I didn’t have much of a family growing up. That’s not to say that I did not have parents, or a decent number of siblings. What I mean is that I never felt a real sense of family.
My mother grew up outside the United States, in a poverty-ridden locale. She was functionally illiterate when she came to the United States, which limited her employment prospects. In fact, the only jobs she ever had while I knew her involved cleaning up after people or animals. I suppose this contributed quite a bit to her rage issues, although I have not quite gotten to the point where I have forgiven her for being emotionally and physically abusive to me. I suppose that does not matter much these days, since she died this past November. It had been a number of years since I had seen her, but it still hurts. It’s funny, she never cared much for people, but she really liked animals. So now every time I cuddle with my dog or watch one of my cats sitting near an open window pane, soaking in a warm afternoon breeze, I think of her.
I was never close with my dad. Before I was born, he worked in the finance industry. Sometime just before or after I was born, he was prosecuted for securities fraud, and he spent some time in jail. After his release, he found work as a bartender, which meant he spent most nights away from home. Eventually, he owned his own small business, although not successfully. He has declared bankruptcy more than once but still insists that someday he’s really going to get his business off the ground. Growing up, he watched my mother abuse us, but always told us afterward that she did it because she loved us and wanted what was best for us. I never felt close to him. Growing up, I remember thinking that living with him was like living with a distant uncle.
Most of my high school friends dreamt of going to prestigious universities and partying hard until it was time to declare a major. Many of them had financially supportive parents who insisted that their children “focus on studying” (read: play beer pong and sleep around) instead of working during their college years. This was not the case with my parents. In fact, at the ripe old age of fourteen – the legal working age in my state – I got my first job in a restaurant, refilling the salad bar. I paid for my own school enrollment fees (even though I went to a public high school, we still had to pay $70 to register at the beginning of the year), class pictures, and yearbooks. I knew the writing was on the wall. If I wanted out, I was going to have to find a way to do it myself. Hence, the only goal I had in high school was figuring out how to move out of my parents’ house as soon as it was legally and financially possible.
Shortly after graduating high school, I moved out and officially began my adulthood. My immediate observations about my new life were: 1) I enjoyed the stability of living on my own; and 2) I really wished I had a family. But since I knew the family I had was completely dysfunctional and violent, I made a promise to myself that one day, when I got married and had children of my own (if I decided to go the kids route), I would try to create the most perfect family life imaginable. A pretty tall order for someone who once had to barricade herself and her little sister in a bedroom while their mother threatened to kill their father with the loaded pistol their father had insisted on keeping in the house “for protection.”
A few failed relationships later, I met my husband. This was about a year and a half before I enrolled in law school. It was a couple months before my twenty-sixth birthday, and I felt a bit older and wiser when it came to relationships. However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a sense of panic and dread when my then-boyfriend began talking about marriage.
I struggled for the first few years of our relationship, and even after we got engaged, I broke it off at one point. I felt like I could never make a marriage work since I had never witnessed a healthy one growing up.
During the summer before my last year of law school, I completed an internship that required me to live away from my husband (my then-boyfriend/ex-fiance) for three months. I missed him every day, not only because he was my best friend, but also because my internship was further solidifying the gut feeling I had that law was not for me. It was a pretty lonely summer.
A few things you should know about my husband. He is the funniest person I have ever met. He is the best friend anyone could ever have. He gives love unconditionally. He truly wants me to be happy, even when I am content to pout and dwell on my past mistakes. And he calls his parents every Sunday. What more could a girl ask for?
All this is to say that I would do anything for him. Which is why, when we finally set a wedding date and I realized I was bringing a mountain of student loan debt into our marriage, I kind of lost myself in a sea of panic and shame. His love and support had meant the world to me, and all I had to give in return was a graduated repayment plan.
After I quit my attorney position and we moved thousands of miles away for his new job, I still felt guilty. He made great money and yet, we could never quite save anything because we had so many payments to make each month. My private student loan, my federal student loan, his (comparatively small) student loan, and our car payment. If we were ever going to achieve Leave It to Beaver euphoria, the loan payments had to go.
So I started surfing the web for personal finance books and articles, and came across this story about a couple who erased $70,000 in debt in one year.
The author happened to mention Dave Ramsey in her interview, which made me seek out his books and podcasts. I didn’t actually purchase any of these items at first. I’m a natural skeptic, so I didn’t want to pour money into financial products that promised dramatic results using little effort. So I went to the library to check out his books, and I downloaded free one-hour podcasts from iTunes.
At around that time, I found out that one of my sisters was in huge financial trouble. She and her husband were in debt to the IRS to the tune of $50K +, and she was having an affair. To top it off, she had acquired a shopping addiction that only made their financial outlook worse. She had decided to move out of their house and back to our hometown (about a thousand miles away) so she could get her old job back and try to get out of debt. In reality, she was moving back home in order to be closer to the man with whom she was having an affair. Hearing all of this made me appreciate my husband more, and I reaffirmed my commitment to never go down the same destructive paths my family had chosen.
Now, I know my fixation on achieving marital and familial bliss is neurotic and unreasonable. But I think it’s better to work toward that than to slide into debt, affairs, and empty consumerism. Don’t worry, I’m in therapy. I know there’s a happy medium; I just have to internalize that fact in my head and my heart.
I got my husband on board with a new get-out-of-debt plan, a bit reluctantly, and we began making real progress almost immediately. After only five months, our car loan was gone. At that point, I started considering getting a second job. At first, my husband was against it because it would take away from what I really wanted to do: write. But I insisted it would only be temporary and we would be debt-free that much sooner, so then I could follow my writing dream without guilt.
I took the pizza job the last week of October last year, and started the first week of November. I did it out of love for my family. A family that included my husband, our dog, our cats, our siblings and our parents. I did it to show that I will do whatever it takes to make sure my husband and I have the best financial future possible. I also did it to change my family tree, so maybe someday I can finance my nieces’ and nephew’s college educations the way my siblings will not be able to.
A couple weeks after I started delivering pizza at night, my mother died. I found out in the morning before work. I did not call in sick, though. I went to my day job, and that night, I put the magnetic topper on my car and made about eight deliveries during my shift. While I drove to expensive mansion after expensive mansion that evening, I listened to a song called “Still Loving You” by Stephen Allen Davis – over and over again – thought about my mother, and cried. I kept my head down when I handed out pizzas to my customers so they could not see my red swollen eyes.
When I got home that night, I crawled into bed with my husband and cried myself to sleep. The only thoughts going through my head were: 1) I missed my mom; and 2) Even on a day when I felt like the world had ended, I had done what I could to take care of my family.
So that’s how my pizza delivery career began. With an ending.