Get the Numbers: March 5, 2018 Monday Money Check-in

One morning last week I woke up thinking about the skin cancer on my chest. I wasn’t thinking about my health, though. I was thinking about my bills. I assumed, since it feels like insurance companies just want to bankrupt us all, that this cancer would bankrupt me. I have a $4,000 deductible, even though my insurance is $400 a month. So I thought I would have no less than a $4,000 bill.

I even turned down a weekend with friends, citing that number and saying I would probably be facing it this year.

Then I realized: I really have no idea. To find out how much something will cost seems so freaking complicated. Do you ask insurance or your doctor? What’s the procedure code? How many calls will you have to make, and how long will each one take? I made myself face it, and found out. I made two calls and discovered that, while they couldn’t give me a definite number, it would probably cost between $400 and $600.

Oh. I had to laugh.

I can handle that. It’s like how I had my 20-year-old car broken down on the side of the road for more than a week. I didn’t want to take it to the mechanic, because I was sure that they would say this is the time to put her down. So I kept finding excuses of why not today, today, today. Then I had her towed, for free with my Geico roadside assistance. They found out that the battery the replaced this year was defective, and replaced it. Bill: $0. Car: fixed.

Hell yes.

I have to keep asking myself: with retirement, with buying a house, with any dream or dread, am I responding to actual numbers, or nebulous fear?

Right now I’m feeling afraid. I haven’t had much paying work for the last three weeks, I’m headed to Florida for a conference and week with my friends, and it just feels like the ramp-up to a nosedive. So I’m going to get on the phone with Lindsey from YNAB, and hope she can help me figure it all out, get the actual numbers.

  • Earned last week: $730 (Not as bad as I thought, but not great.)
  • Saved last week: $200
  • Personal Checking Balance: $586
  • Business Checking Balance: $2,061
  • Fuck Off Fund Level: $1,600
  • Weekly wins: Really trying to get educated on YNAB so I can keep my stuff straight. 
  • Look at all bills due this week: Done
  • Update and review budget (I’m changing to YNAB): Done
  • Look at any social events where I might want to spend some of my Fun Money: Ahh! Too many. 
  • Transfer 10% of money received last week: Not doing this, sorry future self. 
  • Transfer $200 to Fuck Off Fund: Done!
  • Transfer 20% of earnings to Tax Savings Account: Ummmmm….

Let Them Eat $1,500 Cake: February 25, 2018, Monday Money Check-In

What exactly, I wondered, as I watched a cake auctioned off for $1,500, are all these feelings?

The feelings were a lot, that’s all I knew for sure. I stood volunteering at the auction for Artists Trust, an organization that supports us artists, an organization I hope will one day support me, surrounded by tables of people who paid $250 a plate to be there.

I had fancied up, borrowed a $200 necklace from a jeweler friend of mine, done all the hair curling, put on a blazer. At a certain level of income, it becomes very easy to seem. Before the event, we mingled around the art with just our name tags betraying us. I ran into people I hadn’t expected, the novelist I knew, an artist who I think doesn’t like me, the poet Quenton Baker, with whom I had, just a year before, sat on a patio drinking beer and talking about pirating movies due to the condition called brokeness.

The next morning, I would read in my buddy Ross’s novel: “Art was never pure. Hadn’t ever been. Even cave drawings from thousands of years before made audiences swoon, and as a result, relationships and goods were won.”

Our words, our paint, opened the same door for us that $250 had opened for other people. Currency.

Then the auction began, and our places were set. The attendees sat, and I stood, working here. The auctioneer, a pisser in a big red bow, thanked them effusively. This is what they get out of the exchange. Not the cake, not really. They funded a Gap grant, $1,500. They kept an artist going. The distance between me to them, just a few feet, just a few million dollars, I’m sure it looks the same from the people I pass peeking out from grimy blankets. If I give them $1, I get to feel better. I don’t want it to be guilt, but that’s what it often is. That dollar is a payment, in some ways, to myself.

The auctioneer laid it on, because, of course. They are passing over thousands of dollars, she is passing back sacks of the feel goods. Grade A, luxury Feel Good.

Then here comes Quenton Baker, recipient of the Arts Innovator Award, with the Feels Bomb. Describing how Artist trust never made him feel like his stories were less than. How art is the way to tell the stories that need to be told. We can feel what they’ve done for him. Made a difference, and here he is. The hair on my arms raised and tingled. I looked over at a buddy who works at Artist Trust, saw him “Whoo” out some air as if that was the only way to stop crying.


The people at the tables seemed fun, nice. I was right near the Boeing table, near some men known by name, even from a distance of 100 feet, by the auctioneer.

Mostly what I feel is wanting to be them, and then the shame of wanting to be them. I think there are people who have gotten over this. I hate myself for caring. I hate myself for wanting, wanting to be the person to raise the paddle to go to that arts center in Bali, the hills of Tuscany. I wanted that glass sculpture, that painting, that photograph.

Lately, my art has been making me feel powerful. I’ve been investing in my account, each deposit of practice, each deposit of reading, of classes, retreats, degrees. It’s been happening like they said it would, giving me returns. I’ve been comfortable in that, confident.

But her, I feel weak. I picture myself among them.

We humans, we just want and want and want. Evolution didn’t give it an off switch. How small of a world we can hold in our mind at one time. We were never meant to calculate much about what we can’t see. My machine isn’t meant to feel globally. My machine calculates how I’m doing in this tribe, and in this tribe, I’m losing badly.

So what do I do, in general. I stay away from it. I don’t watch Rich People TV. I don’t follow celebrities on Instagram. Because I’m just not strong enough.



  • Earned last week: $500 (Half of what I need, damn!)
  • Saved last week: $200 
  • Personal Checking Balance: $732
  • Business Checking Balance: $178
  • Fuck Off Fund Level: $1,400 (YAY!)
  • Weekly wins: I set up a weekly $500 “paycheck” to my personal checking
  • Look at all bills due this week: RENT! AHHH!
  • Update and review budget (I’m changing to YNAB)
  • Look at any social events where I might want to spend some of my Fun Money: My friend Liam is playing in town to night, and I’m going to Spokane. So I have to cut any little stuff and save. 
  • Transfer 10% of money received last week: I can’t afford it this week. I’m scared. 
  • Transfer $200 to Fuck Off Fund: Done!
  • Transfer 20% of earnings to Tax Savings Account: Transferred $118


That Old Out-Of-Control Feeling: Feb. 12 Monday Money Check-in

I imagine it’s a bit like a potter, who’s sitting there spinning into life a perfectly round pot, until that first little shift, that tiny excess of pressure on one palm, a wobble, right before everything caves in and goes to shit.

That is the feeling I’m having right now about finances, and it’s one I know well. I’ve been spending, spending, spending. Granted, it’s for my business, a podcast transcriber here and a Hootsuite account there, the hosting for my book’s website, but all accounts flow back to Pauli P.

