I believe it is difficult to understand poverty until you’ve actually lived it. Reading about it is usually insufficient. You can’t really understand it until you are hours away from homelessness. You don’t get it until you aren’t sure what you’re going to eat, and you’re excited you managed to get a quart of milk so you can survive on cereal a little longer. You don’t conceive it properly until you’re forced to live with others, do all the housework, and pray to a God in whom you don’t even believe, that they don’t throw you out because you can’t possibly survive on the money you can make.
When you have to humiliate yourself twice a year at DES, you begin to understand. When you are doing your third GoFundMe, and being called an Online Panhandler, your understanding begins to dawn. When the car you had paid off gets repossessed because you had to borrow money on it, at obscene interest rates, to pay rent for one more month, your understanding deepens.
When it becomes month after month, year after year, you understand. When friends and relatives tell you what is wrong with you repeatedly because you don’t have enough money, you understand how poverty really feels.
It isn’t just hoping that things get better. It’s the fear that comes when they do. You realize this is almost certainly going to be followed by The Fuckening. It’s that unexpected catastrophe for which you had no opportunity to prepare. It always looms just around the corner. Your $750 car breaks down. Someone ends up in the hospital, and that costs work time, and that’s less money you have next month.
The Fuckening is when, just when you finally are making it, and you have enough money to make it this month, your landlord sells your house, and you have to find a new one in which to live. It’s when they hit you with a $140 bill you didn’t know you had so you can’t pay rent that last month, and they won’t take a partial payment because they’re a corporation and not a person. It’s when you have to beg your best friend’s boyfriend to rent you his old house because your credit is so horrible that no one else on the planet will, and now that you didn’t pay your last month’s rent, you’ll never get a decent reference when you do apply. Poverty is when you don’t even dare to apply because it’s a non refundable $165 for the three of you. You can’t afford to lose a bet and your odds are lousy. Poverty is paying $1400 a month for a 2 bedroom house that’s not worth more than $1100 a month. You have to pay that price, though, because it’s the only deal anyone is willing to make.
Poverty is having to show a friend your budget and pay 50% interest on a 3 day loan so you can put gas in your car. Poverty is your roommate getting chewed out by the cashier at Wal Mart because she’s using food stamps. It’s being belittled for not working hard enough, even when she works 40 to 50 hours a week, and she still can’t make ends meet. It’s when she gets to be humiliated by a cashier who is somehow, evidently, not on food stamps herself, because she must have some other source of income, and she needs to be better than somebody, and your roommate will do just fine. Sure, you can get her manager to chew the cashier out, and explain that’s not how she should treat her customers, but the damage is still done. And you can’t help but feel sorry for that cashier.
They say Poverty can actually reduce IQ due to all the stress and anxiety. I like to think I’m no stupider than when I had almost enough money to live alone. But the longer I live in it, the slower I become. I feel a little less worthy, each day, and I have to keep reminding myself I’m doing the best I can. I have to try to stay out of the hospital. I have to remind myself that choosing not to eat and taking 50 units of insulin is not really the answer, no matter how tempting it sounds. It’s wrong to make someone wish they didn’t love you so they could have been spared the pain of your demise.
The more you try to change the world, and the more you fail, the more you feel as though you really are as worthless as the Marketplace says you are.
Sometimes, if you write about it, it helps a little. Not much… but a little. And when you live in poverty, a little is all you can ever hope to get.