I have been poor most of my life. Not poor as in, “we have to cut back on the cleaning lady’s days,” but poor like being passed around from one relative to another to live, and wearing other kids’ used clothes, and going an entire north-Midwest winter with no winter coat because nobody noticed I didn’t have one. I don’t remember ever being hungry then, but I do remember being cold; I cried from the cold sometimes.
I worked hard in school so I could get a scholarship to college, because I knew that was the only way I’d ever get out. I got a full scholarship to a school in the Pacific Northwest. The winters were warmer there, so my lack of a winter coat didn’t matter so much. I arrived at college with my entire wardrobe: two sweaters, two pairs of jeans, underwear, socks, a pair of clogs, and a jacket. I don’t remember being cold there, but sometimes I was hungry. I stood in the cafeteria where the other kids emptied their trays and took the food they didn’t want. I remember when the price of a box of saltine crackers went up a nickel at the local store, because that meant I couldn’t afford them any more. Then my little sister came to live with me. One of the happiest days of my life was the day we qualified for foodstamps.
One year I started saving at the start of the school year, and by Christmas I had $6.00. I had three people I had to get gifts for, so I used the money to buy cheap little address books at a 99-cent store and some fabric scraps, and I covered the books with the fabric and decorated them and wrapped them in paper I drew myself. It wasn’t so bad, really. I think I have a naturally sunny nature that probably would have come out more if my life hadn’t been so hard when I was young, and that year I thought, “Well, at least I’ll never have a Christmas as poor as this one. Every Christmas from now on will be better than this.” But I was wrong. This year is worse.
This year I don’t even have $6.00. I have a dayjob, and I work really hard there, but it’s a non-profit organization and they don’t give cost-of-living raises, so in effect every year I’m there I’m making less. I take on as much freelance work as I can find, but there doesn’t seem to be that much available right now, and after a while I just get so tired. I am looking for a new job, but everything seems to pay just what I’m making now and no matter what I do, it seems like I just can’t make enough money to support us.
It’s not like we’re livin’ large, either. For instance, we still have the same 17-inch TV we bought used 16 years ago. I don’t have a lot of clothes, but what I have I get at Target. We don’t eat out, and every night I pack leftovers from dinner to eat for lunch the next day. We were lucky enough to have bought a little house during the couple of good years we had, and what we pay for mortgage and taxes wouldn’t even get us a studio apartment now. That’s scary, because that means when we lose the house we will probably be homeless. I guess I could sit down and figure out exactly how many months it’ll be before that happens, but I can’t make myself do it. I can’t think about it, and yet at the same time I never stop thinking about it. I walk around in a miasma of misery, just waiting for the disaster I can’t do anything to stop.
Am I the only one in this situation? Or am I just the only one who talks about it?
This year I made my first Christmas stuff sighting in August, in a card shop near Grand Central. To me this implies that stores are worried that people won’t be buying things unless they crank up the Festival of Greed way early and give it a chance to wear down our resistance. Doesn’t matter what they do, though—I still won’t have any money, and I’m just about out of credit, too. I don’t really have but one person to get gifts for this year, because everyone else has died, but there are about seven collateral people who are probably expecting something from me. I thought about knitting scarves for everyone, but then I would have to buy yarn. I guess I better check the 99-cent store.
Thanks for reading my blog post this week, and may God bless.