Plus, I found out last week that Bon Iver and Ray LaMontagne are playing the Sasquatch music festival, which means, no question, that I am going to Sasquatch. I have no regerts about this. Why didn’t I go see Prince the last time he was in Seattle? Because the tickets were $200. Anyway, Sasquatch is $325, camping is $50, plus, there will be beers and burritos. It’s an expense. But Beyonce and Bon Iver. I will never not see them, if they’re coming to town. Sorry not sorry.

Plus, I now have to deal with melanoma right in the sun valley of my cleavage. I have surgery this month and a $4,000 deductible (deductible: n. the amount that will be deducted (taken away) from you before your insurance will do anything). This means that I will probably be dealing with a $4,000 medical bill this year, which makes me want to puke.

As an experienced ostrich, I want to shove my head farther and farther into the sand. The reaction I’ve had to this feeling in the past has been to procrastinate as long as possible looking at my balances, my bills, the facts.

But I aspire to be more like a meerkat, standing as tall as possible on the rock of facts to look out, survey the horizon, and face whatever is coming.

So here I am at my Amanda Clayman-prescribed enjoyable money date with myself. Cost $4.34.

  • Earned last week:$1,191! Woot woot! I needed this because I was $400 short the week before. Please note that this is pre-tax, pre-expense money. In fact, I should change this label. What is this, gross? (gross: adj. without deduction of tax or other costs. Gross!)
  • Saved last week: $200 toward Fuck Off Fund, 20% for taxes.
  • Personal in red, yellow, or green zone (<$500, $500-$1,000, over $1,000): Red
  • Business Checking red, yellow, or green: Yellow
  • Fuck Off Fund Level: $1,000!
  • Weekly wins: My Fun Money card is working really well. The steps were to open a new account, order a debit card, set up a recurring transfer, and make a fun label for it that says Fun Money. Not too tough and totally worth it.
  • Look at all bills due this week: Just my little Freedom and Microsoft ones for my SharePoint site. Less than $20. Ooh, actually, I need to also look at how much the transcriber and other freelance help are and budget for that.
  • Update and review budget (I’m changing to YNAB): Ugh I neeeeeeed to do this. I’m switching systems and having technical difficulties. So I’m sure that’s part of my confusion.
  • Look at any social events where I might want to spend some of my Fun Money: I’m meeting a friend for a work time at the cafe tonight ($10), I want to celebrate a story coming out in The Stranger on Wednesday with a friend at a breakfast ($20), I have my standing Friday Fiester slumber party with my bestie ($15 for beer and ice cream), I meet up with a group of women to submit writing at a cafe ($20), and I really want one of these t-shirts from Oddfellows. Maybe I’ll try to save some $$$ for that this week.
  • Transfer 10% of money received last week to Betterment: Just set up my account and need to verify, but I will send $120 next week.
  • Transfer $200 to Fuck Off Fund: Done!
  • Transfer 20% of earnings to Tax Savings Account: Done!

I have to make sure I have enough money to plan, to move all these funds toward my future. For me, that’s meant really making sure I make money. This seems obvious, but as a freelancer, you can work all day and not make a dollar. Pitching, organizing emails, following up on payments, though these move you toward money, they are not actually making money. So I’ve been counting carefully the hours I work at a per-hour rate, the stories I actually sell, and the writer’s course sign ups I get. These have to be my metric.

And I’ve been working my butt off. It’s The Year of the Grind. I spent last Saturday night watching a Sex and the City marathon and setting up 100 automated emails for my writer’s course. Almost every social activity is in some way wrapped up in my work. I do not want to fail, because failure sucks.

Thanks all for this week. Please enjoy this baby meerkat.

January Wrap Up: What We Learned This Month

In January I worked with Amanda Clayman, financial therapist, to figure out what the fuck is wrong with me. Here’s what she had me do, and what you can do:

Unearth Your Money Story.

I talked to my mom and aunts and uncles. I unearthed an old recording of my mom interviewing my grandpa about his life. I found out my great grandpa only saw the sun on – twist the knife – Sunday. He woke up before sunrise, walked four miles to the coal mines, worked until after sunset, then walked home. Somewhere in there, he did the farm work.
My great grandmother on my dad’s side left Russia for the United States at 16 with her sisters, and with her mom running after the train, which is the last time they ever saw each other.
The angle at which I saw my life shifted. Each generation worked their ass off in ways I will never even begin to comprehend to give the next generation a better life, and the next, and now here I am, a writer, with no need to ever feel desperation, given the gifts I’ve received from 100 years back. So why do I keep making myself feel desperate?

Examine Your Self-Talk

Over the years, I’ve developed a habit of yelling at myself when I fuck up. I’ve successfully added to this positive self-talk, more of a “Come on buddy, let’s just get to work, you’ll be fine.” But then I slip back into my other nickname for myself, bitch. “Bitch you knew you could not afford that lunch out with your friends, why did you go?”
Amanda told me to bring it in, to watch out for those times when you split into the “you,” as if you’re yelling at another person. She says that’s just another way to avoid solving the problem, to which I get a huge, mom-watching-Oprah style HMMMM.

She provided the following guidelines on identifying and managing your moods with money:

Identifying and Managing Moods:

  • Describe the situation in detail.
  • Specify emotion(s) in this situation, such as sad, angry, afraid, helpless, etc. Rate degree of emotion 1-10.
  • Identify and describe relevant historical information pertaining to self-defeating thoughts.
Self-Defeating Thoughts
  • Record thought(s) that occurred prior, during, and after the situation. Rate belief in thought 1-10.
  • Identify self-defeating underlying belief that generates self-defeating thought.
Styles of Thinking
  • Analyze distortion present in self-defeating thought.
Balanced View / Constructive Action
  • Write realistic, not ideal, response to self-defeating thought.
  • Identify new constructive or realistic underlying belief that is an alternative to the self-defeating underlying belief.
  • Choose appropriate action, such as calming counts, gathering more evidence, replace self-defeating thought with realistic thought, consider ways to handle or manage the situation differently, etc.

Quantify What You Want

I feel general panic about never being able to get a house, wanting to retire, this hole in the only pair of jeans that I can breathe in. So Amanda encouraged me to actually quantify how much I need to do what. I made a Pinterest board, and it was quite fun, actually, to look at it all. I made a list of what I want soon, within a few years, and someday. I also made a section of things I want and I already have.

Set up a Time to Review, Predict, and Plan

Set up a recurring, weekly time to sit down and look over the last week, predict how much you’ll need, and make a plan to get where you want to be. I started slacking on my monthly money check-ins, but I’m going to re-instate those.

Here’s my checklist, as a freelancer, but you can adjust it to your needs:

  • Earned last week:
  • Saved last week:
  • Personal Checking Balance: $0
  • Business Checking Balance: $3
  • Fuck Off Fund Level:
  • Weekly wins:
  • Look at all bills due this week
  • Update and review budget (I’m changing to YNAB)
  • Look at any social events where I might want to spend some of my Fun Money.
  • Transfer 10% of money received last week
  • Transfer $200 to Fuck Off Fund
  • Transfer 20% of earnings to Tax Savings Account

The best part is, Amanda says I get to pair it with something fun. So maybe I get a Monday morning café hangout.

