My wife and I live in the country and our garbage is picked up by a county trash pick-up service. As that service will continue to function until the bill is five or even six or so months overdue, it is easy to let its related bill slide.
Due to the recent Memorial Day holiday, our trash service had not come as scheduled and our garbage was incredibly backed up. When my wife told me (on Saturday) there was a bill with a red "notice" written on it, as well as the address of the trash service, a heated panic washed over me.
Had I let that bill slide for too long?
While I wasn't entirely sure, I imagined the letter in the red "notice" envelope contained something to this effect:
Due to your unyieldingly irresponsible lack of attention and regarding our entirely justified spite for you, it is with great pleasure and terrible animosity that we have terminated your trash service.
We have done so, with prejudice, to punish you for your inadequacy as a person, as well as your pathetic attempts at being an adult.
We would have accepted a mere payment of $25 three months ago. Unfortunately, we have now formed a legally binding agreement with the Federal Garbage Division (FGA) to liquidate your home, auction off your personal assets and assure you are brutally punished to the full extent of the law.
Rongard M. Boenbaker
Superintendent of Delayed Payments
While that's a bit of creative embellishment, my imagination ran wild with the possibility of bad news the letter could contain.
I should clarify that it's not easy for my wife and I to come up with an extra $250 on a whim to pay such a bill. We also don't have a vehicle capable of transporting our garbage to the dump.
With that said, it was easy for me to imagine sitting next to large stacks of sweltering, toxic garbage throughout June, July and August.
My wife questioned my grimace as I sat there, pondering the unopened letter. While I was descending into a nightmare within my mind, she reminded me that we didn't know whether or not the letter actually stated our service could be turned off.
As she often does, my wife challenged me, asking me to instead imagine that the letter could be a mere warning or just another bill.
Politely disregarding her plea for sensibility, though, I continued to sit there, letter in hand, thinking entirely too much about it.
In my mind, the issue went beyond whether or not the letter contained bad news and into why a simple mystery caused me to contemplate the possibility of imminent misfortune.
For that reason, I searched my mind for points in my life where I had expected one outcome and had gotten another. In some cases, the experience of surprise had not been that bad. In others, I had been unexpectedly stung.
When I lived in Santa Clarita, California, I remembered being told by a receptionist at the Department of Motor Vehicles that it would be easy for my wife to get her California driver's license and for us to get our California tag for our vehicle.
"It only takes about an hour or two," she told me on the phone.
There ended up being so much red tape to getting a California license, my wife couldn't get her card for two months. As a result, she couldn't work. Needless to say, we ate a lot of ramen noodles.
We also didn't get our vehicle's tag for a whole year.
In another memory from my childhood, I recalled I would climb down into the large window wells around our basement windows to look for the beetles and toads that lived there. Being a tomboy, my little sister would have me help her down into the window well and out of it, as she wasn't big enough to get in and out.
One summer day, after a large rain, some garbage from the yard had fallen down into our favorite well. As usual, we hopped down into the well to explore for toads.
After poking around in the well, finding a few toads buried in the rocks, I noticed a large piece of paper, which was covering the corner of the base of the well. In my mind, I thought, "hey, I bet there are 20 toads under this sheet," and I pulled it up. I was wrong.
As I lifted up the sheet, a giant black snake was there. Just as soon as I had peeled off its hiding place, it coiled up, hissed and struck at me, showing its fangs.
Being only inches from the snake, I screamed and leapt out of the window well, almost in one incredible jump. However, my sister, who was trapped in the well, was screaming in fear. In shock, I couldn't help her – I just stood there, frozen in fear.
My mother, who had heard the screams, pushed me aside and pulled my sister out of the well.
In some ways, as I sat with the letter in my hands, it seemed as though most of the surprises in my life were bad. However, when I really thought about it, I realized the bad surprises were simply more visceral and that, more often than not, my surprises had been good.
Still holding that "notice" letter, my memory pulsed, thinking about all of the times I had been pleasantly surprised – like when my dad gave me nothing for Christmas and told me I had been bad, only to later give me my dream car – or the time I went to the doctor to have an X-ray of my chest, thinking I was dying, to find out I was only dehydrated and had a mild stomach problem.
The majority of my surprises have been pleasant, and in a lot of ways, I have even been blessed, I thought. While the contents of this letter probably wouldn't be a blessing, perhaps the reality of what was inside would be relieving.
Against my better judgement, I manned up, calmed myself, made a leap of faith and bravely tore open the envelope.
As I probably should have expected, its contents were fairly anticlimactic. I was nonetheless relieved.
It stated that I owed roughly $65.
Laughing a bit at my own foolishness, I reached for my wallet.
– Jade Hudson is city reporter, health editor and runs the obits desk for The Newton Kansan