It was an unusually perfect Friday morning.
For Ohio, when there are no clouds and the weather is 72 degrees, even the trees seem excited. It was time to plan a last ditch-attempt trip for our family, perhaps a visit to Niagra Falls or something, before school starts…
That was when the electricity guy knocked on the door.
I had been readying my wireless printer to print out the varying school lists…. (I will have eight children in school this year!) I hadn’t even taken a shower yet and had a sloppy bandana over my hair. Having just recovered after the haze of a three day full-blown migraine, I was just happy to be alive.
So I darted downstairs to meet with the electricity guy, as the church bells across the street began to ring high noon. We had had friendly people from the electric company out before, as we had condensed three meters to one on our century, or rather, over a century and a half home, so I didn’t see this as unusual. I had been printing school supply lists, but it could wait, so I greeted him with a big smile and by making up a tune to the church bells saying, “Hey look! Here is your welcome music! Weeeee…. love….. (electric company)… da da daaaaah….)
He didn’t smile.
I thought, ok, well, some people are more serious and melancholic than others, so I stretched out my hand to shake his hand and said, “Hi! I’m Shalimar!” and continued smiling at him.
He shook my hand hesitantly, and as I was standing two steps above him on our front deck, I peered straight into his eyes. He had deep brown intent eyes, and his expression showed experience and depth, like he was holding back a novel of thoughts; and he passed on the unfortunate message that he needed a large check immediately in order for us to continue to have electricity.
In other words, he was there to shut our power off.
My smile quickly diminished. Surely, there must be some mistake….
I told him truthfully that I had been talking for four months with the huge conglomerate company in the Midwest about the glitch they had in their billing system, and how I had requested multiple times for a breakdown of this sudden amount that caused a number in the thousands to appear out of nowhere on our bill. They would always sweetly say that someone would get back with me, but no one ever did. And so this month, just like all months of my life when I have been in charge of paying electricity, I paid my bill…. and even more oddly, I paid doubly this month just to be sure.
I had talked with many ranks in the company, and other government commissions and groups, trying to solve this mystery, and it was all a tangled mess; even they couldn’t figure out where the numbers came from or why our payments had been misrouted to a different electric company for four months through their own billing system. But they said we were absolutely fine as long as we paid our month’s bill, which we always did.
I explained all of this to the gentleman who had appeared at our doorstep, and I even begged “could you take something, a partial payment, anything to stop this? I mean, I have ten children, some with asthma, well water that depends on electricity, no other source for light or water…. no natural gas for cooking…” I said this knowing that we were headed into the weekend when their billing and main offices would be closed.
No, he said, only the “full amount” right now.
Which we didn’t have.
He averted his eyes and turned his back and locked our meter, shut down our power, as I told him that I promised to take pictures of my children standing on the deck as he did this, to accentuate the injustice I felt. He paused and said, “ok…. sure… do what you need to do…” and I called them out, one by one. And I started taking pictures.
Holding in my Italian mama instincts, feeling as powerless as a wingless bird standing in a field of cats, I watched my children wave and smile as he got into his car.
I did all that came to mind in the moment as he looked at us before stepping into his car; I called out “may God bless you!”
I don’t know what came over me, because this Italian mama wanted to stand in between the meter and him and stop this nonsense, to shout out four letter words in a rage. But I couldn’t…..there was a “just do the right thing, Shal” in my heart blended in with a “this can’t be real,” and I and my children smiled and waved as he paused one last time and took a picture of us from inside his shiny SUV. He acknowledged my prayer aimed at him with a short wave, and he then sped off to neighboring homes.
The sight of my children smiling and waving with such innocence both broke and touched my heart at the same time, as well as trigger the beginning of my passion to “fight this with all I had” as I began a myriad of frantic phone calls before the work day ended for the company.
But I wasn’t prepared for what would happen next….
(…to be continued)