January 20th, 2008

Credit card debt

Once, when I was in college, my parents came to visit me and we all went out for dinner at a nice restaurant. It was my second year away from home and I was really happy to see them.

At one point my father excused himself to go to the restroom and it was just my mother and I at the table. She pulled an envelope out of her purse and set it on the table in front of me. "I got your credit card statement in the mail," she said, coldly. "How did you spend that much money? What were you thinking! And now we'll have to pay it off for you. You'd better tell your father about this when he gets back to the table."

I was mortified. Yes, I had known about the $500+ balance and had been working for months to pay it off, but made so little money that all I could do was chip away at it. My folly had been not having my mail re-directed to me when I'd gone back to school in the fall. I was so angry that she had opened my mail - it was none of her business! - but was completely at her mercy. I desperately didn't want to have to explain the situation to my father. He would have been so angry with me, and deeply disappointed. "I'll pay it off, mom. I can do it myself. I don't need you and dad to pay it off for me."

My father returned to the table then and I was horrified that my mother would tell him anyway, despite my pleas that I could pay it off myself. And my mother kept looking over at me as she ate, waiting for me to say something.

I'm sure my dad was a little confused by the sudden drop in humor at the table. One minute I was happy, chipper and chatty and the next I could barely swallow a bite of my food. About halfway through the meal he had to get up for something, maybe to flag down the waiter or something, but once again my mother and I were left alone at the table. "Alright, we won't tell him," she told me. "But you had better pay off that debt."

And I did. It wasn't easy, and I think it took me over a year, but I chipped away at that balance, sending in $20 one month, $40 the next, whatever I could bear to part with, until the balance was back down to $0. It was awful, but I learned a valuable lesson from the whole experience: never leave unopened mail around my mother. She's just too damn nosy.