Money I Didn’t Spend But Should Have

by Abby Dalton

August 2005: While walking in Manhattan with friends, I pass a construction site where a stray, miniscule piece of granite flies into my cornea. I only notice how profound the discomfort is at 2 a.m., while trying to fall asleep. My mother is unable to drive me to the hospital; I decide I am capable of driving myself, despite total darkness/inability to see out of one eye. After veering into the wrong lane while approaching the emergency room, I vow to take a cab or call a friend the next time I find myself half-blind and in need of medical care. I forget this decision and drive myself to the doctor the next morning, where they remove the granite with a needle, and I drive home alone, clutching some gauze to my face.

June-August 2006: After receiving a stipend to support an internship at a literary agency one summer, I decide that I can only spend $200 of that money (which totals $3,000) on myself, and must relegate the rest to savings. I live at home for three months, getting rides into Manhattan with my commuter-mother. I determine that using anything over $5 on snacks, coffee, or going out during the week is unacceptable, and spend much of that summer trolling the Union Square Whole Foods for samples after work hours. Consequently, I accidentally lose five pounds.

December 2006: At the end of a semester abroad in London, I decide not to spring for a 4 a.m. cab to Heathrow. Instead, with careful timing and a detailed consideration of the bus and Tube schedule, I head into the bleak English night with all of my worldly possessions stuffed in a too-heavy duffle bag behind me. For the duration of the journey, I experience constant anxiety over the possibility of attack, but am glad I had the good sense to stuff my passport into my shoe (I might get raped out alone in the night, but at least I won’t miss the plane or get stuck in the U.K.). Upon my arrival in New York, I spot my mother sobbing by the arrivals gate, convinced that my frugality had resulted in my death.

June 2007: While spending a summer in India, my now-husband, then-boyfriend, develops a severe fever while travelling to a remote village where there is little sanitation and only one doctor. A call to the international student health insurance service renders the following advice: “Well, it’s probably malaria, but take two Tylenol and call us again if it doesn’t get better.” While searching for plane tickets in the throes of uncertainty over his fate, I find myself weighing the ticket cost against my summer stipend, and really, against the strength of my devotion to the person whom I will eventually marry. I begin to feel like the horrible person I am. (He does get better, and it is not malaria.)

May 2008: Days away from my college graduation, I am accepted as a presenter at an international conference on my favorite author (a man who recently won the Booker prize, but on whom I had written scholarly work and been borderline-obsessed with for some time). I consider the cost of the plane ticket to England (where the conference is taking place) against my intense desire to deprive myself of all fun and spending money in order to save up and pay down my highly-manageable student debt.

I have good reasons to go on the trip — it’s a once in a lifetime experience; it’s what I’ve been working towards for more than a year; it’s a chance to exercise one last hurrah in academia before entering a job I have decided I must start two days after graduation. I ignore them, and decline the invitation, rationalizing that my immense savings (from years of other self-deprivation) would be better spent paying off my (very, very reasonable) student debt. I regret the decision forever.

September 2009: After asking my husband whether he ever has intense visualization of something terrible happening (like a stove exploding, or a car crashing into you), he carefully suggests I might benefit from some form of therapy for my ongoing anxiety. Channeling my under-whelming mental illness into a way to save and make money, I enroll in a study at a local university, where I receive many free, not very helpful sessions on mindfulness activities. I am gleeful over how many opportunities I have to earn cash by helping graduate students determine whether or not these techniques for eliminating my underlying fears are working (they are not).

March 2012: After consuming a restaurant’s famous “Calamari Sandwich” on a vacation with my husband in Madrid, I find myself doubled-over the fancy European toilet in my rented apartment, vomiting in impressively regular 20-minute intervals. After about seven hours of this, with nothing left to eject except angry-looking stomach bile, I end up curled on my bed in the fetal position, breathing heavily and stricken with the sudden realization that every extremity on my body, including my face, is numb and immovable. I consider whether I am hyperventilating from the effort of vomiting; suffering a potassium deficiency from all of that throwing up; or in the throes of a total nervous system collapse that will render me dead or paralyzed. I decide a visit to the clinic would cost too much, and opt instead to breathe through a paper bag for a while until I fall asleep.

I wake up the next morning to drink a glass of water, promptly throw it up, and spend the rest of the morning slowly sipping an “electrolito” drink. We end up at the Prado in the afternoon, where I pause frequently to regain my strength on a variety of benches, and try not to think too hard about how Saturn’s stomach must have felt after eating his child in that Goya painting.

Abby Dalton lives in Massachusetts with her husband and her cat, and occasionally blogs about money.

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