Rant of the Day

I had to take my child to the Dr. today. She had an earache that wasn’t going away with warm drops of tea tree and coconut oil. Yes, I use these hippy medicines as my first line of defense, mainly because of what I am about to tell you. Are you ready to be floored, people? Get this – I had to pay $90.48 for them to tell me that my daughter had swimmers ear and for a prescription of antibiotic ear drops. The real clencher? We already pay somewhere in the ballpark of $14,000 per year in health insurance to make sure our perfectly healthy, relatively young family of four has health coverage.

If this was a one time thing, I wouldn’t even care that much. I would pay the money and wash my hands of it. But guess what? Back in July my other daughter had a sore throat. It wasn’t going away, and when I peaked back at her tonsils with a flashlight after a few days I could see the white spots. Damn. No hippy medicine for this, I was going to have to take her in. Check out this bill:

american insurance bill Kaiser Foundation

American insurance bill – Kaiser Foundation

At the time, we paid our $50 copay. Thank God she didn’t even have strep throat, so we didn’t have to front the money for the antibiotics. I thought we were all done with everything, but a month later we got the above bill. Turns out a NON-URGENT, same day office visit is $346.00. Phew – glad we only have to pay $75 of that out of pocket. Also note that it was ANOTHER $62 for them to “directly observe” her tonsils at the office visit, of which we only had to pay $15. Oh, and that last part? It was $44 for them to swab and culture her to make sure she really didn’t have strep. We paid $11, but they charged our insurance company (which, essentially, is themselves – the Kaiser Foundation) that other $33. To culture bacteria in a petri dish. Seriously, people. Our total out of pocket expenses for our daughter that day were $151. FOR THEM TO TELL US SHE DIDN’T HAVE STREP THROAT.

So, back to my poor Estelle’s ear infection. I expect we will get another bill for the rest of the costs in the next month. I’m 34 years old, and my kids are 9 and 10. My husband has been a public school teacher for the last 9 years (another rant, another day) and I can honestly say that this is the first year that I’ve felt raped by our healthcare system. I’ve known its been bad for a long time. Working in the public sector has not paid well by any means, but at least it’s always given us healthcare. Over the years, my mind has been blown by the percent increase in cost every year when open enrollment comes up. The district always has paid $1,000 every month for us toward health coverage. Nine years ago this gave us really good insurance, actually. Slowly, though, we’ve had to opt for less and less health coverage because as the cost of premiums increased, his salary did not. The school district covered the same amount, and this last year we had to pay an extra $200 or so on top of that thousand just to give us the bottom rung that they offer.

This is the first year that I’ve been afraid to take my kids to the doctor. I do everything I can to wait it out, to make sure they REALLY have to go before I take them in. I get ill thinking about how much I’m going to have to pay, and I pray that nobody gets really sick. We are considered middle class America, and I am worried about what this means. It should be a right of everyone here to not fear taking your children to the doctor. I don’t know a good solution, but I know something needs to change. I paid for our prescription yesterday and when I walked outside with my daughter I cried. I feel so dirty. But hey, it’s good to know that the VP of Architecture at Kaiser Permanente gets paid 200k per year. Because that, folks, is an extremely important job. (See more salaries at http://www.glassdoor.com)

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Annie

She didn’t let go.

She didn’t want to look at him because she was afraid of what she might see. She was afraid of what he might see. Annie had been rattled all afternoon, no matter how hard she tried to pull it together. It was better for her not to look, but she knew didn’t want to let go of those fingers. They felt like a lifeline, although she had never thought of herself as someone who needed to be saved. It was so strange. Her entire life had been an exercise of self-sufficiency and she never felt like she was even close to coming apart until now. Continue reading

The Bay

Start HERE to find the beginning of the rabbit hole…

They ended up paddle boarding on Mission Bay. The guy at the rental shop talked them out of renting surfboards when he realized they didn’t know what they were doing. Apparently there was a hurricane off the coast of Baja, and that made for some pretty big waves in San Diego. The bay was sheltered enough that the surf couldn’t really come through, and he promised them that paddle boarding would be a fun alternative. Christian was a little disappointed, but Annie secretly felt relieved (though she’d never admit it.)

