The author of this essay, a woman in the GNO, has agreed to allow the below to be published on the condition of anonymity.
While I am fortunate enough to have a home, the home is barely furnished. There isn’t enough money to eke out on a nice couch, beautiful dinnerware, or cookware that doesn’t rust after one or two washings while keeping the electric on or groceries in the fridge. At this point, I would be happy with a comfortable bed in place of my air mattress with a slow leak. Most things that people throw out without second thought are things that are on my wish list.
I am not jobless because I’m lazy. I’m jobless because I have applied for jobs and am told that I either have too much or not enough experience. Add to the limited experience large stretches of time away from the workforce to raise my special needs child, back when I was married and life was happy, I’m not an ideal job candidate.
I’m smart. I’m articulate. I’m intelligent. I’m a hard worker. I’m reliable.
These things don’t translate well on job applications, though. These are things that one needs to see, but we are a results-orientated society that wants the sure thing, and on paper, I’m not the sure thing, but the long shot.
I am back in college. I do odd jobs for friends. It’s not much, but it’s enough to disqualify me from receiving government assistance, even though I have a young child. I can assure you that the stories that you hear about how easy it is to scam the system and live a charmed life on welfare are absolutely false. They are urban legends created out of hatred and fear, uninformed opinion, and maybe a little bit of self-loathing.
I’m what poverty in America looks like.
I have a car, but can’t drive it. I can’t drive because my car needs to be fixed. I can’t fix my car because I don’t have money. I don’t have money because I can’t find a full-time job. I can’t find a full-time job because I have little experience. I have little experience because I raised my family. It’s a lot like the childhood song, There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, right? That’s what my life feels like. It feels like each and everything I do, no matter how good, no matter how well-intentioned, gets overwhelmed by the next issue and the next problem. And I live my life on pause, frozen and stuck.
I don’t have Mom and Dad to call for help. I can’t return with my tail between my legs to my childhood home and get back on my feet. My parents are dead. In this world, it’s my child and me. And that’s it. I don’t even really have friends. People don’t generally like to be friends with the girl who can never go out and do anything.
The bags under my eyes come from sleep deprivation due to worry.
I worry about my child and how I am going to provide all of the needs, much less a few of the wants. I worry about whether to pay the electric this week or risk disconnection so I can get the good groceries – unprocessed fruits and vegetables, meat, milk, and nothing that comes in a can – or if I am stuck with the same high-calorie, cheap food that won’t offer much in nutrition, but will keep the hunger pangs away while it packs on the pounds. Yes, America, we have an obesity problem and part of the problem is the inability to purchase healthy food because food costs are high, leaving families to fill up on 99 cent cans of spaghetti and the Dollar Menu at McDonalds.
I worry whether or not my child would be better with someone as a parent that wasn’t me; my child deserves someone who could offer more financial security and all of those things that kids want: nice clothes, toys, books, games, electronics, vacations, and memories. Right now, I feel like the only thing that I can offer my child is supervision. I can’t give everything that I want to give. And it makes me feel like the biggest failure in the world. The contempt that you throw my way when you look at me and make snap judgments against me for being poor doesn’t even compare to the contempt that I feel for myself.
I worry about my health. For the last few months, I’ve had some pretty terrible stomach pains. I don’t have insurance. I cannot afford the $150 office visit. I scour the internet, searching for home remedies, hoping that one of them will give me some sort of relief. Normally I can handle it, but the painful gall stones almost did me in. I haven’t had a pap smear in three years. What happens if one day I just discover I have cancer? And I could have prevented it had I been able to get a physical each year?
Lately, my biggest worry is this: What if this is all there is for me in this life?
I’m what poverty in America looks like.
I don’t want a lot of things. It would be nice to have furniture. It doesn’t even have to be fancy. It would be nice to get the good ground beef instead of the ground beef that is about to go bad and needs to be sold right away. It would be nice to treat my child to a movie or museum or a toy that has been requested multiple times with the answer always being not now. It would be nice to not dread Christmas, for Thanksgiving to be more than a Turkey Loaf in the oven, to have clothes that fit me, to get my hair cut in a salon, to have a nice dinner out, to be able to join a gym, to wax my eyebrows, afford make up, to have a car and to be able to get in and just drive.
What I want is for you to understand. I don’t want your judgments and your hate and your flippant comments about how I am a lazy sack of shit and your self-righteous declaration that you work hard for your money and you shouldn’t have to support me. I don’t want you to. I just want a chance. But believe me when I tell you that just getting up in the morning in the political climate we live in is hard work. Doing it all on my own is hard work. And trying to not fall apart is hard work.
What I want most is for you to see me as a person, someone that has a lot of worries and a lot of fears, someone that loves and cares and tries to do what good I can, but mostly someone that isn’t the cartoon character that you have created in your mind about people like me – the poor.