After talking about all this, Amanda asked me: You know what the fuck is wrong with you? Nothing.

We just have to keep moving forward.

So, to recap, first steps:

  • Find out your family money story
  • Examine Your Self Talk
  • Quantify what you want
  • Set up a weekly date to Review, Predict, Plan


Podcast episodes from this month:

Jeri Can We Talk About Money

Mom And Sis Can We Talk About Money

Amanda Clayman, Can We Talk About Money?

Mom Can We Talk Family Money History

Mom Talks To Grandpa About Money

Aunt Janice, Can We Talk About Money

Uncle Jon, Can We Talk About Money?

Amanda, Can We Talk About Why I Call Myself A Bitch (Second Session)

Amanda Can We Talk About Maximizing (Third Session)

Amanda, Can We Talk About Keeping Myself Accountable (4th Session)

Amanda, Did We Figure Out What The Fuck Is Wrong With Me (5th Session)

Fail Alert.


For the first time this year I failed to make the $1,000 I’m supposed to earn a week. My business is getting more and more expensive to run, so I need to hit those numbers. Luckily I worked my butt off during December for work I haven’t invoiced yet, so I can add that in.

From what I’ve learned from Amanda Clayman this month, I know it’s important to get past the feelings of it: I’m disappointed, I feel like my systems aren’t working, I feel like I’ve got too much on my plate and it’s all equally important to me.
Ok, now quantify. I fell $450 short of my goal. Might there be another month where I’m $450 beyond my goal? Yes, maybe. I can feel other feelings: Happy that I have a cushion in my bank account that will allow for this, once, for right now. Resilient in that I’m just going to get back up and reschedule my $1,000 for this week. Determined to re-examine what didn’t work last week and get back in there with a different strategy this week.
Let us fall down our thousand times. Let us stand back up one thousand and one.

Recovery Assignment: Make Your Own Financial Money Tree

Where did your money story come from?

Your attitudes, habits, and beliefs about money didn’t just pop into your head magically. They’re heavily influenced by the events your family experienced both in your lifetime and before. For example, my grandma, who couldn’t drive to town during the Depression because no one had a quarter for gas, was always telling me to just use a dime-sized dollop of shampoo.

Amanda suggests drawing what’s called a Financial Genogram. This is a visual representation of your family history with money. You’ll be listing out your family members, showing their relationships, and writing about anything that happened to them regarding money to better understand where you come from.

When you have the family structure in place, write a few words about their attitudes and experiences with money in the space provided. You might include details on how they earned a living, their lifestyles, and any significant events (e.g., job loss, inheritance, medical issue) that had a major impact on their financial life.

The following questions are provided courtesy of Amanda Clayman:

Journal Questions

Questions about People:

For each person in the financial genogram answer:

  • What was happening in the world around him/her?
  • When and where did s/he live?
  • What type of work did s/he do?
  • What was his/her lifestyle like?
  • What do you remember him/her saying about money?
  • What significant financial events happened to him/her?
  • What was his/her attitude about earning, spending, managing, saving, and investing money?
  • What were his/her goals? Did s/he attain them?

Questions about Relationships:

For each family grouping answer:

  • How did money play a part in showing love or approval between family members? How was it used to punish or exclude?
  • Who was in agreement about money? Who argued or fought?

Questions about Family Culture:

  • What was your family’s attitude about money?
  • What kinds of financial behavior were admired?
  • What were you not supposed to do or talk about in terms of money?
  • What was seen as more valuable than money (e.g., education, art, passion)?
  • Is there a particular story about the family’s financial history?

Questions about You:

  • What’s your earliest memory of money?
  • When did you have your first job?
  • What were you expected to do with your income? Did you do that?
  • What were you taught about money?
  • Did you understand and agree with how your parents approached money?
  • Did you feel frustrated with your parents for their financial circumstances or choices?
  • Were you and your siblings treated equally and taught the same things about money?


Here are some things I found out about me and my family:

What was your family’s attitude about money?

It was a facilitator of fun. There would always be more where that came from, and we were doing well. Until we weren’t.

What kinds of financial behavior were admired?

“Doing it up,” buying big shiny things, earning good money.

What were you not supposed to do or talk about in terms of money?

We didn’t talk about the fact that we were going bankrupt in the year of it happening. That made it all the more frightening.

What was seen as more valuable than money (e.g., education, art, passion)?

The love we had as a family. I never doubted that I was loved. My mom used to always say, “We rich in love, right honey?”

Is there a particular story about the family’s financial history?

We were living high until the sandcastle came tumbling down, and it took us almost a decade to dig ourselves out of the mess.

What’s your earliest memory of money?

My dad letting me keep the change at restaurants. Ooh, or passing the tithing basket in church. The pile of cash and checks held by my tiny hands for just a moment.

When did you have your first job?

I started working at an ice cream store with a few of my best friends when I was still 14. We made minimum wage and our creepy old boss complained that he would pay us less if he were legally able to. Maybe he was right, considering how much ice cream I helped myself to.

What were you expected to do with your income? Did you do that?

By the time I was making any money, I was so desperate to just have some spending money of my own. No one talked to me about saving it. I lived paycheck to paycheck, because I was a teenager.

What were you taught about money?

Once we went bankrupt, my mom would call me over to see the outrageous interest rates on the credit card offers we were sent.

Did you understand and agree with how your parents approached money?

We all realize we weren’t living right.

Did you feel frustrated with your parents for their financial circumstances or choices?

I did at the time, but I’ve fully forgiven my parents for the mistakes they made. My mom has since done a lot of work to get to a better place.

Were you and your siblings treated equally and taught the same things about money?

I think my dad was a wee sexist and favored my brother a bit. But also, I was a daddy’s girl, and in high school, I could pry a twenty from his wallet with just a smile.


Month 1: What the Fuck is Wrong with Me? with Amanda Clayman!

Did you know there’s such a thing as a financial therapist? I didn’t until I met Amanda, first through her classes on the life-changing, and then when she agreed to let me interview her for a story on women and retirement, in a conversation that felt like one with an old friend.

If we lived in the same city, I’d want a standing weekly lunch date with Amanda. Alas, she is of the City of Angels, where she will be helping the beautiful people budget for their various anti-aging creams, or whatever beautiful people spend their money on.

Having gone through her own money mess ups, Amanda decided to become someone who helps others through their own. She never judges me, only politely points out when I’m judging myself. At her last talk at the Lola Retreat, she discussed the money stories we tell ourselves, with me furiously jotting down notes.

She agreed to help me this month answer the question, “What the fuck is wrong with me?”

“I hear a lot of negativity in there,” I thought she might say. But instead, she laughs and laughs.


Amanda Clayman:

Superpowers: Kindness, Emotional Wisdom, Been-there Experience





Written Conversations: “How Did I Let That Happen to Me?”

