Not Playing With A Full Deck

I’m writing this on my birthday–the 52nd–and it feels the most portentous yet. Twenty-one bounced off, for instance, and turning 40 was meaningless. It is not that I dread a beckoning mortality, or even feel–in fact–that it is approaching. As I have said before, there have been days when death has seemed the attractive option. Neither is it the deep regret–a green frustration–that the amount of traveling I have done has not been commensurate with the amount of reading. I have not been out of Tulare County for nearly two years now–and it hasn’t killed me. Not physically.

The occasion is not laden with ridiculous symbology, my age now matching the number of weeks in a year, say, or the notion that–at 52–I’ll finally be playing with a full deck of cards.

What 2015 marks is the 20th year I have been living with Grave’s Disease.

It has been something of a roller coaster–from thyroid ebb to week-long panic attacks–and I thought, until this year, that the worst of it was during the beginning, when my eyeballs nearly bulged out of their sockets. I’ve long since reconciled myself to looking like a mad bomber. At the time, the pain was farcical–like passing kidney stones through the corneas–but it eventually subsided, and I became accustomed, mercifully, to all the symptoms of the disease. This has been the worst of it, this acclimation to the insidious. I can’t complain. Moreover, I have been fortunate that my thyroid gland has not yet perished–as is customary with this condition–so that not having ablated it made for a wise decision. It has thus far saved me 20 years of life-sustaining thyroid supplements.

And now something is wrong with one shoulder. It doesn’t hurt, but neither does it work very well–with the result that I don’t enjoy a full range of motion in the corresponding arm. What I suspect is that I am settling unevenly. What I have learned is that I’ve reached an age when things might not ever improve. Grave’s Disease has taught me just to live with it.

There’s this for consolation: At least now I can write about it. Before Obamacare, any revelation of a pre-existing condition would not only have killed my own plan but quite possibly the health insurance aspirations of the whole family.

Yet we have all had to learn to live with other ghastly and uncontrollable conditions which ghost our existence–death and taxes. We’ve already dispensed with death, but there remains, during this season, famously, taxes.

Taxes! Every year the prospect of having to pay an inordinately onerous sum hangs over our heads like the sword of Damocles. We do decently, our family, but one untoward development and–poof!–there goes our ability to meet this commitment.

Is this any way to run a country? Can the country even be said to be being run? If you want to play it straight–by which I mean assume no loan, if you can get one, or farm the bill out to a credit card–it is next to impossible to pay both tuition and taxes. Especially if you do decently and have several children. I wear clothes until they literally fall off of me–ME, the vaunted United States taxpayer so graciously thanked last week by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

I’m glad, I guess, that we could send soldiers to his country’s aid–but I’d rather send our kids to college.

“If I had no hope you guys could swing it,” our youngest son recently told us, “I guess I’d have to join the army.”

There’s the insanity of it for you, brought full circle. Brought home.

And when our veterans come home they are not cared for as they should be. I can’t think of anything more shabby than that. Where are all of our tax dollars going?

It is clear to me that most of our tax investment is going into the military–and on the front end, that of training, procurement, maintenance and deployment. This is money that is keen to keep forces in foreign fields but evaporates when the Veterans’ Administration needs funding. This is a national disgrace.

I don’t mind getting old, and all that comes with the territory–it is, as is said, better than the alternative. One doesn’t really have a choice. But if ours is a government “of, by, and for the people” then we bloody well can do a damn sight better. We have options. We can pay for our children’s education and for the care of our returning veterans, if we must pay such high taxes. Or we can pay less–not to mention fewer–taxes.

Everything is taxed–including my patience–and I’m tired of just living with it. Taxes are like some chronic condition, a malady you never quite can be cured of. And then you die. And then there are estate taxes.

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