Thursday, May 12, 2011

Debt Collectors and Dementors

I see the caller ID on my iphone- Unknown. Or maybe an 800 number. Or some far away location where I know I don’t know anyone. Like North Dakota- and my blood runs cold.

Should I remain still and hope they go away? They’ll leave a message. And they’ll just keep coming back.

So maybe I should face them, and try to fight. But I know I don’t have the resources. It’s useless.

They are debt collectors. And they are the Dementors of the Muggle World.

The more I think about them, the more I think debt collectors are exactly who she had in mind when J.K Rowling created her terrifying creatures.

-They are faceless.

-They can swoop in at any time.

-They work for someone else.

-They make no distinction between the ones they seek and those who get in the way. Just ask any of my friends or family members who have ever received a call about my debt.

-They make me feel as if I’ll never be cheerful again.

-The more sadness I have in my life, the stronger their effect on me.

-The only thing that can make me feel any better after an interaction with them is chocolate.

Even the names. DEBTCOLLECTORS. DEMENTORS. I can picture Tom Riddle rearranging the letters mid-air with his wand.

I started to make the comparison a few weeks ago after the phone call that put me over the edge. Ryan and I talked about it, and I wondered- if debt collectors are our Dementors… what’s the patronus?

For a while I thought it was something silly. General happy thoughts. Warm fuzzies. I wondered what animal my patronus would be.

But then last Friday I got another phone call. It was a Dementor- er, debt collector. And I felt calm. And so I answered the phone.

The woman on the other end immediately identified herself and the company she represented. And then she told me something surprising- that she had Ryan on conference call. “Hi, sweetheart,” he said.

It turns out she had called him, and then he gave her the usual “My wife takes care of all this and has the numbers” excuse. But when she suggested they call me, something very different happened. “Yes,” he said. “Let’s do that.”

Because this time, I did have all the numbers. It wasn’t just a line. It was the truth. And he knew I would answer. And he knew I would say exactly what I said. “Just a minute. Let me pull up your file.”

“I’m sorry, what did you say that balance was?” I asked. “OK, that’s a little different than what I have here… And you represent Company XYZ? …Can I reach you at 555-123-4567? …Ah, there’s a better number, let me fill that in. …And what was your name? OK, that sounds like a reasonable payment, we can fit that into our budget. We didn‘t plan on it for this month- can we start the first week in June?”

Spreadsheets. Accurate information. A plan. That is my patronus. That knowledge gives me the peace to deal with all of this head-on.

We got off of the phone with a plan that will have the credit card paid-off in seven months. I moved the debt from the “Need to set-up payment plan” list to the “Making payments” snowball list. And the details become clearer and clearer.

In a few years, the Ministry of Magic will be unable to find any fault with me, and the Dementors will have no choice but to slink away. And then I will have a different patronus: I won’t owe anything to anyone. Take that, big ugly black-cloaked creatures.

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