Kage Baker faced all the wretched details of her mortal illness with extraordinary courage and grace. She didn’t cry or whine, she remained polite to nurses and technicians, and she always tried to treat her caregivers with courtesy. She said Please and Thank you, in situations where behaving like Virginia Woolf would have been excusable. Not even the Southern ladies in her ancestry could have faulted her behaviour in this worst of all possible difficult times.
But she couldn’t cope with bureaucracy.
Paperwork was something she loathed and despised; it carried a curious power to shut down her higher mental functions and instill a gazelle-like panic. You could tell, when she was facing some vital piece of legalese or contractual crap, that she was on the verge of eye-rolling terror – she was just inches away from leaping straight up in the air and running for the horizon at 40 miles per hour. This is not an exaggeration. Full blown panic attacks resulted from Kage trying to find her way through official documentation.
Paperwork was, and always had been, my domain. After an initial bout of cursing, I can settle down and sort through paperwork: it’s a Zen thing, almost, and whoever does the taxes in your households, Dear Readers, undoubtedly knows what I mean. It’s just what one does, if one can. If one cannot … one finds someone who can.
So I handled all Kage’s contracts, all her editorial notes, all her tax and employment paperwork. On the few occasions she had to file for unemployment, I did that, too: those 2-weeks-at-a-time forms drove her insane. With me handling things, all she had to do was sign where I said and things got returned in time, to whatever soulless organization was demanding them.
When she was diagnosed with cancer, the second thing her doctor handed her was a list of places to apply for financial and medical assistance. This was in the Bad Old Days before Affordable Care; Kage hadn’t had health insurance in 20 years. Even if she had been inclined to try, the combined weight of her diagnosis and all that paperwork would have been too much for her to shoulder, especially when it became clear – as it quickly did – that it was going to be hard as hell to get her admitted to a program that would help her.
Ultimately, we managed. I resorted to ruthless bullying, callous lies and shameless histrionics to get Kage the care she needed; and it still turned out to be too slow, too little and too late. Bt at least she didn’t have to try and do it herself while she was also busy trying to survive. She’d have been too paralyzed to do anything, and her last year would have been much more painful and hopeless.
As it was, her first disability check arrived 2 weeks after she died. When I called her case worker and asked where to return it – seeing as how the recipient was, you know, dead – the woman was so flustered she could barely talk to me. Evidently the paperwork required to reverse the claim payment would have broken the entire State benefits system; she just closed the case and told me to keep the check. So, if the State of California ever cares to double check, I guess I owe them a few bucks …
I came out of all this hating the paper mill as much as Kage always had. But I can still mostly fight my way through it.
That’s where I was for a large part of today – trying to prove that I am still disabled with the same incurable conditions that disabled me last year. (The faith of the Great State of California in sudden miracles is amazing.) Somehow, my appointment had been scheduled during my case worker’s lunch hour; I waited an hour and a half to see her for 5 minutes. She handed me a new sheaf of forms, and told me to go home and bring the forms back when they were done. I believe she had some specific instructions for me concerning special forms she also needed, but I couldn’t understand her – and I discovered a couple of years ago that asking for an interpreter because your caseworker can’t speak English badly impacts the enthusiasm of the Social Security office.
Anyway, I took all my booty home – it’s a success merely to have winkled the forms out of them! – and am now printing, filling out, signing, collating, and attaching sticky notes to all manner of paperwork that will hopefully prove I am still alive, still sick, still at the same address and have not changed my blood type or eye colour.
Which all boils down to: I’m not writing anything today except for explanations of why I glow in the dark (or don’t, depending on what they demand), why my family doesn’t charge me market scale rent, how an independent writer cannot forecast how much she’ll make in a year, and why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings!
Instead, Dear Readers, I’ve taken a therapeutic half hour to whine to all of you. Thank you for listening. We’ll resume real life tomorrow, when I’ve put all this damned paperwork away. And poured myself a beer.