For eight months I have tried to straighten out a lone phone bill.
Feeling sorry for myself and subjected to a barrage of relentless and mind-numbing, repetitive paperwork, I feel a bit like a Kafka or a Gogol character. Metaphorically, at least, each mail delivery brings to mind a particular character in The Overcoat, who “had a peculiar knack, as he walked along the street, of arriving beneath a window just as all sorts of rubbish were being flung out of it…”
We are owed seventy-one dollars and thirty-eight cents.
I have spent untold lawyer hours on the phone with so-called customer service representatives, explaining again and again that I have paid my husband’s bills. Indeed, I overpaid this one upon threats to charge interest and fees on money I knew was not owed. Eventually a refund would come, and I carefully explained that when the overlords did come to appreciate their error, the refund check could not be in my husband’s name–primarily because his death was the reason the company cancelled all our phone lines. . . and then inexplicably began aggressively billing for a line he had not used in months.
Had this been a bill for thirty dollars, I might not have bothered.
Now it has become a point of honor. I have faxed this company my husband’s death certificate. I have bared for these strangers our private legal documentation establishing that I am indeed the one privileged to be paying the bills here.
After every single one of these tense conversations with different corporate representatives, I am left with a spritely “You have a great rest of your day!”
Seriously, people? I’ve been talking to your estate departments and bullet-pointing for you the ways in which your form letters have elevated my blood pressure, and you expect my day to continue on an upward trend?
I am on the phone yet again, because I have just received a letter pointing out I have not cashed a third refund check made out by the company so as to render it useless.
“No, middle initial ‘M,’ as in ‘mayhem,’ ‘murder,’ ‘mandible.’” I seethe, grinding my teeth.
“OK, and last name ‘Clennon’?”
“No, Glennon, ‘G’ as in ‘grotesque,’ ‘gash,’ ‘gurgle.’” (If I’d given it any thought, I would have added “garroting.”)
“Oh. OK, got it.”
“I’ve got to say, ma’am, most people only give me one word, and it’s not usually any of those.”
My displaced anger seems even to have made it into my reflexive alphabetical references.
But this causes me to flash back on scenes from our family’s past, which Jim was here to enjoy–like the time I must have over-enthusiastically and age-inappropriately told a work story at home and we found out our five-year-old son had gone to kindergarten the next day and volunteered that “‘A’ is for asphyxiation.” (The same teacher told us she always feared what the boys would volunteer when it came to discuss the letter “P,” and then our son ventured, “Actually, I have a ‘ph’ word. . .” She puzzled out how that might go wrong, and was relieved when he concluded, “’P’ is for ‘physicist.’”)
Family memories unfold, and take out of my heart and voice just a shade of my bitterness at one of hundreds of bureaucratic tangos.
Though I have dwelled lately in regret for being an imperfect spouse, and sorrow that I could not possibly have been as good for my husband as he was for me, I know that at least (if unwittingly) I provided some entertainment.
(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon