Saturday, April 16, 2022

When Dreams Die


My toddler’s favorite phrase lately is, “Same old, same old, same old.” And after the week we’ve just had, it appears that’s exactly what’s in store for us in the foreseeable future.

But let’s back up. After another infuriating round of throw-your-money-at-whatever-house-comes-up-on-the-MLS-and-hope-it-sticks, we gave up on any hope of relocating. We simply couldn’t compete in our wannabe new city’s hot real estate market. When the decision was finally made, and I embarked on another series of cancelation phone calls and emails, the primary emotion I felt was…relief.

The pressure was just too much. I didn’t want to be on my phone all day, waiting for new house listings to pop up like an addict desperate for a hit. I didn’t want to blow all our savings on the slight chance that someone might choose our offer on a house we probably wouldn’t want to live in under any other circumstances.

The housing situation had gotten so stressful, I actually had my first real estate nightmare. It involved me touring our new home for the first time and discovering it had everything I abhorred in a home, including a New York address (aka my hell on Earth), a ton of stairs (hello, strollers!), and a strange configuration where I had to walk through a busy mall in order to go between bedrooms (privacy, please!).

So my husband called his new boss and explained that relocation was simply too expensive and that he would have to turn down the job. To our surprise, the new boss was willing to negotiate. He suggested several cities within a 90-minute commuting radius where we could make our home base instead. He would allow my husband to work remotely as long as he came into the office once a week.

And so the housing scramble began again. One of the cities the new boss suggested seemed both safe and affordable. Our realtor even found a new construction community that would be releasing homes in our budget within a couple of weeks. All we had to do was wait for the release, then slap down a $95 application fee and $1,000 earnest money. In six months, the house would be complete and we could move in. Our mortgage might even be less than it is now!

“This sounds great!” I emailed my realtor. “Almost too good to be true…?”

From my lips to God’s ears.

But it wasn’t the housing situation that put the nail in the coffin of our relocation dream. It was health insurance.

When my husband received the job offer, he was told he would have benefits from day one, and that the company contributed a certain amount towards the health care premium. I assumed the new health insurance plan would still be more expensive than our current one, but I didn’t ask to see the rates because I knew they would be a buzzkill. So I didn’t ask. And because my husband is the Peter Pan of finances, he didn’t ask, either.

Well, now that we were really, truly, finally going to move, I said, “We should probably know how much that new health insurance plan is going to cost so we can factor it into our budget.”

The new boss repeated the company line that the company would contribute a certain amount toward the health care insurance premium. Yes, but...what was the premium? The company dragged its feet on producing the documents. (That should have been our first warning sign.) They punted. They delayed. Finally, they sent the benefits packet...and holy fucking shit.

The monthly health insurance premium for our humble family of four was going to cost more than the mortgage payment on a brand-new home!

Perhaps this shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I had been tinkering with a cost-of-living calculator that told me this move was a very bad idea. Wages in our wannabe city were lower than the national average while health care costs were higher than average. I didn’t want to believe it but there were all the impossible numbers right in front of me. You can’t exactly argue with math.

There was no way we could make ends meet in our wannabe city. This job offer was a losing proposition.

At first, I was irate. WTF kind of country is this that someone has to turn down a job because they can’t afford to take it? Why is health care a privilege, not a right? How the hell are people supposed to survive, much less better themselves, if housing and health care are this expensive? (And I didn’t even mention childcare costs yet!)

When the anger faded, I just felt sad. If the new employer had given us the health insurance premium information when they sent the offer letter, we never would have indulged this dream. We wasted over a month trying to make the puzzle pieces fit and couldn’t figure out why we kept failing. We were willing to make so many concessions, and even then, it didn’t matter. It’s like life gave us a box of flaming shit but it was wrapped so beautifully we didn’t notice at first.

I acknowledge that my attitude is shitty, too. To my credit, I did try to reframe the situation. Maybe I should be grateful we got the health insurance premium information when we did; imagine if we’d moved and then had to figure out how to make over $1,500 a month magically appear! Maybe all our rejected home offers were evidence that the Universe was protecting us. Maybe we learned some valuable lessons, so that when we get another opportunity to relocate, we won’t fuck it up. Maybe there’s some other dream on the horizon that we simply can’t fathom right now. Maybe there’s a reason we are meant to stay in Minnesota. (Ha!) Maybe there’s even some humor to be found in all this. We pissed off a lot of people who simply didn’t understand our indecision and financial restraints during this process. As I remarked to my husband, “Can you believe we’ve already made enemies in a place we’ve never even been?” (OK, maybe that’s not funny.)

On what was supposed to be Departure Day, I awoke to a fresh layer of snow outside (in mid-fucking April). Even though it broke both our hearts, my husband sent an email declining the job offer. I went on a walk and wallowed while listening to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago album (the only Bon Iver album worth listening to IMHO).

Then I used my good-ass, affordable health insurance (the only thing Minnesota does right) to go to my annual consultation at the high-risk breast cancer clinic. The specialist reviewed my mammogram, did a a breast exam, and gave my (high-density) boobs a clean bill of health...until she noticed a strange lesion on my right areola.

"Is this new?" she asked as she palpated the charcoal-colored bump.

"Yes?" I guessed. I had never seen it. It wasn't huge but it was definitely unusual. "Actually, I don't know. I don't look at my boobs, like, ever."

Since all the baby-making business (and given the ways it alters one's body, not to mention the wrinkles and gray hairs parenting causes), I make it a point to avoid mirrors as much as I can. The only thing I routinely check is the size of my stomach. It seems to be the corporeal litmus test of how "good" I am (or not).

But I digress. The specialist said I could go home and try to pop the bump (eww, no thank you), or just watch it, and see what happens. This is my least favorite form of medical advice, but I stupidly said “OK!” (Can I blame the baby? I brought her along because daycare was closed and she was starting to fuss so I wanted to make a quick exit.) No more than 10 minutes later, as I was driving home, I realized I should've asked for the biopsy right then and there because now I was worrying and I knew the worrying wouldn't stop until I got that ugly little bump quite literally off my chest.

So now, on top of not being able to leave this fucking frozen shithole after 40 years of hoping, wishing, and praying, I now get to have part of my nipple hacked off to see if I have cancer.

Isn’t life grand?

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