Figuring out how to balance on the lofty foam boards wasn’t as difficult as one might imagine, and soon they were paddling with determination across the glassy surface. With no destination in mind, they wove in and out of buoys, racing along until Annie thought her arms might fall off.  “Christian, hold up!” she hollered, slowly lowering herself to straddle the hefty board. Continue reading

A to Z: High as a Watertower

I am currently taking part of the April A to Z Challenge! During this month, I am writing a single story, building each day off of the previous one. To get the story from the beginning, start here and work on up…

Annie and Christian each invested $15 so Annie’s aunt could pick them up a decent bottle of whiskey. They went to the store beforehand and stocked up on their favorite snacks to share – Sour Patch Kids, Almond Joys and Spicy Cheetos, and Christian picked up a celebratory pack of cigarettes even though neither of them smoked. It was a day to splurge.

A steely gray water tower sat prominently at the very edge of town and Annie had always wanted to climb it. She could imagine herself up there, the world a soft quilt spread below, a patchwork of houses and hills stitched together by rambling charcoal highways. She loved heights. They ascended the ladder, Annie in the lead because she couldn’t contain her excitement, and Christian determinedly behind her because he wouldn’t possibly let her do it on her own.

As they reached the top, Annie walked gingerly to the far rim and looked out across her city. It was everything she’d imagined, and it was here that reality finally hit her. These streets would no longer be hers in two days’ time. She had finally arrived at all she’d been working toward. Her Greyhound route was mapped and almost finalized. The money from 2 years worth of working was in an envelope at the bottom of her backpack in her aunts house, and her last days of school and work were finally finished. Tomorrow would be a day of tying up loose ends, purchasing that ticket, and packing her meager bags. It was really time to start the next leg of her journey, and the entire world was spread before her. This world, the world directly in front of her. It was liberating and daunting at the same time, and a small piece of her felt a little empty at the thought of leaving it all behind, although she would never admit as much. She wondered if that emptiness would have been there just a couple of weeks ago. She felt a rustle at her shoulder, and turned her head to gaze into the eyes of a smiling Christian.

“Okay, dreamer. Let’s get this party started! What do you want first, whiskey or Cheetos?”

“Cheetos, duh,” she smiled as she grabbed the liquor bottle and twisted the top, “never drink on an empty stomach.” She took a small sip and grimaced, then passed the bottle.

Christian ripped open the Cheetos and handed them off. “This stuff is awful,” he croaked as he took a swig of the bottle. “I don’t know why anyone would drink it unless they just wanted to get wasted.”

“I think that’s the point. And it’s not that bad. C’mon! It’s Grad Night! We’re here to celebrate, don’t make me regret bringing you, you square!” Annie took a healthy swig and motioned for him to take the bottle and do the same. She made her way to the center of the tower and lay down, arms and legs splayed wide as if she were going to make a snow angel.

He took another deep swig, then followed her lead. As he eased his body down next to hers and gazed straight up, he was not prepared for what he saw. Billions upon billions of stars seemed to fill the night sky – more than he though possible. Just moments before they had been looking out over the indigo horizon and the stars hadn’t even registered on his radar, how could he have missed something this brilliant? It was gorgeous. He had never noticed how many layers were in the sky, how far away and intangible some of the stars seemed to be while some seemed so close. It was a metaphor for his life in many ways. So many layers, so many complexities and unknowns. So much beauty, but just out of reach. It made him just a little sad.

Long, deliberate silences where one of the things that he loved about Annie. They could be in their own worlds together, the need for words unnecessary. In the two weeks they’d been hanging out, he felt she understood him better than anyone had. She didn’t have expectations. She didn’t ask him for anything except his presence and his confidence, and he gave her his trust, too.

In the silence, Annie wondered what Christian was thinking about. She appreciated their silences together, and felt that these were some of the times when they understood each other the most. She loved that he seemed to value her whims and her occasional rants. She loved that he was game for almost anything, and that he seemed to respect her voice and her thoughts when she wanted to share them. He was someone she could share with, for there hadn’t been many given to her in life.

“What do you think?” She asked.

“It’s brilliant.”

“Christian?

“Yeah…”

“Thank you for coming with me.”

He scooted just a little closer, and wrapped an arm around her head. “Thank you for spending it with me…Annie?”

“Yeah…”

“I’m going to miss you.”

She wondered what he meant by it. Her heart hurt thinking about leaving this, her only friend ever. She hoped that was all he meant, too. Her stomach flipped at the thought of him trying to kiss her. The thought had never crossed her mind until this moment, and she was afraid it might ruin everything. But maybe it would make it easier leave town and leave him behind. She sighed.

“I’m really going to miss you, too, Christian,” but she couldn’t leave the thought behind. “You aren’t going to try to kiss me now, are you?”

