’ve got the SJs. Grandpa and Grandma said we can live in their basement. We can live in Mom’s and Dad’s RV …”

“Well,” he said, “what about us?”

“Is that an invitation?” I asked.

“You can come live with us,” he said.

I continue joking in my head. “Thanks, Dad, I’ll add you to our list of possibilities. We’ll review your application and get back to you on that. Don’t call us. We’ll call you.”

But the question remains, where are we going to live?

And that question would be so much easier to answer if we knew where we were going to work.

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