Paulette: I’m here with Jeri Jones, mother of my two best friends since I was 10 years old. She packed my lunch for me in high school. That tells you everything.

Jeri: I did.

Paulette: You made your own bread.

Jeri: I did. It was really good too.

Paulette: Oh my god, we would not even give anyone a bite of our sandwiches in high school. They were like, can we have a bite. We were like, no. I want every bite of this sandwich. It was the best.

Jeri: That makes me feel good you know.

Paulette: I know, I am so glad. So my mom, just paid you to make my lunches…

Jeri: To make – yeah because…

Paulette: How did that come about?

Jeri: I was making your lunch and I had very little resources. At the time I had quit my high paying job as a sales rep and I had two teenage daughters and no job and MS holding me back from doing jobs that would pay me more money. So, I had to learn to live on a budget. It was hard, it was really hard. My mom and dad helped and I thank god for them. But, mostly I did it on my own. I asked if I could use my dad’s VA loan to buy this house. By the way, your mother found this house and your dad did the closing.

Paulette: What?

Jeri: Yes, he did.

Paulette: Oh my gosh.

Jeri: Yes. I needed to leave my husband and I did not have the resources. They were always used up. I was living even with my husband at the time. We were living check to check, week to week and it’s not a fun or good feeling, it made – it made me sick to my stomach at times. It made me worry and have a lot of anxiety, because I was the one paying the bills, but I had no control over what went out of the account. And I think I would have done it differently had I known that. I would have had a separate account. I didn’t do that in my first marriage. It can go away easily.

Paulette: Yeah.

Jeri: Yeah, and then you can’t pay bills and juggling whether or not, okay, last month, I caught up on the cable bill, this month I have to catch up on the electric bill, or which credit card do I not pay this month. It wasn’t fun. I wish and hope that my children or anyone I know does not live that way. And unfortunately, I know a lot of people who do live that way, paycheck to paycheck. We were having the most fun we could.

Paulette: I know. It’s so fun to have fun though.

Jeri: I know. And you need to have fun when you are young, you really do, because you don’t know what will happen.

Paulette: So how old were we when that stuff was going on?

Jeri: You guys were 11-12, the time we lived in the Carlyle house.

Paulette: Oh my gosh. And I remember it like I had left this family of financial chaos and found like an oasis of structure and calm. I drank so much of your SunnyD. You had the best groceries. The food was amazing.

Jeri: I was making $60,000 at that time a year. So we should not have been in that position. I should have been able to afford it, but like I said, I also got into spending to keep up with everyone in my circle too. Things became important. I don’t think originally I thought that way when I was young, but I came to because it was important to my husband.

Paulette: That will be like an interesting article, like what is keeping up with the Joneses? The evolutionary drive is so strong, I am obsessed with evolutionary psychology.

Jeri: Really! I haven’t gotten into it.

Paulette: Oh it’s so interesting.

Jeri: I bet it is.

Paulette: It’s really hard to prove it, and the science, it can have trouble in the scientific community because you can’t run an experiment and evolve humans again. But we just don’t talk enough about how the hardware – we can never update our hardware. The hardware we got is the hardware we got for right now. And like we are still acting like we are in tribes of 150.

Jeri: Those roots are deep.

Paulette: It’s crazy.

Jeri: And the other thing as a 63-year-old woman, who was a nurse and lived a little bit, was out in the world – I was a working woman in the medical sales field and it all comes down to the basic male need, to spread his seed.

Paulette: That is exactly what the science says. Like read the Moral Animal, yes.

Jeri: Okay, I was going to have to do.

Paulette: There is this book called the Moral Animal that like seriously I was not okay for like a month. I felt like a robot who had read her own manual. That’s what it feels like. Explain a little bit about like who I was to your family starting from when I was 10.

Jeri: You were a bit of sunshine. You were chatty and you and the girls were always busy. You entertained each other. I just like kids.

Paulette: That makes me feel so good because in my memory I am the kid who like owes you a $5,000 grocery bill. I just went over and I was like, my god, I cannot eat imitation crab at this point as an adult because I ate so much of that at your house as a kid. I cannot stand imitation crabs and like whenever you guys had it, it was like, oh my god, it was so good.

Jeri: That’s so funny. Oh no, the food never worried me. There was always money for food and I am Italian and that comes first, I guess, feed your kids, and you were one of my kids.

Paulette: And you know what’s funny is that you guys were from the Seattle area and you introduced me to so many things and cooking, like I ate artichoke with you guys.

Jeri: Oh that’s…

Paulette: I am like, oh my god, what is this. And then that’s probably – so then I – we were in Florida at that time, and then I ended up moving to Seattle and probably I loved Seattle so much because it has so much of the stuff you guys taught me to enjoy.

Jeri: That’s interesting. Wow.

Paulette: You made me a foodie.

Jeri: Very cool. I made you a foodie, okay.

Paulette: And like how everyone cleaned together, so remember one of the first things Lou said to me, so what were the rules in your house for me. Do you remember?

Jeri: I don’t.

Paulette: He said to me, it must have been literally like the first or second time I hung up with you guys. And he goes, you want to play with my girls, you can play with my girls. When we are playing, you are playing with us. When we are cleaning, you are cleaning. And I was just like, okay, like thems the rules. And I cleaned more – I cleaned more at your guys’ house than I ever cleaned at my house, cumulatively.

Jeri: Yeah. It’s so funny.

Paulette: We would just put on music.

Jeri: Loud music.

Paulette: Loud music and clean for like two hours.

Jeri: Yeah.

Paulette: And everyone would clean.

Jeri: Right.

Paulette: And it was like fun.

Jeri: Right. And then you are done.

Paulette: And then you are done.

Jeri: Yeah.

Paulette: I think you guys taught me about teamwork and like the joy of working together.

Jeri: That’s good to know.

Paulette: Yeah.

Jeri: Thank you for letting me remember that.

Paulette: Yeah.

Jeri: Bringing it to my attention. It’s so easy to forget.

Paulette: So I have one more question. I probably have a few more. We are going to talk till the hour is done. So when I come over to Jeri, I had to set a timer for an hour, because she has MS and I am not allowed to wear her out. So we just gab and gab until the timer goes off.

Jeri: We do. And there’s never a dull moment.

Paulette: No.

Jeri: Yeah. So, what’s your other question?

Paulette: So, my question with me and money is what the fuck is wrong with me.

Jeri: What do you mean?

Paulette: Like, what is wrong with me – so I totally spent my fuckoff fund. So last year I made $35,000 and I spent $56,000.

Jeri: You can’t keep doing that.

Paulette: I know. I need to switch those numbers.

Jeri: Yes, you do, you do. And I understand this is a time in your life when you have the energy and the desire to go do and see things. Now, I am going to tell you at 63, I don’t feel the same way, but I did when I was your age. Anywhere new was just exciting and fun and now I really like my house. I just…

Paulette: That’s great.

