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July 16, 2001: If: Paid in full

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If Collab - July: If you were asked to identify your most life-altering moment, what would it be? Why did that pivotal event or experience cause you to change your direction?

I remember very distinctly when my dad gave us the first of the disbursement checks from my uncle's estate. This was before we knew the full extend of what he had left us - before we could even comprehend what sort of legacy he had left behind. All we all knew was that there were three checks - one for each.

There were a lot of things I could have bought with that money, but I had been a graduate student for far too long by that point, living paycheck to paycheck, never knowing what my funding would be one quarter to the next. Every time it looked as if I was finally caught up and could actually start to *save*, something would happen to send me scrambling for money again. All four tires had to be replaced on the car. It needed a new ignition coil. I hated borrowing money from my parents, but all my friends were in the same boat, and I had no other choice but to swallow my pride and ask.

So I took that check my dad handed me, and I deposited it, and I waited anxiously until it cleared and I was certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the money really was there in my account, and then as each bill came in that month, I paid it off in full. I couldn't pay them all, but I cleared out most of them, and each time I wrote out another check that would wipe the slate clean for that particular debt, I felt lighter and lighter.

It's not polite to talk about having money. It's perfectly acceptable to talk about the lack of money; how you have to struggle to scrape together enough to put one gallon of gas into your car so you can get to work, or how you play a little form of roulette to determine which bill gets to be paid late this month. No one minds if you talk about things like that because too many of us have been in that same boat - are too many more are still there.

But people don't like it when you *have* money. It makes them uncomfortable when you mention it, and so it can never be brought up - this amazing amount of money that I suddenly had when all the bills were paid. My sisters and I have talked to each other about it time and time again, if only to have *someone* who can understand the experience and not feel as if you are bragging. It's not that you suddenly have more money. It's just that the money you have is *yours* now. You're not sending it off to pay bills - it's sitting there, waiting for you to spend it any way you choose.

My little sister says she almost cried when the bill statements came back reading 0. The freedom of no longer having to live paycheck to paycheck - the immense amount of money you suddenly have when you no longer have to send it all to creditors. It changed our lives - all three of us - in very distinct ways.

You go a bit crazy when you are suddenly solvent. My little sister said she went to a gourmet food store and wandered the aisles, giddy. She purchased $20 bottles of truffle oil, and specialty spices, just because she could. I bought electric litter boxes and a digital camera (there is no connection. Don't even go there!).

If I had my choice, I'd rather be in debt and still have my uncle living, of course. He wasn't our true uncle by blood - only by nickname - but he'd been our 'uncle' since we were tiny girls. He was a close friend of my parents for so long that my sisters and I can not remember a time when he wasn't part of our lives. I cried when I heard he was dead - cried more for him than for any of my grandparents who'd died beforehand, because he was really the only relative we ever knew (despite the lack of true blood relation).

The rest of the inheritance trickled in in a few much larger checks, and we all admit quite frankly that if it hadn't been for the money from my uncle, none of us would have been able to afford the houses we live in now. But by the time that came in, it was icing on the cake. The best part of receiving that inheritance was that small sum in the beginning, when at long last we could finally climb out from underneath the fear of never being able to handle an emergency or of trying to decide between buying groceries or paying the electric bill - and finally breathe free.

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