The plinky writing prompt was What Makes You Nervous?Well, let me tell you.
The man who was bagging my groceries yesterday couldn’t have been a day under seventy-five. There’s a woman from eastern Europe who’s a cashier at my local Walmart who has to be at least that old as well. And it really freaks me out to see an old man sweating away during this Austin summer getting shopping carts together in the HEB parking lot.
When I first came to America, I worked at a public library in the Rio Grande Valley. The lady at the sort of reception desk near the entrance was around seventy, was my guess, and she had the most horrendous hacking cough you’ve ever heard. Being new to the country and still having Dutch standards and points of reference, I felt it was really bad PR for the library to have someone with such a terrible cough be the greeter. And other than greeting people, she didn’t seem to have any function. I felt the library should make her retire. Later I heard she had died, and that she had been seriously ill (no shit) for a long time. And now I realize that she had had to work to pay her medical bills for being so sick. And that she was lucky that the local public library was as generous as it was in creating completely unnecessary jobs so she could literally work till she dropped.
Now I’m fifty and the thing that still scares me the most about living in this country is getting old here. In Holland retirement was a given. A non-issue. The only question was whether you’d retire at age 55 or 65 or anywhere in between, dependent on what the government decided was a good retirement age for the state of the economy.
Not only was retirement a given, but I didn’t have to worry whether I’d have enough money to live for more than a few years after I stopped working. My pension would have been I believe 90 or 95% of my last income for life. And of course getting old and sick is also a given, but there is never the worry of medical bills.
Here you get social security, but that’s about $2000 a month and there are old folks who pay that much just on their medicines. And anyway, the future of social security is no longer a sure thing, either.
“What if I live to be ninety–how can I afford that?” is a serious question in America and to my Dutch mind it’s still a complete absurdity, but at the same time it’s reality. And any serious illness can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars even after the health insurance company has reluctantly handed out a small portion of the expenses.
To say that this makes me nervous is an understatement. It scares the living shit out of me. Well, at least that’ll keep my colon healthy.