He stiffened. “No, why? Do you think we should?” Christian hadn’t thought of this. In fact, he hadn’t thought of kissing anyone, ever. He knew it was abnormal behavior for a young man his age, but he’d had an abnormal upbringing. With Annie, he had found an unlikely eleventh-hour ally, one he was afraid to lose, but not because he wanted to get in her pants. He would just miss this random easy friendship.

Annie felt stupid. “Christian?”

“Yeah…” He was afraid of what she would ask next.

“Are you gay?”

“No. I don’t know. Maybe?”

“Because I still like you, even if you don’t want to kiss me and you like boys. Especially if you don’t want to kiss me.”

“Gee. Thanks for the confidence boost, Annie. Where are those damn cigarettes? And pass me that bottle!”

Annie wrapped her arms around him as he sat up, and laughed heartily. They stayed up until dawn, bantering as they had for the past 10 days, passing the bottle back and forth and smoking a few cigarettes for good measure.

 

 

 

A to Z: Grad Night

Over the next week, Annie and Christian slowly but surely built up their friendship. They ate lunch together almost everyday. They learned that they both had an affinity  for papaya, leftover pizza, and chocolate covered bananas. They equally hated diet sodas and strawberry milkshakes, but while Christian was a fan of vanilla, Annie would only drink chocolate. Annie was a Virgo and Christian was a Leo, which meant, according to Seventeen Magazine, that they were completely incompatible. Annie was the youngest child and Christian was the oldest, which meant, according to People Magazine, that they’d be perfect together. Annie had spent much of her life fending for herself; her mother had been in and out of prison since she was young, her father had disappeared from her life before she could even remember and her brother had gotten locked up four years prior, right when she’d started high school. Thankfully she had an aunt and a grandmother around who let her sleep at their respective house when she’d needed it, as long as she could bring her own groceries and contribute a little to the household.

Christian, on the other hand, had spent much of his life taking care of other people. He was the oldest of three brothers. His dad had been deported when he was 10, effectively making him man of the house. His mother worked two full time jobs to keep a roof over their heads, though she insisted that Christian only work minimally so he could finish high school and get his diploma. It was up to him to set the example for his brothers and keep them in line, and he did a good job with it. His grandmother lived in town, but his grandfather had passed away. She enjoyed her independence and didn’t want to give up her own apartment to squeeze into the Santos family’s two bedroom house, so he made sure to check up on her a couple times a week and help her with groceries.

When graduation rolled around, they decided not to go. Christian’s mom had to work, anyway, and though she was extremely proud of him, she really mostly cared about the diploma. Annie didn’t have anyone who cared at all to watch her walk, so she decided not to waste the money. Neither of them wanted to expend the energy or the money to attend Grad Night celebrations at the amusement park with the rest of the school, so they decided to celebrate together.

 

 

A to Z: Feelings

I am currently taking part of the April A to Z Challenge! During this month, I am writing a single story, building each day off of the previous one. To get the story from the beginning, start here and work on up…

Annie woke up the next morning refreshed and ready to tackle the day. She felt a little lighter today, dizzy with the excitement of impending graduation, and giddy from the droll interactions of the night before, though she was still somewhat bothered by Christian’s off-the-cuff sentiments.  She determined that if given the opportunity, she would expend just a little more energy working on being a friend instead of so singularly focused. Though it was a little late in the game, she hated to leave town this way, with only fleeting memories of herself as the girl who had no friends.

The first few periods came and went, same as they ever did. No grand opportunities came to her, no chances to help someone pick up dropped books or lend an ear, no one so much as looking her way. It seemed she had done a decent job of simply existing here, skating by without too many expectations. She was sitting alone under her favorite shade tree for lunch, a monstrous oak with rough, peeling bark and a trunk so wide she couldn’t even wrap her arms half way around it. She had recently printed out a map of the Greyhound routes and was beginning to discreetly plot her destined journey when she heard a rustle in the leaves behind her.

“Boo.”

She startled.

“Mind some company?”

Now was her opportunity. She feigned nonchalance as she gestured in a way that indicated he should sit. “Come on down.”

“Hey,” he lowered himself opposite her, folding long legs upon themselves more gracefully than she’d expected him to. “I just wanted to apologize for yesterday. I didn’t mean to be offensive.”

“Huh? You mean that friend comment? That’s okay. It wasn’t offensive, it just really got me thinking…”

“The friend comment? I meant everything except that! I was in a weird mood. I usually just don’t intervene so much, and then I said that you weren’t that pretty! I don’t even remember what I said about friends. I was just a little bolder than I usually am with everything. I think my adrenaline was up from that guy, and I didn’t mean to tease you so much. I hoped I didn’t make you mad!”

