The Trade, Chapter 4

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Being on her own certainly did have its perks, with no one to answer to but herself. Ruth could go anywhere, stay out as late as she wanted, be with whomever she liked. But she found that there were a lot more expenses involved in being independent than she realized, especially for a young woman with a fashion fetish intent on dressing for the higher-paying job she wanted but didn’t yet have. At just a few dollars over minimum wage her clerical salary barely even covered her rent, utilities, and food…leaving her little to nothing to feed her craving for new clothes. So when the credit card offers found her, she saw them as an answer to prayer…figuratively speaking, since she and God weren’t exactly on speaking terms.

Ruth drew great confidence and encouragement from her “pre-approval” rating and when the colorful cards arrived in the mail she carefully slipped them into her wallet, sat down at the kitchen table to collect her thoughts and temper her excitement, and then promptly took off for the mall.

At first she was cautious, just buying a few items she felt she really needed. But the “free money” sensation was so intoxicating that she barely noticed when caution withered and died for lack of use. Every off day and most evenings after work were spent shopping …clothes, furnishings, gifts for new friends. When the first credit card bills arrived she had just enough in her checking account to make all the minimum payments, which she did. But the grand total of what she was now responsible to pay stunned and scared her a little. Wow. How’d that happen? she thought to herself as she laid all the bills out on her kitchen table. Thinking out loud then, “I should probably…maybe…not carry the cards with me for awhile.” She hated that thought though, and resolved instead to keep them in her wallet “just in case” but not use them unless she really needs something.

Unfortunately Ruth had underestimated the allure of instant gratification and delayed obligation, as well as her “need” for a constantly updated wardrobe. Within one year after leaving home she was deep in debt and the credit card companies were calling every week. This was not what she anticipated when she said goodbye to her father that cold December day. She wondered if he missed her. She had not spoken to him nor heard from him since she left. He didn’t know where she was. Maybe she should let him know she’s okay. Sort of.

“Hello?” Ruth was taken aback by the physical sensation in her chest when she heard her father’s voice. “Hello? Is anyone there?”

“Hi, Dad. It’s me,” she said softly.

“Ruth? Where are you, honey? Are you okay?” Ruth proceeded to assure her father that she was indeed okay, and made it clear that this assurance was the only reason for her call. She did not tell him where she was nor give any details about her financial predicament. She was not about to put herself in his debt.

When her father asked her where he could send a Christmas gift, Ruth hesitated, but just for a second, then coolly declined to give him any indication of her whereabouts. Keep your gift, she thought to herself. I don’t need you, your gifts, your money, your love. And did he really love her anyway? she wondered. Why had he not been able to make her happy neither, if he did?