Time Was Money

There was no escape. Time and tide, they say, but collectors are the same in that respect. They do not wait very long, post-pandemic, to claim what they are owed. Some had waived fees, even split up payments into smaller installments, when money had become tight. But now that the pandemic, to some people’s minds, was over, there were no more allowances.

Widowed in 2020, Elizabeth had lost both her husband’s pension and his social security. But she’d not lost the bills. And as the pandemic panic receded little by little, they all found her as easily as always.

She and Ben had no children, so there was no asking them for help. Except for a nephew she’d never met, she was the last of her family still living, having lost her brother, his father, to complications from covid. So any possible avenue of assistance there did not exist.

The home equity loan they’d used to renovate their home with disability access in mind as they aged did not shrink fast enough. Her ongoing medical bills not covered by Medicare, she paying 20% of the costs, mounted.

Where could she cut costs? It began with yard maintenance. Now the garden she and Ben had tended as if it were their child had grown wild. What was not dead thrived. The weeds had taken over all available space, and strangling vines were slowly killing all the trees.

Then she’d let go the housekeeper. Now dust and dirt were everywhere. She tried to keep up, cleaning small areas each day, but the area she could cover grew smaller by the week.

There was no more cable TV. What she had now was free over-the-air television, and the quality of the picture and sound strained her failing eyes and ears.

She now turned on the water heater only once or twice a week. This reduced her electricity bill slightly.

Ah, the single life. When she was in her 20s and 30s, what a joy that had been. But that was then. Now, as she sat looking through her bills, she realized that she might have to cut back on her medication, perhaps even her food budget.

The phone rang. It was an unknown number. The good news was it couldn’t be about utility bills or a problem at the bank. Those phone numbers she and her phone knew well. There was no indication it might be a scam call.

Hoping for the best but expecting the worst, she answered.

“Mrs. Chong?”


“Mrs. Elizabeth Chong?”


“Hi, Mrs. Chong, this is Ed McKenna at Island Mortgage.”

This was the company where she and her husband had their home equity loan.

“I was just going over your homeowner’s insurance policy, and you are way underinsured. Your coverage wouldn’t be enough to handle any kind of event that might destroy your home, such as fire or a hurricane. If you had the home free and clear, that would be your choice, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to increase the coverage since we hold the lien on your home. We require that your catastrophic coverage be equal to or more than your home’s assessed value.”

“How much would the increase be?”

“Well, as I’m sure you know, property values in Hawai‘i have skyrocketed recently, and your latest City and County assessment values your home at just over four hundred thousand more than the year before. You’ll need to talk to your insurance company to see how much more you’ll have to buy, and we’ll need a statement from them by the end of the month certifying that you’ve purchased that additional coverage.”

She thanked him and hung up, her heart fluttering. This house, she thought, sitting back and surveying the room. It had been in her family for three generations. The idea of selling it had never entered her mind. Passing it on to her unknown nephew had always been the plan, but he lived on the East Coast, and she feared he’d never return to Hawai‘i to live. Soon, then, the house would probably be sold, by him. There would be no family home once she was gone. The history of life for those generations here in Hawai‘i would be permanently erased.

Why did everything always have to come down to money?  With some effort, Elizabeth climbed the stairs and traveled up the three flights slowly. At the top, she stepped out onto the lānai. The view from up here sometimes took her breath away. Often there were the spectacular sunsets, and downtown Honolulu spread out before her, in the day, the concrete and glass melding to form a river that ran down to the blue Pacific, and at night it was a stream of multicolored lights disappearing into a dark sea.

She thought about how she and Ben, after they retired, would sit up here and feed the birds for hours.  They’d developed a huge devoted following, began to name the birds, looked forward to seeing them every day, mourned when one of them disappeared, never to return.  Sadly, nowadays, she didn’t have the strength to keep up the bird feeding, and there were very few in the nearby trees anymore.  She remembered how Ben had said that if there were a heaven, he was sure they’d meet all the birds who’d died.  In heaven, he’d said, he and Elizabeth would be able to sit and feed all their beloved bird children for eternity.

Today, it was the phone call, not the view, that had left her breathless, speechless. Still, she remembered how to walk, and wishing to be set free, she walked to the edge of the lānai, leaped into the air, and flew away.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s