Jeri: Yeah, I mean, we sit and watch history channel and science channel and you know where they take you to different countries. Aerial America has been fantastic. And I feel like I am probably getting a better view of America than if you drive through it. You drive through it, you are getting the people and the emotions and the feel but looking over it, you are getting the beauty of each individual state.

Paulette: Yeah.

Jeri: So there’s lots of stuff where we say, okay, where are we going tonight? We went to the south seas the other night – last night with pearl diving.

Paulette: That’s so cool.

Jeri: Yeah.

Paulette: I know. So I need to like say no to those things for a while. Someone recently said to me about my dad – oh no, his brother said about my dad, your dad was just always kind of like a, yeah, sure, like, let’s do it, kind of guy. And that is totally me. And I appreciate – the reason that I can like not hate myself for is appreciating the other side of it, which is like I have to fun, I am up for anything, I am spontaneous, and that’s great. But then the downside is that I have to say yes to everything and there’s so much to say yes to that you can just very easily do that until your money is gone.

Jeri: And many people do. It takes spending to keep up with people that you think you need to impress, but the bottom line is if you need to impress them, they are not your friends. I love the Johnsons for that reason. They genuinely have money. They’ve had trips – but they like to come hang out at my house. They sleep in my spare room and when we were friends in Seattle he used to love coming to my house because he could wear blue jeans. So, I don’t know.

Paulette: They intimidated the hell out of me, they were like the first best friends, they had the two sisters that were perfectly aligned, they were just a very – they are like everything you want your family to be.

Jeri: Yes.

Paulette: And I just, I remember actually that is the first time I remember writing to please someone else because when they would go on vacation with them, I had to write the funniest letters to be the cool friend back home.

Jeri: Oh, I bet that was a lot of pressure. You had to keep up with them, and they really had the perfect life now. There was a smart man.

Paulette: Yeah, and just like morally and spiritually kind soul.

Jeri: Yes, he is, definitely.

Paulette: And I think that there is a lot of hatred of rich people that is not…

Jeri: Warranted.

Paulette: Warranted. Greedy people. There’s a difference. And there’s one of the – I think a great opening line for a story is: rich people are the only kind of assholes everyone wants to be.

Jeri: Yeah. And just as that great.

Paulette: It’s like I love Dave Ramsey but he acts like government is terrible and business is amazing, like, there should never be any…

Jeri: Free enterprise, yeah.

Paulette: Yeah. But that’s too far at one side and then it’s like everyone personally wants to be a rich person but then it’s like, oh the rich, blah, blah, blah. I think there’s a level of richness that is really unhealthy for a human person that people cannot take. I think it makes you not need anyone.

Jeri: That’s a good thought. Anyone or anything.

Paulette: And then you can afford to be a total fucking asshole and there’s just something that breaks in a human being that makes you a total asshole usually.

Jeri: Right.

Paulette: Some people have the internal structure but like if you are not – if you let yourself get identified with it, that’s when it’s a problem.

Jeri: Then it’s an ego thing.

Paulette: Yeah, your ego just gets to run wild.

Jeri: Right.

Paulette: You need to have your ego smashed around a little bit every now and then.

Jeri: Yes, to remind us of who we are. I would say, in general, people aren’t as poor as they think, they just spend money impulsively and unwisely.

Paulette: I think we lose sight of where luxury starts. In America, it’s very easy to do that, and I think that’s one thing.

Jeri: It is.

Paulette: That was one of the things that Peace Corps was good for was…

Jeri: I was just going to say that. You really learned that.

Paulette: Yeah, and I didn’t even – I did not have it that hard physically in Peace Corps, I had a nice little house, I had a nice little shower, I had hot water, even though to get it hot you had to have the water pressure of three two-year-olds peeing on your head, because the more water you put out the colder it got. And the same temperature that it was outside, it was in my shower; so when it was 42 degrees in Paraguay, it would be 42 degrees in my shower. And there’s no shower curtain, it’s just an open bathroom and I would sit under that hot water, you had to wear rubber shoes because the water heater was in the showerhead. It was just little machine and would go – shhhhhh, you could hear it going. And then I would do it to the smallest amount because then it would be super freaking hot and I would try to shower and I would take too long and all the power in my house would go out.

Jeri: Oh no!

Paulette: And then I would be naked, wet in 42 degree blackness, and I would just start screaming for the next door neighbors to come flip my switch out in front of my house until they hopefully heard me. So after that, luxury tile doesn’t matter so much. You are like, oh my god, it’s warm in here, it’s warm in the shower and I can wash shampoo out of my hair without worrying that I will be pitched into darkness.

Jeri: Right. We have forgotten the basics, most Americans have, yeah, they have forgotten the basics. What you really need to live, I mean, people live like you’ve seen.

Paulette: Yeah, and that wasn’t even – to me, that felt like I was staying with what I would call the global middle class. If you averaged every single person. It was so interesting, when there was the earthquake in Haiti, the Paraguayans were donating money to Haiti. You don’t even think about those levels when you’ve never lived anywhere else.

Jeri: No, you don’t think about those. And I don’t know, are these things being taught in school.

Paulette: And the important thing to me was to love the people there. I loved my host moms so much, she is like…

Jeri: I know you did.

Paulette: I have three moms, I am so lucky. I have three women in my life who I am like, that’s my mom.

Jeri: That’s awesome. You are lucky.

Paulette: So whenever I would hear myself giving a pity party later, and it’s worn off a bit, I’ve forgotten, I would just be like, that’s so unfair to Conchena like for me to like, oh, poor me, I have to go to Ross Dress for Less instead of Nordstrom.

Jeri: Right. I know. Yeah, that would really make you think – yeah.

Paulette: And she’s doing better. The last time I went down there they had a car.

Jeri: Wow!

Paulette: But they were struggling real hard the first time I was there, because the father had just gotten sick and couldn’t work. And did I tell you about the Ross Dress for Less silverware?

Jeri: Uh-uh.

Paulette: So, in Paraguay, it’s like this big joke that they eat all this really hard meat but the silverware is so cheap, it’s like a plastic handle connected to a metal – like the part with the tines on it. And that would always bend so then everyone is always bending their fork back on the table, like it’s just like a movement, like you bend your fork back. So when I was about to leave Paraguay I came home and I came back and I brought Conchena, two sets of Ross Dress for Less silverware that were $12.99 each probably or even cheaper like $10.99. She was so excited and then she just loved them which was nice.

Jeri: What a wonderful thing.

Paulette: And then I went back like a month later and they are in the china cabinet, like in the box, unopened.

Jeri: No!

Paulette: And I am like, and not the china cabinet but they had like a thing there just with random stuff in there, things on display. They would do things like if you got a new stereo, you’d put the box on display in your living room.

Jeri: Really?

Paulette: Yeah. And any fun little trinket thing.

Jeri: Right, yeah.

Paulette: And I was like Conchena please just use those, like, they are nice. And she’s like, no, I can’t do it. I was just like, Conchena they weren’t that expensive, like, I want you to use them. No, she would not do it. It remains there to this day.

