Lamenting “Being Poor”

I just cried while reading this reflection, and I’m not sure of all the reasons why – but I think its wrapped up in what I can and can’t identify with, and the every day, deep human pain that I want to be wounded by and work against – but also sometimes want to ignore. That reality is difficult for me to live through some days; and it probably should be.

BEING POOR
By John Scalzi
September 15, 2005

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.
Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.
Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they’re what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there’s not an $800 car in America that’s worth a damn.
Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends’ houses but never has friends over to yours.
Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier.
Being poor is living next to the freeway.
Being poor is wondering whether your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn’t mind when you ask for help.

Being poor is off-brand toys.
Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.
Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt.
Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn’t have to make dinner tonight because you’re not hungry anyway.

Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you.
Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.
Being poor is your kid’s school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning.
Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.

Being poor is relying on people who don’t give a damn about you.
Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad begging him for the child support.
Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.
Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger’s trash.

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the
bread, and you looking over to see whether your kid saw.
Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a difference.
Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.
Being poor is not taking the job because you can’t find someone you trust to watch your kids.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.
Being poor is not talking to that girl because she’ll probably just laugh at
your clothes.
Being poor is hoping you’ll be invited for dinner.
Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.
Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.
Being poor is your kid’s teacher assuming you don’t have any books in your home.
Being poor is $6 short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.
Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.
Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid.
Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy.

Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn’t bought first.
Being poor is picking the 10-cent ramen noodles instead of the 12-cent ramen noodles becuase that’s two extra packages for every dollar.
Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.
Being poor is knowing you’re being judged.

Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.
Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.
Being poor is deciding that it’s all right to base a relationship on shelter.
Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.

Being poor is feeling helpless when your children make the same mistakes you did and won’t listen to you beg them against doing so.
Being poor is a cough that doesn’t go away.
Being poor is making sure you don’t spill on the couch, just in case you have to give it back before the lease is up.
Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.

Being poor is four years of night classes for an associate of arts degree.
Being poor is a lumpy futon bed.
Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.
Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.
Being poor is seeing how few options you have.
Being poor is running in place.
Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.

———-
John Scalzi is the author of “Old Man’s War.”
Copyright (c) 2005, Chicago Tribune

Please like & share: