Haywood Smith is the best-selling author of 13 novels and one nonfiction handbook for mothers-in-law.

Chapter one from Haywood’s newest book Out of Warranty (St. Martin’s Press, 2013).

A fresh stab of loneliness sharded through me as I looked into my ten-times magnifying makeup mirror-of-the-awful-truth, trying to erase the ravages of grief with concealer for yet another day.

Old. I looked old and haggard.

I closed my eyes.  God, thank you for this day and my life, just as it is, I prayed as a sacrifice of obedience, wondering how long it would be till I could mean it. Help me, please. I can’t do this without you. That, I meant with all my heart. I know your love should fill the hole Tom left in my heart, but it doesn’t.  I’m sorry, but it doesn’t. As always, I sensed God’s consoling arms about me, but it wasn’t enough.

Focus on today, I told myself as I did every morning, focus on gratitude, the blessings you have, not what you’ve lost, and you’ll get through this. Think of Haley and Tommy, and Paige and precious Ethan and little Catherine.  And Mama. 

And the house: it was paid for, even though the taxes were ridiculous. And I had what was left of Tom’s life insurance, and my widow’s health benefits, even though they cost a fortune and didn’t cover squat. Still, that was a lot more than some people had these days. And I had new knees and new hips and plates and screws that worked just fine. I needed to focus on that.

Instead, I focused on that honkin’ huge zit beside my nose in the mirror.

There’s just something so wrong about having zits and arthritis at the same time. I broke out the workout makeup, waterproof and thick enough to cover a doorknob, converting the zit to a mere lump that I hoped would be taken for a mole.

Thirty minutes later – dressed, made up, and coiffed – I braved the muggy July heat and left Juliette to do her business in the backyard while I went to the mailbox before heading to my appointment with the new ENT/allergist. In the mail I found a Chico’s flyer, catalogues from Vermont Country Store and Harriet Carter, my bank statement, a notice from the Fulton County tax assessor’s office, and an explanation of benefits from Green Shield Heath Insurance (or the antichrist, as I thought of them).

Always one to face the music without delay, I opened the bank statement first. Though I knew things had been a lot more expensive lately than I’d planned, I wasn’t prepared for the closing balance.

Shoot a monkey! 

Half a million dollars of life insurance had seemed like a lot till I’d paid off all my medical bills, plus the mortgage refi and equity line we’d done in 2005, and the kids’ student loans. I’d also bought a dependable hybrid minivan to last me the rest of my life, which I now suspected would be cruelly long. (Mama was eighty-nine and strong as an ox, in much better shape physically and mentally than I was. It would be just my luck to inherit her longevity along with Daddy’s bad bones.)

I looked at the closing balance again and shook my head in mute denial. I was down to only two hundred thousand and facing more medical bills, plus property taxes out the wazoo, thanks to my location in what was now considered Buckhead. 

Speaking of taxes, I switched to the letter from the assessor’s office, hoping they’d reduced the value of my house to reflect the depressed market. Then I opened it and discovered that they’d reassessed the house, all right: they’d upped it by fifty thousand! 

Based on what? Nothing but foreclosures and short sales had sold in our neighborhood for almost a year!

Shoot, shoot, shoot! My blood pressure shot up, making my pulse pound like an anvil in the July heat.

I would have contested the increase, but I didn’t have the moxie, and Tom had always fought our battles for us.

Tucking the bank statement and reassessment under my arm, I wheezed as I walked back up the gentle slope of our short driveway. One more letter left to open. 

I ripped the end off the explanation of benefits. For thirteen hundred dollars a month, plus a two-thousand annual deductible and out-of-pocket, my Green Shield PPO should at least cover sixty percent of the four thousand dollars plus I’d spent on tests and IV treatments at the holistic intern’s. Never mind that all I’d gotten for my money was some validation and a referral to the ENT/allergist I was seeing that day.

I unfolded the EOB, scanning from the doctor’s out-of-network fees to the zero fee adjustment, to the zero payout. Patient responsibility:  $4,267.53.

What was with that? I’d already met my out-of-pocket for the year!

I looked at the code numbers beside the lab fees and treatment charges, then the key printed at the bottom.  Disallowed: not standard medical practice. Disallowed: not standard medical practice. Disallowed. Disallowed.  Disallowed. Followed by the fatal: non-negotiable.

The antichrist had shafted me completely, not even applying any of it to my deductibles or payout ceiling!

I got so mad, I almost hyperventilated. 

Criminal. The insurance company was criminal. And they knew I couldn’t go elsewhere for coverage. Nobody would have me. I’d spent well over fifteen thousand just on coverage in the year since Tom had died, and that didn’t even include dental or optometrist. And this was what all that money had bought me?