Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Turning a Corner? Stepping Off a Cliff?

I had a long conversation with Doug regarding Wally's education.

Doug, Wally and I have gone back and forth and all around for many months regarding how Wally's college is to be paid for. To be sure, I've barely a penny to spare right now. I have Wally on my health insurance, which is quite good, and send him small checks when I can. But if I were the sole source of funding, Wally could kiss college goodbye. Fortunately, Doug put money aside some time ago for Wally. The downside of this is that in applying for financial aid, Doug's finances can't be considered or Wally will get none. The application used Carl and me as parent sources because we show up as poor (which we are). Beyond the small grant that Wally got, the rest has to come from direct payments or loans. Doug decided to go the loan route, since it slows down the rate at which he has to shell out money. This I understand. However, the loan application also has to be in my name. If it goes under Doug's name, he has to forfeit the small grant.

The plan is for Doug to write the loan payment checks. However, it's my name on this loan. So that if Doug becomes unable or unwilling to continue writing checks, guess who gets hit with a loan default?

There was this concern, and also Wally's odd behavior. I'd almost be willing to bet that he's been up to something. He's asked me for my social security number a couple of times; he's gone on the school's website with me on the phone. Every time I go onto the website, I end up with a dead end. So he goes on the website, using my information, and somehow gets through. Then he tells me, OK, a 'promissory note' is going to come to you in the mail or via e-mail; just sign it and we'll be good to go. After several days he tells me "I'm not sure what I did, but I got a note from the school saying you had to sign it, not me, so you're gonna have to go on the website and do this." Sounds to me like he's been trying to make an end-run around me, get this thing signed under my name and get it going without my direct participation. This would be because of the questions and objections I've raised, making it clear that I don't trust Doug any farther than I could fling a Steinway. Wally, of course, feels like he's stuck in the middle, and I think this is how he's attempted to resolve it. However, it didn't work for him. So now it's back to me.

Coincidentally (not), Doug calls me, ostensibly to wish me a happy birthday and invites me to call him if I "want to talk about anything." So I called him; we talked; I expressed my very valid concerns about this loan thing.

Here's where we ended up: Yes, it's true that Doug could screw me over royally if he decided to stop writing checks. However, here's the nugget I got from this. Wally getting a college degree is a very high priority for Doug. Perhaps the highest. So, he says, he's willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that.

If he stops writing checks, yeah, it would put me in default of the loan. But it could also put an end to Wally's education. I think he's sincere about this, and I think I'm probably not completely helpless in this thing. If he tried to back out of paying this, I believe I would have some recourse. I may not be able to go after him directly, but I could put some interested parties on his trail.

More than anything, I sense that Wally is under a huge amount of strain regarding the hostility between Doug and me.

Doug said "Wally needs to get a degree." I answered "He needs to get a job." A moment later, I played the tape back to myself and decided I was voicing a lower-class mentality, and it echoed some of what I internalized -- the idea that being employed is more important than being educated. It was this mindset that led to me dropping out of college to enter the workforce because it made me feel more like an adult. During the years since our divorce, I've become aware of a class gulf of sorts between Doug and me. He's done much better money-wise and class-wise than I have. I had been fairly upwardly mobile during the time we were married, but at some point, I retreated back to my blue-collar roots (becoming an evangelical Christian was part of that). Meanwhile, I've filed Chapter 7, maxed out credit cards, and basically descended several rungs down the social ladder.

I hate to admit it more than anything, but Doug is right about that, at least. Getting the college degree is more important for Wally in the long term than being a schlub chasing a paycheck. I have been so hostile toward Doug for so long (probably going back to the days before we even moved in together), that I've adopted a "whatever Doug is in favor of, I'm completely against!" type of stance. I've long known that my relationship with Doug was like a 15-year extension on my childhood -- I moved out of my parents' house and into his, and simply continued my stubborn, short-sighted patterns. In fact, I even replicated what my parents had: Dad was into order and success. Mom was into chaos and self-sabotage.

It's one thing for me to opt for a life that's just a few millimeters above trailer-trash, but I shouldn't drag Wally down into that as well.

Long & short of it: I'll sign the goddamn promissory note and hope Doug doesn't decide to get greedy or ugly and leave me holding the bag.
Nothing beyond this point...


Kay Dennison said...

Hugsssssss The "dynamics" of divorce is sooo ugly. I think you're taking a big but necessary risk. I will pray that you can survive all this. Hopefully, your son will take some responsibility for some of this whe he graduates. If I remember right, they signed their own student loan papers and were liable for their debt at graduation.

Obviously, things have changed. Sigh.

Volly said...

Thanks for that!!

Yes, apparently nowadays it's almost like a small business loan, where you start paying it back almost as soon as you get it -- or it goes directly to the school. Back in the 1970s, they'd hand you a check and you could put it into a CD and let it grow for 4 years.