Annie’s cheeks pinked. “Christian, I am not offended that you stood up for me. I’ve been trippin’ over that thing you said about me not having any friends! You were right ya know. I’m leaving in two weeks and I don’t think I’ve ever made a friend in my life. It’s been about staying alive and getting out of here for so long that nothing else has mattered. I don’t think that’s a good thing.”

“Psh. You’re not the only one, chiquita. I don’t usually go out of my way for anybody. I’ve just got so many people and emotions that I’m trying to balance at home. I don’t have any energy left to even think about balancing somebody else. I just want to get done with all of this school stuff so I can get a 9-5 job and stop stressin’ about putting food on the table, ya know? Friends can only take you so far.”

“I dunno. It really got to me. I think I need to try. It seems like I’ve done a really good job of building up these walls, though, because no one has even tried talking to me today, except you. I’ve been paying attention. It looks like you, Mr. Santos, may have just volunteered to be my friend experiment.”

 

 

 

 

 

A to Z: Easy Friendships and Espresso.

I am currently taking part of the April A to Z Challenge! During this month, I am writing a single story, building each day off of the previous one. To get the story from the beginning, start here and work on up…

She turned to look over her shoulder. “Christian! Oh my God. I didn’t even notice that it was you out there! And now you’re cackling like an idiot and the whole bus is staring at us.”

“What, did you think it was some guy you didn’t even know, coming to rescue the poor damsel in distress? You might be good looking, Annie, but you aren’t that good looking!”

Annie socked him in the shoulder. “Shut up, you jerk! And thank you. I hope that didn’t hurt.”

“Ow! That’s how you repay my heroic knightly efforts? No wonder you don’t have any friends,” Christian was still chuckling. “Honestly, I’m glad I happened to be passing by. That guy was a fool and you could’ve really gotten in trouble. Do you always come home solo in the dark? It’s not very smart in this barrio.”

“I know. I don’t have too much of a choice, though. I’ve been at this job for two years and I haven’t had many problems– it’s not like I don’t know my way around these streets. Besides, times almost up! We’re graduating in 10 days! I put in my two week’s notice a few days ago.”

Christian’s eyes widened in surprise. “Really? Why? Are you going to college?”

“Nah,” Annie shrugged her shoulders and blushed, “just getting out of this town. I don’t really have too much of a plan. I’m buying a Greyhound ticket as soon as we graduate. I’ve been researching places, I just haven’t decided yet. I want to go somewhere far away and exotic. Maybe Nashville. Or Boston.”

“Nashville or Boston? Only white people live in those places, you know. That’s actually really cool, though. I don’t know if I’d pick Nashville or Boston as my top choices, but they’re definitely going to be real different than here.”

“That’s what I want! I want to go to coffee shops and drink espresso and learn how to play the guitar. Or go watch crab fisherman and see the autumn leaves. Don’t laugh at me. I’ve never told anyone this. In fact, I don’t even know why I’m telling you, Christian Santos! This is seriously so random! I can’t believe that I’m sitting here, spilling my fantasy world to you of all people. What were you even doing at the bus stop?”

“Hey, what’s wrong with spilling it to me? I’m not laughing at you. I think its cool, for real. I had no idea that you were such a dreamer. And I was coming home from visiting my abuelita. I go to her apartment to check up on her a couple times a week after school. You’re lucky I meant to get on this bus! You would’ve ripped a hole in my jacket if I tried to get away! This is my stop, though, so you’re going to have to give me up now.”

“All right, prince charming. Thanks for coming to my rescue. I’ll see you around.”

“Hey, it was really nice talking to you. Stay safe. Maybe we’ll run into each other again before you fly away from here, bird.”

And with that, Christian dismounted the bus and left Annie contemplating the random events of her night. She had friends, didn’t she? Wasn’t he just teasing her? But as she thought about it, she realized that he might be right. Sadly, she hadn’t put as much energy into building friendships as she had into putting up walls. She’d always thought it was too draining to talk to people, and scary to let them too close. It had been easy and even nice talking to Christian tonight. Maybe it wasn’t to late to make a friend, after all.

 

 

 

 

A to Z: The Boy

Hi, there. I am currently taking part of the April A to Z Challenge! During this month, I am writing a single story, building each day off of the previous one. To get the story from the beginning, start here and work on up…

Annie was a smart cookie. She was book-smart in the way you had to be to make it through school, and she was street-smart in the way you had to be to make it through life. She was wary and cautious, more so than other folks her age, a trait likely attributed to a tough upbringing in an even tougher neighborhood. People often told her that she was going to make it far in life, not knowing just how literally she took this tidbit. Daydreams of exotic travels across continents regularly interrupted her thoughts at inopportune times, and she couldn’t wait to finish school in a few short weeks so she could load up her few personal belongings and buy a Greyhound ticket.

