“I don’t think of you as poor.”
“I am, though.” ~ The Sex Lives of College Girls.
It’s 8:18 pm. I’m 47 fucking years old, and I still tear up, apparently, at the issue of money. And by money, I mean, lacking it.
I’ve had money—not a lot of it, really, but enough—for 10 years, now. But yeah: only 10 years ago I was recently out of foreclosure on the house I’d bought for $500 down, no savings. Foreclosure was a depressing 11-month process from which I saved myself at the 11th hour, with one tweet: “Please RT I’m trying to pay but Citi Bank won’t let me” and so many shared my post that I woke up to Citi begging me to shut up. Until that day, 11 months waking up stressed, meditating into a present moment that never seemed to come, so broke I was counting change and when my dog cut his paw on a hike, bleeding red into the white snow, I carried him home, not to the vet, because I couldn’t afford it. That—failing to take care of one dependent on me—knifed closer to my heart than my failure to pay for my own life.
So I grew up poor. Real poor. Eating popcorn and rice sometimes poor, no presents poor, often no car or TV never fast food poor, you know you’re poor when fast food is a luxury you don’t get. I’ve written about that some, elsewhere.
.But I had other privileges, yes: my mom loved me. Safe streets. Books to read, from the library mostly. Antiques, if you want to call them that, from yard sales. Wholesome good taste, a loving home, a roof over my head until we sold it to avoid the dreaded lead balloon payment that my mom couldn’t have afforded to pay.
In today’s social media culture—my problems are impressive, better (worse) than yours—writing about this stuff is harder than bowling a strike 100 yards off, because I’m not looking for self-pity, or internet points, or “likes.”
But I am surprised at how sad I am, somewhere in me, how discussions of class still get at me, and how I still feel poor, somewhere deep inside me, in ways that advantage me (I’m not scared of losing everything) and disadvantage me (I feel poor).
I am proud of what mediocre success I have made from the privileges and lack thereofs of my childhood, and youth. I studied hard and sacrificed often, almost always, to get here. But I didn’t do it for money, alone. I did want success, and I did want to not worry about my debit card getting rejected on a date or in the grocery, a long line of folks who vaguely know me staring at me with uncomfortable disassociated pity. But mostly I wanted to be of benefit to this world, and to be ethical, and to not fuck up, and to be kind, and to grow up. But of course I fucked up, and I’m still growing up, and some folks don’t like me, and it’s hard learning, or relearning, again and again, that even as a people like-er, a can’t-we-all-get-along-er, a let’s be honest and work it out-er, a people pleaser, that some folks just love to hate on sweetness.
And I love sweetness. Not saccharine, cheesy, fake sweetness. I love to hate on that stuff. But sweetness. Vulnerable sweetness, loving sweetness, kind sweetness, hopeful sweetness. The kind of sweetness that allows one to feel compassion for one’s pain, even as it arises, watching Episode 6 of “the Sex Lives of College Girl,” where Chalamet’s mom can’t really afford the pricey dinner along with the other parents at Parent’s Weekend, and Chalamet tries to cover for her, making it all worse.
I know that feeling well. So broke I couldn’t afford a coat if my grandma didn’t offer to buy one for me, same with boots. So broke I worked one or two jobs instead of having fun all college, and barely paid rent (we had a big cheap place) and yet somehow was still so broke, even gleaming quarter had meaning. So broke, I never even experienced a single Parents Weekend or Parents Buy Dinner because I didn’t have that kind of family, dad was elsewhere, mom was broke. I don’t even remember the weekends happening.
I know that Poor feeling well and it’s still right here, right now, all these years later.
And perhaps that’s my wealth—empathy, a deep dark dank well that never runs dry, even as it hurts, still, a little bit.