After the Dragon

debtdragonDragons, it seems, are the ultimate evil.  In fairy tales, when the hero slays the dragon, he is considered the bravest of the brave, he wins the treasure and the adulation of the townspeople, they throw a parade and he marries the princess. The dragon is his final obstacle between Once Upon a Time and Happily Ever After.

If my life were a fairy tale, my dragon would be $100,000 in unsecured consumer debt.

Over 25 years of married life, Downtown Dad and I fully own the fact that we created that dragon ourselves. We gave it its own cave and fed it regularly, not by extravagance and luxury, but by all of the large and small demands of life. Aided and abetted by the banks’ out of control finance charges and over-limit fees, even when we stopped charging on our cards, and stopped borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, our debt dragon continued to grow. It increased steadily from a monthly annoyance to a major catastrophe until finally, it ate up all of our income, held our future hostage, and generally made a real mess of our kingdom.

Any ability we may have had to save for retirement, send our kids to college, or even to pay for our groceries, dwindled daily. We were one water heater emergency from fiscal ruin, and it was clear that no knight in shining armor was coming to save us. We were going to have to do something drastic, heroic even. We were going to have to kill the dragon.  But how?

We were unwilling to ask for help, in fact, few people were aware of the magnitude of the debt we carried. We knew one thing for sure though, that bankruptcy would not be an option. Like the round table knights, our integrity was at stake here, and however far in debt we were, we’d given our word to pay back that money according to the terms of the various credit card contracts. We would not back out of our responsibility simply because it was too hard to pay the money back.

We needed a mentor – a wizard to give us the armor, the weapons and the magic amulets we needed to prepare us for this battle. Our wizard came in the form of a debt management program almost mysteriously, recommended by one of our creditors. Granted, the wizards armed us for the battle by magically corralling all the creditors, negotiating a halt in late  and interest fees, and setting us on the payoff path; but that’s where the magic ended. It was we alone who trudged into the deep dark dragon’s lair, slogged past the charred bones of previous victims, and hacked at the beast ‘til our arms were weary.

That was five years ago. Next month, at long last, we will make our final payment.  We can finally lay down our swords, emerge from the darkness and enjoy the freedom we have earned. We have learned our lesson about how debt can turn into a fire breathing dragon and spiral out of control. We now pay cash for almost everything, live within our budget, and are even able to save for college, retirement and the eventual furnace or water heater replacement.

Triumph!  Right?  So why am I not dancing in the streets, throwing a parade?  What is that I’m feeling? Afraid? Depressed?

Battling that debt, as grueling as it was, gave Downtown Dad and me a common enemy, a bad guy to blame for whatever problem arose, a reason to endure, and most important of all – a goal.  Our struggle to get from paycheck to paycheck shaped our attitudes. Now that those restrictions are gone, now that our heroic quest is finished, we’re nothing more than unemployed knights, trudging across the countryside tilting at windmills.

And then I remember, life with all of its obstacles is a journey, and doesn’t end at Happily Ever After.  There will always be more epic adventures to be had, especially now that we have the wherewithal and the wisdom to afford them.  Maybe what I’m feeling is just that I still can’t believe we actually did it.

Or maybe, just maybe I’m going to miss that dragon.

12 thoughts on “After the Dragon

  1. YOu are amazing! what an accomplishment! To stick with it for that long and be out from under all that debt- congratulations. I used to work for a debt relief company that would help people negotiate with creditors and get to a better place. I heard such wonderful stories of people starting over. I am always impressed with what it takes to do that. Cheers! Virginia- FirstClassWoman

  2. I am so happy not only for you but for your family as well. I was the one who had to pick up the burden of debit left after my sister died. I had to go do what she never could. I liquidate and negotiated her estate out of debit. Only now can I laugh with her and only now can I mourn the loss of her. I am and have worked through the anger of what the Dragon did to her. I fully believe it ate her.
    So good on you.
    I hope for smooth sailing and worry free nights, and time spent with love one’s.

  3. Holy cow! You guys rock!

    I think it’s only natural to feel kind of lost after reaching such a big, long-term goal. It’s kind of like the day after Christmas, but way, way worse.

    Now that you have time and resources, perhaps it’s time to work with your fella to come up with a new goal? But a fun one, this time – a vacation, or a project you’ve always wanted to tackle. It’s scary to have the ability to branch out beyond the “have-tos” – but it will be worth it.

    This post was so well-written!

    • Thanks Cha Cha! Being theatre parents, we’ve related it to “post-play-depression” which, as you say, is like the let down after Christmas. We do have some crazy plans for this coming year – stay tuned!

  4. That was a huge dragon to be hunting and the fact that you slayed it by sheer determination, willpower, and perseverance deserves the laud and applause of everyone around you. I’m incredibly proud of you, having read this story.
    It is so easy to fall under the spell of a dragon. I’m convinced that I’d be there if it wasn’t for my own knight. He keeps us focused on the next challenge so that we never let down our guard. (But I sure wish there was more time to celebrate… I suspect that celebrations and rewards are what help feed the dragon, but life is boring without at least a few of those treats.)

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