Against the Ropes

Page 10


Sergio laughs. “Interest and penalties have been accumulating.” More tapping. And then he gives me a monthly payment amount that sends my pulse skyrocketing.
“I can’t pay that much.” My voice rises to a pathetic whine. “That’s almost my entire monthly salary. I won’t have money to pay rent or eat.”
“I’m afraid that is the minimum payment to rehabilitate your loan. Nine payments in ten months and you repair your credit and get me off your back. My boss wants more but you sound like a nice girl and I want to give you a break. You have until Monday to decide or I’ll seize part of your paycheck forever and you’ll never have another chance to rehabilitate your loan.”
“Monday?” I squeak. “I can’t do it. I need time to contact the Education Commission and find out what happened to my deferment.”
Sergio sighs. “Are you sure you want to do that? You will be required to make a formal complaint and who knows how long it will take them to respond. In the meantime, your default will show up on credit checks, and the interest and penalties continue to rise. I can offer you the opportunity to rehabilitate your loan right here, right now. Don’t you want a fresh start?”
“But where will I get the money?”
“I’m sure you have family, friends, relatives, or neighbors who could help you. Maybe you have things to sell. Have a garage sale. Clean out your wardrobe. Be creative. That’s what I tell all my debtors.”
My heart sinks to my stomach. “I have nothing. I have no jewelry or fancy clothes or paintings. I don’t own a bicycle or a car. I don’t even own the TV in the house I’m sharing with four other people. I can’t ask my friends for money. Most of them don’t have enough to make ends meet. And as for my family—”
“Again, Ms. Delaney, don’t waste your breath. I’ve heard it all—injuries, accidents, sick children, dying parents, unexpected pregnancies, fatal illnesses, hungry boa constrictors, divorces, exploding houses, and rabid dogs running off with bags of cash.”
“Have you heard the one about the elephant and the trombone?” I scramble to save the situation the only way I know how.
Sergio is silent for so long I can’t tell if he is amused or really annoyed. “Actually, Ms. Delaney, I can’t say that I have. Please enlighten me.”
I tell Sergio a long joke about an elephant, a debt collector, and a trombone. When I get to the punch line, he snickers, then he snorts, then he laughs out loud.
“Very amusing.” He chuckles again. “I haven’t laughed like that for years. Usually people scream, swear, and threaten me. I heard the words ‘Fuck off’ two hundred and three times yesterday. No one has ever told me a joke.”
I cross my fingers. “I aim to please.”
“And please you have done. In return I’m going to do something for you. I’ll give you an extra week to come up with your first installment. After that, as long as you make your payments, you’ll have no trouble from me. If you miss even one payment, the entire loan comes due with immediate effect. I will then be entitled to seek orders from the court to garnish your wages, seize your income tax refunds, drain your bank accounts, and I can do the same to your parents. As guarantors of your loan, their assets are up for grabs, including their house.”
My lungs seize up and I gasp. “Oh God. No. That house means everything to them. It has been in my stepfather’s family for generations. He gave it to my mother so she would never have to worry about having a roof over her head again. They plan to live there until they die.”
“Or until I foreclose to pay their daughter’s debts.”
I clench my fists under the table. Never. I’ll never let him take their house. “I’ll make the payments,” I say, through gritted teeth. “And I appreciate your offer.”
“I’m glad you do,” he says. “As with most student debt collection agencies, we are incentivized to collect the debts. Usually we receive a percentage of the amount collected plus performance bonuses, and it can add up fast. My supervisor made half a million dollars last year and the CEO made one million dollars. I used my bonus to buy myself a Jag. This year, I’m aiming to buy a Porsche.”
“How nice for you.” I do a quick mental calculation. Even if I pare down the grocery shopping to the bare essentials, cut out meat, forgo Friday nights at the bar with Amanda, and collect my money from Torment, I won’t have enough to make the payment. I need a second job. Fast.
“I can hear the wheels clicking in your brain.” Sergio’s thin, reedy voice jolts me back to reality. “I see from your college transcript, you’re a very clever girl. You should have applied for some scholarships and gone to medical school. Your loans would have been deferred until you were done and then you would have been making so much money they wouldn’t have been an issue.”
“Thanks for the advice.”
Sergio chuckles. “I like you Ms. Delaney. I can’t say that about many of my debtors. I look forward to speaking to you again soon.”
A few hours and several dozen patients later, I doodle a picture of a boxing ring on my notepad. Maybe I should have stayed at the club last Friday instead of running away. Maybe after everyone had gone, Torment would have taken me into the ring and kissed me. His hard body would have pressed me back into the ropes. We would have made the offer on my “FCUK Me” T-shirt a reality, and afterward we would have gotten matching tattoos.