Jeri: But that was important to her.

Paulette: Yeah. And there was this other day, I was just cleaning out my house and throwing out trash and I heard my sister in the backyard, they didn’t have trash service, so you put all your trash in the backyard and you pile it up and then the chickens would scratch at it and spread it around and then you had to rake it up again, and then you burned it and it was terrible for the environment but I secretly loved it, because you know how I love fire so much. Remember, when we were little, we wouldn’t stop playing with fire?

Jeri: Fire!

Paulette: It was so fun, I just got to burn things all the time. I loved it. So I was piling things in my fire pit to burn and I hear my little host sister who was like 11, giggling back there with her friend. And like I am like, what are you girls doing. And they have all these things lined up on the outdoor sink there, they had a disposable McDonalds cup that I had gotten from the city in the capital. Somehow I had the cup in my house, and then a Victoria’s Secret bag that somehow I had like someone had sent me a gift or something, probably my mom got me like socks at Victoria’s Secret, and they had that up there. And my host sister just holds the disposable McDonalds cup, she’s like why would you throw this away? She just saw a cup and I looked at it and I saw a cup.

Jeri: Trash, yeah.

Paulette: Well, she changed the way I looked at it. Like it’s still a cup, we just say that’s a disposable cup.

Jeri: Yeah, and I have gotten that, I guess, Catholic guilt complex, I can’t throw things away, I have a really hard time doing it but I am also very practical, so I don’t want to keep anything I don’t need.

Paulette: Yeah.

Jeri: But why wouldn’t you wash it out if you had it or keep it there so that if you had cookies or something to give to someone you can have, you know, give them a giveaway cup. We’ve lost – I think, in America, we’ve just lost our respect for things. It’s not – we only need what we need to function and everything else is a luxury. It’s like all of a sudden we need all kinds of stuff to function.

Paulette: Where do you think you got your ideas about money?

Jeri: Well, my mom and dad were always very frugal. My dad came from nothing and my mother’s family was not very wealthy either. They’d been through some hard times. I find myself now – I wash out baggies. I know. You could laugh at that. I used to laugh at that but why spend money on something that I can use again two or three times.

Paulette: So that changed.

Jeri: That changed, yeah. Now, we are in money saving mode because we are retirement age. We are not big money earners but because of MS for me, and because my husband has always been a good money manager, although he didn’t have a lot, yet, we live very well, but we don’t go out and do things. The disease worked for me in that way. It taught me, I don’t need things the newest, latest thing to be happy. I am alive. Some days I can walk. I get to enjoy laying around on my ass all day. That’s something. And I get a parking sticker that says I can park closest. There are some perks. What can I say? I have to focus on those. Life can be enjoyed without access I think. Took me a long time to learn that.

Paulette: We had a lot of access when we were…

Jeri: We did too.

Paulette: But both our families had this mix, I like boats, we lived on the water, our families were so similar in that way. And I did not know that until very recently, until 20 years later.

Jeri: Did my daughters know that?

Paulette: I have no idea.

Jeri: Oh you’ve never talked to them about it. I haven’t either. I am a very, very good enabler type person.

Paulette: I thought you guys had put 100% your shit together and I would not have eaten all of your very expensive imitation crab and individually bottled SunnyD if I had any idea. To me, that was like, you could just sneak in here and pretend to be one of your kids.

Jeri: But you were, you became one of the kids, it did you know that’s how I wanted it.

Paulette: It was a lot of unpaid child labor.

Jeri: That’s right.

Paulette: Oh god, it’s so funny.

Jeri: That is funny. I know. I had a very good way of being able to make things look like everything was okay.

Paulette: I think everyone does or I don’t know, like…

Jeri: A lot of people do.

Paulette: A lot of people do. The good on paper thing.

Jeri: Yeah. We looked good on paper. I went from living that life to being very poor, not being able to work. My job was paying for a driver so that I could continue to work because I would get somewhere and then I would not be able to get back. I started the jerking and I’d have symptoms. And so, they hired me a driver and I guess at that point realized that was an extra expense. For a while, what I did is train new people, so they would drive me. And they were putting themselves in a position to be sold and they needed to get rid of all the dead weight I guess. They were also paying for a very expensive drug that I was on. They were a self-insured company. And so I was I was kind of expensive, I was bringing in a million dollars a year for the company, but you add those things up and they needed me to go away. So, they gave me a job in Tampa that I had to drive to myself. And I was not capable of doing it.

Paulette: Do you think they did that knowing that you wouldn’t be able to do it?

Jeri: Yeah.

Paulette: Wow.

Jeri: There are downsides to big corporations. There are upsides. The money is good. The benefits are good. I think people do base a lot of their self worth on money, what they are capable of making. I think I did for a while. I don’t anymore but I learned to live differently. And part of that was because of the illness. When you can’t do things, and my husband doesn’t want to do things, we save a bunch of money that way. His favorite phrase is she can’t and I don’t want to.

Paulette: What should my phrase be? I am a writer. I just need to be like no emotion about it, that’s the thing, like I think from not being able to do so much after my family went bankrupt when I was 8, and all the no’s and all the can’ts and all the excuses, and like did not have – like I want to make more money and I am an entrepreneur as well as a writer…

Jeri: You really are.

Paulette: I am still a writer, like I just have to be like oh that is not within the realm of my – that is something I chose to give up when I chose to become a writer. And I can’t get there, like, out to dinner, yeah, sounds great.

Jeri: And I don’t know how to control that except put a limit on it. You would have to do it yourself.

Paulette: That’s the thing. You are holding the key to the jail cell.

Jeri: Right.

Paulette: You can just be like, no.

Jeri: Yeah. Hey, I’ve spent everything this week that I’ve allotted myself, I’ve already borrowed from next week, no.

Paulette: Never do those words come out of my mouth.

Jeri: And I am very practical and those words do come out of my mouth.

Paulette: So how do I day to day – I mean, you know me, I’ve tried everything. So wait…

Jeri: You really have.

Paulette: We need to back up, because we need to say, okay, five years ago – five years ago, I was what I hope will be the rock bottom of my financial life, for my entire life. I had like $100 in my bank account, my house was being short-sold in Florida, it was a nightmare time. I had gotten a part time job as a waitress. I was making $320 a week, and my pit bull attack money, I got a attacked by a pit bull when I was 23 and that money finally came through, it was $750 and that’s literally like how I made it through the summer. And I said to myself, the only way I made it was my pit bull attack money came through, and I was like…

Jeri: Oh man!

Paulette: I hate that that sentence describes my life. Like that’s the worst sentence to be like this is true about my life right now.

Jeri: Right. It’s just that you have to say no to other things, and it is hard. So it always comes down to self-discipline.

Paulette: I got none.

Jeri: You could work on it.

Paulette: So, what I did, remember, I was like, okay, this is enough, and I started a blog.

Jeri: Yes, you did.

