Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Another post I'll likely write, and never share.

But I want to get it off my chest.  We're poor.
American poor.  Not the kind of poor where we live in a hut and shit in a jar and get water from the same place the local elephants take a dump every morning.
The kind of poor where we live in a house, and struggle every month just to keep it.
The kind of poor where we drive a car, and hope like hell that nothing breaks on it again until we have enough money to put into fixing it.
The kind of poor where we have food, and we eat it, regardless of allergies and migraine triggers, because it's all we can afford.

We'll start with our house.
It's lovely.  It's enormous, and everyone has their own rooms.  There are three separate bathrooms.  Nearly enough for every member of our house to have their own.  There are four bedrooms.  An attached garage.  A full basement.  An acre and a half of land for our very own, right next to the city park.  It's lovely.  I grew up here, and we bought the place from my mother when she moved.
And it's badly in need of repair.  Badly.  The north side of our house might actually fall off one of these days.  Just fall the fuck off.
The roof is in need of repair.  Half of it got repaired when we had storm damage several years ago, and got a little money to fix it.  "We" being my husband, of course, who does all the needed repairs himself to save us some money.  The other half of the roof is the same roof that's been on the house since it was built over 30 years ago.  With shitty materials.  It's due.
Every single window needs to be replaced.  The cold winter wind literally blows thru our house, which raises our utilities every month astronomically.  Handyman Husband puts plastic over them every year, and that helps a little, but not enough to keep our thermostat from struggling thru the night to keep the house at the balmy 68 degrees we're forced to live with, since we can't afford to turn it up.
The garage door needs to be replaced.  It needed badly to be replaced *before* my well-meaning son drove the car thru it.  Now it's just boards, in a last-ditch effort to keep the winter out of our house.  Even still, our bedroom is a good five degrees colder than the rest of the house, because of all the weather that's allowed to get into the garage, and come up thru our bedroom floor.
Those are the biggies.  There are also garbage disposals and sinks that need replacement.  A smashed heating and cooling duct that means no climate control in one of the bedrooms, a very drafty patio door, a 30 year-old deck that might literally crumble to the ground within the next few years...

Handyman Husband works a full time job (just one, at the moment) to support four of us.  Himself, a wife, two children, on a laborer's income.  Luckily, we've got insurance because of that job, and if something drastic happens, we're able to seek medical help...
Provided we have the gas money to fill our broken car to get to the doctor.
And provided it's not the Husband who needs medical help...because he needs to be at work to make money to pay for the gas to get to the doctor...

He is currently at his laborer's job, operating a forklift during a migraine.  Not the kind of migraine where you think "ow...my head hurts."  The kind of migraine where you want to curl up into the fetal position and literally die, as you're writhing in unimaginable pain.  The kind of migraine where you can't see, and even in the moments when you can, everything looks disjointed and fucked up.
This has been happening for the last two days.  Because he is the sole income, he is at work right now, dealing with a two-day migraine, and an aura that won't go away.  I am worried sick over him, but the seeking of a medical opinion on the matter is impossible.  Every minute he's away from work is a morsel of food out of our kids' mouths.  Because he has no holiday pay, everything he missed during the holidays was unpaid.  We are so far behind that catching up will take a miracle.  And so, he works.  While he should be at home, resting in the dark so he can get well again, he works.  And his migraine worsens.

Sometimes being very careful with one's diet can help one avoid migraine triggers.  Fresh fruit, veg, minimally processed meats being best.  However, a poor person can't afford those things.  We buy what's on sale.  We buy what's "10 for $10."  We load up on things that will keep us from dying of starvation, and skimp on the oranges and broccoli.  Because of this shitty diet, we get sicker.  Several of our regular dishes are loaded with migraine triggers, and we have no choice but to eat them anyway.  Or go hungry.  So we feed this maddening cycle of sickness, with the shitty, processed, cheap food that we can afford.  Now and then we do spring for a bunch of bananas, or a bag of apples, and they disappear within two days because our kids are so excited to see such delicious things in the house.

My contribution is simple; I have none.
Getting an outside job means getting a second car.  Which we can't afford.
Getting a second car means getting second car insurance.  Which we can't afford.
Getting a second car with second car insurance means getting second tanks of gas.  Which we can not afford.
I also have no education.  None.  Well, as far as the system is concerned.  Being intelligent and self-taught means precisely fuck all when applying for jobs.  Potential employers want to see credentials.  They want to see degrees.  They want to see, at the very least, high school diplomas.  It's my own fault I don't have one.  But the fact remains, I don't have one.
Even if we could get past all of that, and I could get work, the work I could get would be physical, menial labor.  Scrubbing toilets.  Sweeping floors.  Which I am NOT above doing, and which I have done before.  But the pay for these jobs is meager.
The pay for these jobs would not cover the cost of a second vehicle, with its second insurance and its second gas.
And because our house payment is income-based, our mortgage company wants to account for every penny brought into the household, so that they can adjust payment accordingly.  My working means a larger house payment every month.

