Another Year Older…

I turned forty-eight years old today.  Not exactly what you’d call a “landmark birthday,” but it seemed like a good idea to share a few thoughts about it.  So here goes.

For some reason, I flashed on a line from the television movie “A Caribbean Mystery,” in which the late, great Helen Hayes played Agatha Christie’s indefatigable Miss Marple.  One of the characters makes the colossal gaffe of calling Miss Marple “elderly,” to which she responds, “Elderly?  I never think of myself as ‘elderly.’  I feel just the same as I did when I was seventeen.  Only then, of course, I pitied anyone over twenty, and now I don’t!”

In the film, Hayes threw the line away in that offhand manner which she did so well.  But think about it for a moment.  How many times have we heard kids refer to people over thirty as “real old?”  Hell, I’m practically old enough to be the FATHER of a thirty-year-old!

Anyway, growing older is only part of what is on my mind today.  Eleven years ago I became disabled; I’ve had HIV since 1989 and it became full-blown AIDS in 1994.  Medications have kept me in reasonably decent health, but I developed a long and unshakable case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Fibromyalgia in January of 2000.  This on top of the Bipolar Disorder that I began suffering from three years earlier.  The combination of the two ended my ability to hold down a full-time job, so naturally I applied for Social Security Disability.  I had been paying into it for well over twenty-two years, but I never dreamed what a nightmare I was letting myself in for.

Social Security moves at about the pace of molasses traveling uphill in January against a prevailing headwind.  It took them six months to send me a terse note denying my claim.  That was just the beginning of the nightmare.

I first became ill in January of 2000.  At the time I had a good job, a beautiful apartment, a car that was less than two years old that I had bought new for cash, and not a penny in debts.  By Thanksgiving of the same year I had lost the job, the car, been evicted from my apartment, and was living in an SRO surrounded by drug addicts and petty criminals.  Sometimes not so petty; during my time at that motel there was a murder.

My Social Security caseworker assured me that they turned everyone down the first time.  Nevertheless, I decided it was time to get a lawyer.  Since Disability lawyers work on contingency fees and take no money up front, this was an easy enough thing to do, and it was a relief to know that I had someone in my corner.

To make a long story short, it would take my lawyer and me the next three years and three separate court appearances before my claim was finally approved.  The first two court appearances were before a sour-faced old judge whose contempt for me was written in bold all over his face and showed in every one of his questions.  He turned me down flat, and in both decisions he wrote that I was “not a credible witness.”

I met with my lawyer and told him that I wanted a different judge for the next court appearance.  He was hesitant to make such a request, since it has been known to backfire.  Judges are a clannish lot and if the old fart decided my request for a different judge was a slap in the face it could kill any chance of getting approved.  I told my lawyer that I didn’t think my chances could get much worse after two denials and that I flatly refused to appear before that miserable old bastard again.  So he really had no choice.

I guess it’s true that the third time is the charm.  Wonder of wonders, the judge at my third hearing had a handicap of his own:  he was blind.  But he took his own notes on a laptop computer and spoke to me more respectfully than anyone in my entire ordeal had done with the exception of my own attorney.

It was a great relief to finally be approved.  I was able to pay off all the debts I had accrued in the interim, and the four thousand dollars my lawyer got was not nearly enough for how hard he had worked for me.

Now, it seems certain Republicans in the government want to eliminate both Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid.  And for no other reason than to take away what little sustenance the elderly and disabled have left, so they can turn around and hand it to their rich friends.

Since the Republicans who are trying to do this are mostly of the Teabagger variety, I am hanging onto hope that there are still enough mainstream GOPers with horse sense who will see what they are doing for what it is.  All I can say is thank God we’ve still got a Democratic majority in the Senate plus the President’s veto power.

The richest country in the world also has the biggest gap between its richest citizens and its poorest.  And the gap is widening as the middle class rapidly disappears into a new class known as the “educated working poor.”

I’ve survived a lot of things in my life.  I’ve survived AIDS.  I’ve survived mental illness.  I’ve survived being homeless.  Please God give me the strength to survive the Republicans.

At forty-eight, I suppose I am what one would call “middle-aged.”  But who are we kidding?  I am most likely past the middle of my life.  All I really want is to be able to live decently with my husband for as long as we have together.

Is that really so unreasonable?

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