Paulette: I put very a basic excel chart on a blog and I said, I am going to post how much money I have every month in each of these accounts.

Jeri: That was very brave.

Paulette: And no one else cared except Jeri. And so, partially because you are home and you are connected to experience internet.

Jeri: I am home, right, and I have to lay down a lot, I don’t walk that well. So, I wanted to follow Paulette, I followed her through the Peace Corps blogs, and this one just led right into that, and I did keep up with it. By the way, I did not know I was the only one. I never knew that until she told me years later.

Paulette: But then that was like, it was like a fake out pressure because when I would get those things, I would be like, I don’t want to disappoint Jeri. So I was like, I got to – I can’t be in the worst place, I remember the first few months, my chart, I got out of debt and then completely went almost back where I was over a five-month period. I was very upset. And that is but a blip in the history.

Jeri: I tried to cheer you on.

Paulette: You did cheer me on, it was great.

Jeri: I tried to cheer you on and give you honest feedback. There were lessons that I know you would have to learn yourself and I tried to share some of my experience with money, which by the way totally flipped for me. It just flipped for me. I think the first thing that happened was when I got married my husband said, do you have a credit card. Yes. How much do you owe? And he said, the first thing that has to happen is that needs to get paid off. And you do not put anything on the credit card unless you have the money to pay it at the end of the month. And that’s how we lived, that’s how I lived. And it was a good way to save money because if it was an impulse buy and maybe I couldn’t really afford it, I’d already spent what I was allowed to spend, I would think by the time the next week or month rolled around, I didn’t want it anymore. And so it saved me a lot of money on impulse buys because I was very much an impulse person. See something and think immediately how I could use it and how awesome it would be to have it.

Paulette: See something, buy something.

Jeri: Yes.

Paulette: Like see something, say something, but for people who can’t stop spending.

Jeri: Yeah. So I was like that. I was very impulsive.

Paulette: I don’t think I am like a shopaholic because I see those people and they had like tons of bags and hidden things. I am a funaholic.

Jeri: Funaholic, yes you are, yeah. And that’s okay. It’s okay to be a funaholic. I think you are.

Paulette: I know.

Jeri: Yeah. And you know what you are. Enjoy it. But be responsible.

Paulette: I know. How do we control the beast, the fun beast?

Jeri: The fun beast has to say no to itself sometimes.

Paulette: The fun beast doesn’t wanna.

Jeri: I know.

Paulette: Fun beast wants to have fun.

Jeri: And I don’t know how to help you with that. That’s something like quitting smoking or it’s one of those things you have to decide for yourself you are going to do.

Paulette: Yeah.

Jeri: And you have to be strong willed about it. I know. It’s so much fun to have fun.

Paulette: It’s fun to have fun and to do it up, and you are like, we did it up. Just go all out.

Jeri: Go all out. Where does that come from?

Paulette: It’s so funny how my dad and Paula and Beth’s dad are so similar.

Jeri: Yeah, in that way.

Paulette: Those big personalities are like, one time my dad rented a limo to take us to the airport. And it’s just that kind of thing, I will never forget it. And he let me call Paula and Beth from like the first phone on a plane like when planes first had phones. He let me call Paula and Beth from the plane and god knows how much that cost.

Jeri: Right.

Paulette: I am 35 years old and I am like that was the best. That was the shit.

Jeri: He did make you kids happy. He was a good person and a fun guy to be around.

Paulette: Yeah.

Jeri: Very genuine, but he liked to have fun, and he liked to do stuff.

Paulette: Yeah, we like to do stuff. And all of our friends are like that too, like people that Paula and Beth married, just like fun to do it guys. But it’s like, I equate spending money with fun.

Jeri: And it doesn’t have to require spending money. You can have fun going to a free park and hiking or whatever. There’s fun to be had. You have to search for it.

Paulette: All my friends are so broke though. My one friend, Ryan, he’s my yoga teacher and he’s a realtor as well. And we are in an accountability group together, where we help each other with our businesses. And we were doing something where I was telling him about feeling so guilty because I had gotten invited to Nigeria and I had to buy my visa, it was $300 and we were in a cafe talking about it. I was like, I don’t have $300. And he like slammed the table with his hands, he’s like, $300, Paulette to go to Africa? He’s like, this is why you need to make more money. We can’t live like this.

Jeri: That’s right.

Paulette: He’s like that is like nothing for this opportunity, just go. And the way that my dad died when I was 17, just in an accident…

Jeri: You were at a very vulnerable age.

Paulette: It just formed my world view.

Jeri: Yeah. I see that. I see where it would affect you that way. Plus your family is a lot of fun.

Paulette: I know.

Jeri: You know?

Paulette: Yeah. But I have to – so I am bringing in professionals; every month, I will have a different financial expert or some other psychology kind of expert to come in and to help me on a different topic. So the first one is a financial therapist, Amanda Clayman, she’s so nice and so great.

Jeri: That’s cool.

Paulette: And then my friend Erin who wrote this book called Broke Millennial who is like this boss ass bitch in New York. I have a few different, other people or 12 over the year and then I am going to basically write the money memoir that I was going to write but that book didn’t sell along with this like very prescriptive book about what they tell me about being a funaholic and spending all your money when you should save and take care of yourself.

Jeri: Yeah, if you could just do a little of both, I mean, or do…

Paulette: Balance.

Jeri: Yeah, there has to be a balance. I think you have to have a Fuck Off Fund.

Paulette: Yeah, I know and I don’t know…

Jeri: Everyone should.

Paulette: How did I let myself lose mine after I became the fucking Fuck Off Fund girl?

Jeri: I know. When I needed to leave, I had to ask my mom and dad for help.

Paulette: And how old were you?

Jeri: 38.

Paulette: Yeah. It’s interesting because people who are married, it feels like an insult to be like I am keeping this $10,000 as my Fuck Off Fund and you might be the person I need to tell to fuck off.

Jeri: But don’t call it a Fuck Off Fund. Call it a – hey, you might need a new refrigerator or a washer and dryer.

Paulette: But then the other person would – when you need a new refrigerator, would be like, you need a new refrigerator.

Jeri: Oh yeah, you would have to have your own – I do recommend that.

Paulette: Would you hide it?

Jeri: Yeah. No. I would not hide it, but I wouldn’t have their name on it, and allow them to do the very same thing.

Paulette: Because Dave Ramsey is all about when you get married you combine your finances.

Jeri: Yeah, I know, I was all about that too when I got married the first time. You have to be real careful with that, because – no, no, if you ever find yourself in this situation where someone has – your partner, your husband has taken all the money out of your bank account, that takes your power to do anything away. So, I do recommend having some money that’s just yours. I never believed that before. I thought everything should be combined. We are a married person, but not everybody is capable of following through.

Paulette: Yeah.

Jeri: How did I let that happen to me? I am a smart woman.

Paulette: I hear so many women say that. I’ve heard at least five of my closest friends say something along those exact same lines, totally – how did I let it happen to me?

