When I was around 12, a friend and her mom took me yard saling. At one point we came across a pair of shoes I liked that were $3.00. My friend’s mom offered to buy them for me, as I didn’t have any cash, on the condition that I pay her back. I agreed, and the shoes were purchased.
Nearly 10 years later, I still have not paid her back. We are no longer in touch with that family.
When a preacher or speaker tells the audience to think of something they regret, my $3.00 debt almost always comes to mind. Yes, I tell myself it was only $3.00, that it was the better part of a decade ago, that my friend’s mom undoubtedly forgot about it within a year, but it still plagues me.
I do not like to be beholden to anyone. If I owe someone (and usually my mind works in terms of monetary debt, though it might be a favor) I do everything in my power to pay them back as soon as possible.
Enter my grandmother, with her strange (dare I say “warped”?) sense of common courtesy and her declining mental health.
As soon as the weather turned from pleasant autumn sunshine and breezes to frosty and gray, Gram was asking us to turn on the heat. Her constant refrain was, “I’m helping to pay for it”, as if that gives her license to blast the furnace at 75 degrees 24/7.
I get it; she’s bored. Also, much as we hate her using it as a crutch, she is old and undoubtedly has poor circulation. But it’s not so much the reason as the attitude behind the thing that gets under my skin.
It’s not just the thermostat. Whenever Mom goes to the store or mentions needing to get gas or pay the electric bill, Gram tries to throw money at her.
I am not surrounded by wealthy old relatives. I can think of three, and Gram is not one of them. She was the wife of a preacher.
Mom usually mutters an affirmative because Gram usually forgets within the hour and is no longer in the habit of maintaining her own checkbook.
Then came the day when I shuffled into the house with grocery bags on my arms, telling Jo about the things I got and teasingly (or not) complaining about how low my bank account now was. (My budget was in mind when I chose “balance” for the word of 2016.) Gram overheard us and called out that the next time I went to the store I was to let her know, and she would pay for it.
Without daring to look at her, I politely declined the offer. Sure, in some way I think she was offering because she knows some of what I do for her and she wants to pay me back. All the same, I didn’t hesitate to refuse. Hearing about it later, Mom asked why I didn’t just go along with it.
“Because this would be the one time she would remember,” I answered. This time Gram would remember, and suddenly my purchases would be in her control. What I did with them and myself after would be within her realm of influence because now I owed her; even if she didn’t say it, I would feel that way. Dad agreed with me, so I know it’s not just me.
If you hadn’t caught on before, I am not a naturally trusting person. I over-analyze everything. Add to that my ingrained need to be as independent as possible, and you get a girl who doesn’t like people doing things for her. Like Bing Crosby’s character in White Christmas, I am always considering what the helpful human’s angle might be. I know, it’s a sad way to live, but I can’t help it. It’s a subconscious function up there with breathing. It’s one of my (less useful) defense mechanisms.
Much as I want to blame it on other people like my old boss or my mother, I won’t. I know it’s my fault, my own self-cultivated nature, grown out of the same part of my brain that I only recently realized was rather manipulative itself. Maybe that’s why I am so aware of other people’s propensity for manipulation; because I am the same way.
Wow. I am reading into this way more than I thought I would.
So, in short: I tend to be manipulative, though I am aware of the fault and am getting better at monitoring it; I don’t like to owe people or be in their control because of a debt; I pay back my debts as quickly as possible, after doing everything in my power to keep them as small as possible; and I’m not taking any favors from my grandmother. Now that I think of it, that last one is probably also an issue of pride.
Well, hello 2016! We have a lot of work to do.