(C) 2015 by Metta Anderson. All Rights Reserved
On Becoming a Bum
I sat on the nice couch yesterday in a nice apartment in Chapinero, and burst into tears. I felt deeply embarrassed, humiliated and shrinking into nothingness. Across from me sat Martha, a friend since 1968, and we were discussing my options for survival, which are almost nil.
Martha’s summation of events leading to my current situation was concise and balanced. No Social Security, no welfare, no job, no husband, no children. Living in a hostal at USD 15/night, little food, my dogs cared for by others, my personal property (including clothes) locked up by someone who simply got mad at me.
Once upon a time, I lived in nice apartments in Chapinero, a now-classic residential-but-going-too-commercial neighborhood in Bogota. I had nice clothes. I had plans and hopes for the future. I had friends. I wrote my mother twice a month, my father once a month, and they wrote back. This was years before direct long distance dialing although we kept writing regardless of phone service. I was writing and in the Seventies began to start painting and take my photography more seriously. I was beginning to become an artist.
In the US, my brother and sisters went to college, got married, had children, etc. I went to REO’s first wedding because his fiancee asked me to be a bridesmaid. That was in 1967, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Lansing, Michigan, on a warm July evening.
Last family wedding I ever attended. I was invited to Debbie’s wedding, received an announcement about Katrina’s, and was openly excluded from my niece Heather’s hippie-dippie-in-a-field wedding in the 1980s. My mother had a fit about that, but by then, exclusion from family events had become standard practice. I was out of sight, therefore out of mind. Only letters from Mom or Dad let me know about family events.
Flash forward – 2003. My father died around noon on Friday, 21 February 2003. My brother REO lived about 80 miles away. He was notified with a message left on his answering machine at 6 p.m. on Saturday, 22 Feb., which he heard at 11 p.m. that night. According to his second wife, he went so ballistic that he was still incoherent on Sunday morning when she called me in Houston, Texas. I was there to help my mother whose sister had died two weeks earlier.
The memorial service for Dad was scheduled for the following Tuesday morning. I was there, with REO and his family, to everyone’s obvious surprise. He and I, as Episcopalians and as Olds Anderson’s oldest children, made sure we were first in line to take communion at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, where Dad had sung in the choir. (His widow and their daughters were/are Christian Scientists.) The British minister emphasized how well-liked and respected Mr. Anderson was at the church.
Later we learned Dad had almost cut us out of his Will, in favor of his widow and their daughters. The provisions, according to his lawyer (so embarrassed he could barely look me in the eye), were very specific. 1. Mr. Anderson left a small fixed amount to each child. 2.The bulk of his estate went to his wife and their daughters. 3. Any claim against the estate protesting this distribution would automatically exclude the protester from future distribution of said estate.
May 2006 — REO calls to say, “Just thought you should know Mom died yesterday and I had her cremated. She didn’t leave any written instructions about her things so–” he snickered “I can do what I want.” And he did.
Flash Forward and Backward — When Doris Berkey Davis became Mrs. R E Olds Anderson, she acquired me and REO as stepchildren, like it or not. We had been born during his marriage to Elizabeth Faye Powers between 1943 and 1948. None of the parties involved may have liked the situation, but being a “step-something” is a legality. No big deal.
Doris had a daughter, Diane, by her first marriage, who was legally adopted by the new husband. Then they had two more daughters.
November 2012 — Doris B. Anderson dies of natural causes (age 92).
Mid-year 2014 — Metta Jane Anderson, out of curiosity, stumbles across the tidbit that the woman who had been such a part of her life since 1946, had died on November 25, 2012. In an obituary in The Lansing State Journal, Metta Jane is listed as a surviving stepdaughter (and REO as a surviving stepson).
I sent a short and nasty note to REO–“I guess you were so overcome with grief over Doris’s death that you forgot to tell me.”
His reply–“Diane said she was going to tell you.”
Yeah? Since when are these two such close and trusting friends?
Meanwhile, and since 2012, I have been having serious financial trouble. I have asked for help from “the family.” There are four of them. One of me. I suggested that any economic aid be divided among the four, e.g., USD 250.00 per person per month.
Instead of help, I get a sadistic and very unrealistic version of “tough love.” In synthesis– Proposition Number 1. I get rid of everything–dogs, books, bed (an inherited antique), photo equipment, art materials, etc. I will be given a one-way economy class ticket to wherever I want to live IN THE US. REO and Diane will support me while I get a job paying roughly USD 3000 to USD 5000/month or til I qualify for welfare. (The figures for my support come from the US Consulate in Bogota. They feel the wiser plan would be to leave me here and pay my rent. Total Cost per month–USD 1500 to USD 2500/month. This is rent, utilities and some food. The rest would come from teaching and selling my art.)
Proposition Number 2. Now in effect. No one sends me anything. So far, REO has had no problems with that. Diane relented somewhat–she sent money to cover the replacements for my visa and my Colombian ID (called a cedula), but not the passport. The US Consulate informed her that the passport is required for the other documents. She refused to change her mind so I had to find someone else to pay for it (USD 135.00). And since I’m living in a hostal, I used the rest to keep a roof over my head.
Diane also sent some money at Christmas. It went to the hostal as well.
So I have come down to this–I am a beggar. I used to have clean clothes, decent food, live in a decent apartment with my dogs. Now, USD 15/night separates me from sleeping in the street and not smelling. USD 20 (that’s five dollars for food per day) feeds me.
I do not qualify for Social Security, but that’s another story for another day.
I do not qualify for welfare either in Colombia or in the US. They use identical qualifying systems. I have a college degree, I do not have any handicaps and I do not have minor children. I am not a caretaker (caregiver?) for handicapped children or adults.
My family’s supposed “tough love” approach puts my entire life in serious jeopardy and is also illegal in the US as well as in Colombia. It’s called “abandonment of a senior citizen” (rough translation).
What my family is doing is to reject the educated adult artist and writer I am while attempting to exercise a control that has never been in their power before. That this causes me enormous emotional and physical pain as well as psychological damage does not interest them in the slightest. It also leaves them blind to other consequences–e.g., if they refuse to help me where I am now, how can I trust them to help me in the US?
Second, I speak “legalese” in two languages. How quickly do you think I’d get a lawyer in Michigan or any other part of the US and sue them for damages (pain and suffering caused by their negligence)?
Third, I am a very good writer. How would they feel about a tell-all novel making them look worse than they are?
So there I sat, crying on Martha’s shoulder, seriously talking about suicide as my only alternative. I’ve lived in Bogota for 48 years (49 in March). This is home. Even a first year psychiatric student could tell you how damaging it would be to uproot me and force me into an environment so different from the one I’ve witnessed change from backward to futuristic in barely a generation.
I cried too because the woman sitting across from Martha is not the confident, nicely-dressed and relaxed woman she met years ago. That woman has become a bum, deprived of a decent place to live and work, deprived of decent food, deprived of her clothes and her dogs, deprived of her art materials (and therefore deprived of her ability to earn a living, which is a felony crime in Colombia), and deprived of tomorrow.
All this because a very well-educated and well-to-do family still lives in 1960 in East Lansing, Michigan, and insists that I do the same.
(C) 2015 by Metta Anderson. All Rights Reserved.