Saturday, November 23, 2013

Being Poor is Part of my Culture

Privilege check: There were some things my family didn't have when I was growing up: new clothes, fresh vegetables, access to the internet, cable tv, etc. but we always had an adequate amount to eat, our house held in the warm and out the cold, and even though it was cramped with six of us, my family was (and still is) a loving one. We also had a loving network of friends and extended family who shared resources with us when we needed. I am endlessly thankful for all these resources. Because of them, I didn't really know we were poor until middle school and I realized that "cool" was something my parents couldn't afford (esp since my dad's business just went under). The comfort of love went a long way. I was poor, in my mind I still am, but, when it comes to my family (both blood and chosen) I have always been fortunate. Being poor taught me how to recognize and respect this fortune.

Today I came across something John Scalzi wrote about being poor. About every third thing on his list poem thudded hard in my chest with recognition.

I remember hoping that my friends wouldn't ever notice that I never asked them over.

In my childhood room I could always hear people upstairs or the radio programs my brother was listening to through the thin basement drywall. Sometimes I would stay awake until I was sure everyone else was asleep, just so I could hear the silence. Silence is a very decadent thing.

It took me a few years after moving out to even realize what physical privacy was and how important and restorative I find it.

It doesn't matter that I can afford a thing or two these days. The thunder of poverty can darken my skies at any time.

In the laundromat when my partner asks if I have a tenner and I know for sure i don't he asks me to check my wallet. I don't want to let him see my empty wallet. I feel shame.

And that is all it takes for the insecurity to start.

Strange how easily paranoia about the dollar creeps back in. How the shame so simply slinks into your throat along with the cheap coffee.

These days I mostly live the middle class life yet so often it seems deeply foreign with me.

I've only just gotten over the nervousness that kicks in my stomach when I talk to waitstaff. Especially in restaurants with cloth napkins. Growing up the protocols for "going out to eat" meant standing in line in front of a counter ordering a happy meal and going to play in the play place. It was very special.

I feel the tug of resistance every time I step into a clothing shop that is not a thrift shop. Even when I can afford it, I feel guilty about paying full price, as if I have allowed the shops to cheat me and that were I more shrewd I could get a better deal.

Most days it doesn't matter that I can flex my bank account a little bit.
I am still in the cul de sac of my mind.
I'm still in the lost and found of my mind, looking for a freebee.
I am in the "don't lose that coat because we can't replace it" of my mind.

I'm still in the cheap knockoffs of my mind.
I still stuck in the distrust of my impulses.
I am still in the hand me downs of my mind.

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