-From an email.
I read with a sick sense of delight, your essay about those whose lives float always in the balance between eating and buying tampons (vs. using a “pad” made of toilet paper…been there, done that, and still have to do that sometimes), which very well explained what it is like to live in poverty. Linda, I live in poverty. I am the mother of three kids, one who spends his days seeking out employment that he will never find while trying to get the classes he really wants at college and still maintaining his GPA let alone a social life. My only daughter has it set in her mind anymore that the only reason anyone her age- 15- should go to the mall is to hang out because she knows that her parents cannot afford to spend a mere ten bucks on her day with her friends. The little one is 9, and he does not realize that it is not normal for them, his parents and the dog to live in my parents’ double-wide mobile home, where we have lived since December of 2008 when their father ended up having a massive two sided heart attack.
This correspondence to you is not to give you a sob story, even as that may well what it sounds like. It is further evidence of what you yourself have observed as being the truth of the impoverished. Here is my observation of what I personally have gone through these last five years. Make absolutely no mistake in that poverty is not easy. I am educated. I also write. I am an ordained person who keeps a regular blog. I am an activist, championing those whose lives are marred with abuse at home and violence in the streets. This is another thing about poverty that no one thinks about – the fact that it is the truth that we here in ghettoland have to not only worry about feeding ourselves, about putting gas in the borrowed car, about who is sleeping on the floor tonight…me, or my kid? About how we will keep our hair clean with hampoo from the dollar store. About how we will manage to keep the dog fed, even if it is on table scraps that we can scarcely afford not to eat ourselves. Poverty is difficult, because violence is such an issue with it, because it is not in the wealthier neighborhoods that it is made so obvious to the world as much as it is reported on telelvision news. You only hear about such things happening in wealthier households when someone bothers to say something without the benefit of an attorney present to tell his client when to shut the fuck up. We who are poor have to deal with honesty all the time. We cannot afford to be liars. We are already thought of as such, and because of this, we are also who cannot be or will not be trusted to be someone’s employee. Because we cannot be trusted as someone’s employee, we cannot get decent jobs, even with a college degree (BS- Behavioral Science, thank you very much). Because we cannot get decent jobs, and because all of the jobs that we do not qualify for we also cannot get (because we will cost too much at an hourly rate, because we are educated and should be fairly paid as though we are educated), here I sit, no job, living with my parents with my baby daddy and three children where I sleep nightly on the living room floor which doubles as my daughter’s bedroom.
The reason that I know now the poor are more likely to be mentally ill is because it is an everyday thing to worry. It is an everyday thing for me to worry about if there will be food for dinner, or if we will have to do like has been done on more than one occassion, which is that I sometimes, and shamefully so, hope to the Goddess that my kids will each be invited to eat dinner with one of their friends’ families. Besides, with all of the other things that I have to think about, those who would assume the very worst of people like me, I promise, could not ever live like this, ever. I don’t want to live like this. I want things back to how they were but that seems like a distant idea because unless someone has the forethought to think as you have and has bothered to look at what is truly there and is more prevalent in the lives of the poor in this country, I am assumed to be a drain on the economy.
I am a drain because I am educated and that alone makes me employable, at least in the eyes of those who have the very jobs that people like me used to seek out. When you have been told enough times that you are not what is needed, and yes, it is, in part, due to not only the “professional appearance” one must have when interviewing, but also the very energy on the collective face of the educated and degreed poor that makes the assumption of drug addiction and mental illness the assumed truth of us. The reality is that I have to deal with this very thing. I have to deal with the assumptions, and I have to deal with the emotional issues that I have because of the feelings that always happen that tell me that, even though I know I am every bit as worthwhile to anyone as I am to myself, I stil have to deal with hearing “no, we have filled the position.” That alone has caused me to stop looking for these invisible jobs that somewhere in the vicinity, someone else who also needed the job, ended up getting the job.
And so ensues the tears. And it is the tears that I cry, everyday now, that feel like lead falling out of my eyes. The tears tell the story of my own feelings of futility, of hopelessness and of people just not giving a good god damn about anything that does not equate to their own bottom line. I can tell you that the State of California’s GAIN/Welfare to work program sucks ass because it only addresses the needs of people who have never had any intention of working, of getting ahead in life, of supporting themselves. It does not do a thing at all for people like me who end up needing the program anyway because eventually, after having to go through so much for so little, you get mad, and then you cry, and then you need to see a shrink.
Linda, I need to see a shrink, seriously.
It gets tiring, crying all the time, and then getting mad because you know that you are going to have to beg people to help you eat, of all things, and you cry a lot because you feel like a piece of shit and really, even as one has had her moments where she could have earned, quite neatly, the “Asshole of the Year” award, I challenge anyone at all to find a person who does not have momentary bouts of human being-ness. Everyday I want to, at some point in my day, or at least for the fleeting moment that the thought crosses my mind, not be breathing anymore, but the feeling leaves me the moment that I think about those three kids. But then that moment leads to the other moment that reminds me that they see me crying, a lot.
This was written by the Rev. Roxanne Cottell. Find her @ReverendRoxie22 or at her blog.1