Factor in my own migraines, my own physical and mental limitations that have the potential to lay me up for several days in a row...let's just say no one is lining up to hire a person like me.

My mental health is severely neglected in the meantime.  We can't afford weekly therapy visits.  We can't afford the drive to weekly therapy visits.  We can't afford the medications or hospitalizations that will be recommended.  So we wait, and try to keep me alive in the meantime.  It's a constant struggle, and a constant mental talk-down that drains everyone.  My outbursts and hysteria sometimes carving out an entire afternoon, with children keeping their distance and a helpless husband grasping at straws to comfort me.

We manage.  We survive.  We scrimp and pinch, and do without.  We've learned to give up the things that aren't absolutely, entirely, and monumentally important.  I no longer use household cleaners, and use baking soda and vinegar instead.  I don't use laundry detergent, and use borax and washing soda instead.  We never buy paper towels or fancy hand soaps, and recently, we've been reusing plastic grocery bags in place of trash bags.  We reuse the same razor hundreds of times after it's painfully dull.  We're out of q-tips, and I doubt if we'll buy more.  When we do splurge on a dinner out or an unplanned "fun" expense, the guilt is so great that it nearly drives you mad.

We have not ordered yearbooks or school pictures in several years.  Which I understand is not a necessity.  But I'm sure we can all agree that it's heartbreaking to let such things pass you by.
We have not purchased new clothes for our children in ages.  Last year, our daughter got several items from a local thrift store, which she loved, but has now outgrown.  We haven't purchased new clothes for our son in over a year.  Thankfully, there are good people in our circle who have given him several pairs of pants and boots, and saved us a fortune that we didn't have to spare.

It's a maddening system, and it seems designed to keep us from getting out of it.  My poor husband will work himself into an early grave, and at the end of it all we will have nothing to show for it.  We will have wasted our entire lives together, just trying to keep the lights on.  We will have wasted our entire marriage wishing we could just be together, during all those moments he's busted his hump in some go-nowhere job.  I miss him so terribly sometimes that I can hardly stand it.  Seeing him walk out the door in physical pain from the light of the day on his face is gut-wrenching.  Knowing he needs to be in bed, being cared for and loved, and is instead bouncing around on a forklift in a noisy loading dock is enough to make me want to rip out the hearts of everyone responsible for this ignorant and failing system.  
Even applying for assistance means jumping thru hoops that we can't afford.  Such as job seminars in the city that we can't afford to drive to.  It means visiting doctors we can't afford, and obtaining medical paperwork (that doctors charge for) to prove my inability to work.

We don't have to walk miles to gather dirty water.
We don't have to eat dirt to stay alive.  Our children's bellies aren't bloated against their bony frames, and they don't go to bed crying from hunger.
So it seems selfish and silly to complain about our constant struggle.  It seems silly to beat myself up when I can't let my growing son have seconds.  It seems silly to complain about missing my husband, when other people would give anything to have such steady work.
I have lights in my house.  I have running water.  I have internet access.  I have more than I deserve.

But it's hard. If you've ever been in the same situation, you know how hard.  And you know the guilt and shame you're asked to feel, for believing it's hard.  Even titling this blog "Poverty" is hard.  It's shameful.
If you haven't been in the same situation, I hope you never are.  Knowing that a person's value and worth don't reside within their incomes, does not stop you from feeling utterly useless.


  1. Oh, hon... I know exactly where you are. The only difference is that we rent (no one in their right mind would sell us a house!), and I'm the sole income, while my disabled husband stays home and tries to keep house. I'm a nurse, which sounds poverty-proof, but trust me, it's not-- not in this economy. It has been getting better in the past few months, but I don't trust it-- I've spent so long living hand-to-mouth that I expect the hammer to fall at any moment. I wish I had some fabulous advice to give you, but all I've got is (((hugs))) and empathy.

    1. Hugs and empathy are so very appreciated. I know we're not alone, and that's both comforting and infuriating. The world is full of plenty, and we've constrained ourselves to live within a system that makes it impossible, and makes helping each other a point of contention for those who have been conditioned to believe that unless a person does their version of "enough," they don't deserve help. I could rant all day. It's so sad :(