Last week I stopped at a gas station and got out to pay at the pump. I slid my debit card in and a message popped up on the screen demanding "see cashier". After swiping it again only to get the same result, I chalked it up to a scratchy magnetic strip and used my husband's card instead. He was in Mexico visiting his family (who paid his entire way) and had left me his debit card.
The next day I went to a nearby family-owned grocery store to pick up just a few necessities. You might be able to guess what happened when I swiped my debit card in the reader. Yep. Declined. Hmmf. There must be some mistake, I thought. A couple of days ago I had deposited my meager paycheck of $278 into my bank account so I KNEW I could cover gas and groceries. Something was up. I called the bank.
"We're sorry, but your account services have been restricted. Due to the loss you caused us we are not able to grant you continued use of a debit card."
Late last summer, after years of struggling and many honest efforts to reason with our mortgage lender and reinstate our loan (which was in late stages of foreclosure and had a sheriff sale date set for early fall), we came to realize that the lender was so incredibly overwhelmed with this ongoing national crisis that they were never going to be able to help us in time to save our home. We had already cut out all of the frills, with no cable, no land line, and after 2 years of driving only one junker car (which we passed back and forth daily as we worked opposite shifts from one another) we had "upgraded" to one more junker which was so kindly donated to us. Our credit card debt was nothing compared to what most people are drowning in, but we couldn't make ends meet, couldn't pay our debts, and we were about to lose our home. We filed for Chapter 7. We included $1000 of debt to my bank in the bankruptcy. I was too naive to realize that this would be cause for being ostracized by the bank, even though I'd done business with them for 13 years. Duh. They couldn't care less about second chances or having a heart when there is a bottom line to be considered.
After hanging up the phone with them I threw myself into a sobbing fit which included numerous expletives as well as cliches such as "WHY, God? WHY?!" Luckily my son was at preschool and not a witness to my one-woman tragic play. Finally, I pulled myself together and said, "Well, you've often said you'd like to live 'off the grid', and a not having a debit card is a step in that direction. Now stop being so dramatic and count your blessings. Worrying and going into despair will not help your situation." Also, it took me about 2 minutes to realize that having to spend cash on-hand instead of blindly using my debit card while half hazardly balancing my checking account in my head was going to be a much better way to manage my spending.
Going off the grid is something I've fantasized about during moments of indulging my inner hippie. In reality, what I sincerely want is a simpler, happier life. I am tired of struggling in a society which values things that I don't necessarily care much about. I've never been one to care about having flashy toys or name-brand clothing. Sometimes I feel like I'm forced to buy into the American Dream, but for me it's turning out to be a nightmare.
When I met my husband in 1995 I was 22 years old. I was living in Mexico and teaching English at a language school in Central Mexico. It was probably the happiest time of my life. I grew to adore the culture and the simpler lifestyle that many people have there. All of it's quirks and bumps and round-about ways just make me love it more. I wanted to stay there and for a little over two years I managed to go back and forth between Minnesota and Mexico, saving every cent of my waitress money in order to return to Mexico to teach English and enjoy my new-found loves, my (now) husband and Mexico. But alas, student loans were calling my name, and responsibility dug in it's claws.
Much has happened over the past fifteen years. My love came to the U.S., we eventually married, and now have a 4-year-old son, who, I'll proudly say, is bilingual. It's been nice to have my family all within driving distance, though we do not spend nearly enough time with one another, which my husband finds to be a little sad since family is always on the front burner in the Mexican culture. We have struggled in so many ways with jobs we hate and poorly made financial decisions which I feel came as a direct result of our unhappiness with our situation.
Last year I went out on a limb and quit my job, even though there is a horrible crisis going on. I was in pursuit of a new career and I really thought it was going to work out fine. I'll save those details for another day, but let's just say that my daring decision is largely responsible for putting us in the new low that we hit this past fall. In effort to explore possibilities, my husband went to Mexico on his family's dime, and was bombarded with endless ideas of what could very well be some fruitful business endeavors. His family all but threw up their hands at him, asking him what the heck we are doing struggling and losing our precious time in a place so unforgiving that it seems to allow no room for dreams to come true and relationships to be fostered. I realize that for many, the United States gives hope and freedom and a solid foundation. But sometimes I feel drawn to leave.
SO, now we've got Mexico on the mind. We realize it's not perfect there either and there are a few things that are keeping us from taking the plunge asap. But even with our thoughts racing all over the map, so to speak, I believe the X that will mark the spot is going to be in Mexico.
Stay tuned, if you feel up for the ride.