Annie was also smart about boys. Many of the friends she’d had since childhood hadn’t been as smart and wary,  carrying the not-so-subtle after effects of these boys in the forms of stretchmarks and toddling guarantees to never get out of the neighborhood. Annie would not jeopardize her pathway to freedom in the form of a boy. Or a girl, for that matter. She was pretty sure neither species was actually worth the pain and suffering she’d witnessed her friends go through in the name of love or lust. Nope, freedom and happiness for Annie was nothing more than quietly finishing highschool — a personal goal that meant she’d be the first in her family — and then discreetly hopping on that bus before anyone even knew she was gone. Her mom was currently indisposed at the woman’s facility a few hours to the north and her pops had been missing in action since she was three. Fighting with her cousins for sleeping dibs on the couch at her grandmothers house was getting old, and truthfully they’d be happy to have one less body in the tiny abode. No way was a boy jeopardizing her escape.

And then she met The Boy.

 

From A to Z – Meet Annie

Wow, April crept up! I joined this challenge a little while ago, and since have been caught up in various aspects of trying to grow as a writer. This challenge will be great, because it will make me write EVERY DAY. I am also determined to make it fun and creative for me, stuff that I WANT to write instead of stuff I’m trying to make money off of =) Sound okay? I hope to build a story, one piece leading to the next. I am already a day late — eek! Expect two…

Annie

Annie was an exceptional specimen, all sharp, chiseled angles with soft curves interjected in just the right places. Her face was a heart surrounded by a tangle of blondish curls that cascaded down her back and tumbled around her shoulders like a waterfall, and two pools of aquamarine peered out from under a fringe of dark eyelashes. Her pink mouth was full and soft and kissable, and the way she pouted with it gave one the impression that she used it often for expressly that purpose. It was this mouth, along with that unruly mass of curls and the soft, mocha tint of her skin that made many a passerby do a double-take, and alluded to her grandfathers African roots.

Annie was eighteen years old, freshly an adult with the world at her whim. She knew more than she should about the pain and torment that had a tendency to run rampantly through the darker underbellies of large cities, for she had grown up clinging desperately to that underbelly with hopes that she could grasp it tightly enough to avoid tumbling off and being trampled by the beast. At eighteen, Annie finally felt equipped to jump off without falling, and run like hell to put as much distance between herself and it as she could.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following The Mantra

Write every day! We’ve heard this over and over again, and I am just attempting to fulfill this promise to myself. I’ve got a house full of kids and no room for solitude unless it’s in my head. All you parents know what I’m talking about. It’s impossible to buy a moment. I find myself agitated that my kids are disrupting the imaginary world in my head, then realize how out of order my priorities can get. I received an email yesterday from the studio I write for letting me know that all of us writers can expect no work for at least the next few weeks, at minimum. Another stark reminder that I need to find other outlets asap. I think I really enjoy writing articles on doing things that are fun and unconventional. Travel articles with kids, local travel, local restaurant stuff (kid-friendly, of course) and anything on-a-budget. Where is a good place to submit these? Can I just go in blind, or do I need to query, or is there a list of suggested article topics I can pull from? Is this just whaImaget happens when you are actually hired as staff somewhere? Am I delusional in thinking that maybe I can just waltz in and submit unsolicited articles like this somewhere? Throw me a bone here, people. Let me know if you have insight into any of this stuff. I know some of you write for a living.

I hear children giggling behind closed doors. I wonder if I intervene too much or not enough. I wonder if it’s always a parent’s nature to question if they are doing this right. We only get one chance. It’s so strange, this transition between milestones. It happens regularly; I remember distinctly different times, like when I couldn’t figure out why C kept crying in her car seat when she was a baby. I realized, finally, that she was squished in there with that stupid little infant pillow and she couldn’t turn her head. One day it just occurred to me to take it out, and she was so happy. She was growing from infant to something bigger and I wasn’t realizing it. As soon as I did and modified my end, she was fine and able to be happy in the skin she had grown into. It’s like, you find balance together as a family and then your kid decides to jump onto that next rung and family life is thrown into upheaval for a moment until we can find our equilibrium again. I think we are hitting that phase right now, fast and hard. We can figure out how to grow and climb to that next precarious step together, parents balancing kids, or we parents can refuse to move and throw the entire thing of kilter. I guess it’s time to figure out the best way to step up and take that next pillow off.