Jeri: I know. But I should have known better. I was very naive, I was a Catholic schoolgirl and I was gullible, very gullible. And I wanted to believe so bad that I believed what I was being told even though the evidence did not go there.

Paulette: And how many – I just don’t want to say like how many good men have we had in our lives, so many.

Jeri: Yeah.

Paulette: I have known many wonderful men.

Jeri: I have too.

Paulette: It’s not about like every guy is an asshole, it’s not about that, but some are.

Jeri: But some are. Some don’t develop it until they are 40 or 50 years old.

Paulette: And some women too.

Jeri: And some women too.

Paulette: I mean, it’s not – men need a Fuck Off Fund too.

Jeri: Yeah. Men do too, I think everyone…

Paulette: But men are more likely to have one.

Jeri: Right.

Paulette: Well, our timer went off.

Jeri: I know.

Paulette: I have to go.

Jeri: I know.

Paulette: Love you!

Is Everything OK At Home?

My Money Story: Chapter 1

There I am, nine years old, pressing my forehead against the sliding glass doors. The house is dim, nobody is home. Out back, the palm trees rustle in the breeze, the pool murmurs and gleams, the sun glitters on the bayou, everything out there is like always, but something feels different in here.

All I know is that there’s something I don’t know.

I roam on bare feet across wide pink tiles, tiles my father put in when he remodeled this kitchen, even knocked down a wall, back when he seemed so powerful. In the fridge, there’s no orange juice, no sandwich meat, no leftovers, just empty shelves and condiments. I pour barbecue sauce on a piece of bread. It’s good. I balance it in my hand on the way to the living room, where I flop on the couch, turn on the TV. Static blares where my cartoons should be. Oh yeah. Just a few months without it, mom said.

The phone rings. When mom’s home, she yells, “Don’t answer it!” Dad might then pop his head in from the garage and say the same thing. We all listen to the ringing, not asking why we shouldn’t.

But no one’s home now, so I walk to the phone and look up at it. I pick it up.


“I need to speak with Mr. Perac,” a man says, roughing up our last name.

“He’s not here.”

“Is your mother there?”

“Not right now.”

I remember I’m not supposed to tell strangers I’m home alone.

“Well tell them to call me back about a very urgent matter. I’ve left several messages.”

I write down his name and number. He speaks to me the way my parents do when they’re mad, and I get the feeling he would yell at them like this too.

“Tell them to call me back immediately,” he spits. I don’t want him talking to my mom or my dad. I want him to leave us alone. But instead he says a thing that tells me that whatever this time is, it won’t be over soon. He says, “Your parents are in trouble.”


We live in Florida. We moved from the neighborhood with the community pool to the house on the water, where mom videotapes herons and sunsets. We are Regular. This is what life looks like, and people live this way all over, I think. I’m the baby of three kids, like Maggie on the Simpsons, though I’m more of a Lisa. My brother, two years older, can throw a cast net, catch mullet. My sister, two more years older, makes me laugh with notes at church, lets me crawl into her bed to giggle at night, and gets her bangs to wave in a way I spend gallons of hair spray trying to imitate. The symmetry of our ages pleases me, like a good omen. Mom is a pretty teacher, calls me honey with her sweet voice, cuts up cantaloupe to take boating. Dad wears a business suit. He’s the biggest guy in any room, 6’6”, the giant who protects me. When I have friends over, I show him off like a Great Dane. If someone drops a plate at a restaurant, he’s the one to yell, “One down!” At home, he plays King of the Hill on the bed, twirls his socks like propellers and dances as he gets dressed in the morning, and when he tucks us in at night he sometimes tells us stories about a kid named Jackson, and I always picture a young Michael Jackson, acting as the hero.

We are a family that laughs. In the van with a TV and a Nintendo, on annual drives up North to visit grandma and grandpa, mom laughs that uncontrollable, tearful laugh as my sister sees how many Cheerios she can fit in her mouth. My dad takes my stuffed pig, puts its hands on the wheel, then folds over its paws to make it flip off another driver. Dad’s other car, the big blue one, has a phone in it, which we barely use, but I like to pretend. When we walk into the library, holding my mom’s hand, I search out our family name, etched into a gold-colored leaf on their fundraising tree. I find us there. The Perhach Family.

Things feel good. Things feels safe, until whatever this is. This silence, stuffed into our home.

I keep watching my mom’s face. She used to paint on the back porch, make wreaths with the hot glue gun. Now she’s always surrounded by paper, envelopes stamped red, urgent, past due. She’s always thinking.

At the grocery store check out, people lined up behind us and all the food bagged, Mom swipes her card, and we all look at the screen. Then the beep.

“Sorry ma’am,” the cashier says, shaking her head. “That one didn’t go through.”

She’s being nice, saying it that way.

My mom’s face falls. More thinking.

She takes back the card, shoves it in its sleeve, digs through her wallet, then says, “Uh…” as people shift their weight, lean on the counter, look at us. Mom puts her hand on my back, says, “Pam, take your sister over there to look at the vending machines, honey.” She sends us off without quarters.

Even later, as an adult shopping with friends, I will wander at checkout, give them privacy at the register, as if the act of paying for something is more like a test one might fail. Walking away from the cashier will become family choreography.

“Here, try this one,” I hear her say behind us, as my siblings and I twist the nobs on the machines so they all point up, and try not to look behind me. We look at the stickers, pick out which ones we want. Suddenly mom’s voice is close, “Let’s go,” and she walks ahead of us out the store. I scramble behind. My siblings and I look at each other, but no one asks what happened to the groceries.

Then this: I’m playing on the floor, quiet because dad’s on the phone. He doesn’t wear a business suit anymore. He’s been telling us about this tire deal he has going. When people throw out tires, he’s explained, you could recycle them to make a bouncy kind of turf for playgrounds. I tell him it sounds like a good idea.

He’s been talking about the deal for months, any day now, any day now, just when this deal comes in, any day now. Things will be better, he says. But by this day, me playing on the floor and him on the phone, we all suspect that it’s not going to happen, though no one has said it out loud.

My dad’s gripping the phone, the receiver cupped in his hand, leaning over with his elbows on his knees. “Yes,” he says, but it’s in some new voice, a hushed tone I will later hear at funerals. Then, “Please.”

This word stops me, freezes my chest, because I hear that my father has no say in whatever is happening, that he needs the other person to say yes. He has nothing else to offer but this word in this tone, please, like begging. I look away, turn my gaze from him back to my toys on the carpet, so he doesn’t know I’m listening.

These are the first rumbles of my first earthquake, before I knew the ground could shift and crack open, the first time I comprehend that what I had thought was concrete could crumble. I press my forehead against the sliding glass doors, look at our back lawn, our pool, our dock and the sea. Maybe we don’t go out there anymore because we know it won’t be ours soon. Maybe we don’t want to miss it.

“Is everything ok at home?” my teacher asks my mom one day at school. “Paulette seems depressed, not herself.”

“No, nothing’s wrong,” she replies, and manages her pretty smile.